“I met him at The Candy Store” has a romantic ring to it, conjuring up the idea that one might fall in love in such an establishment, while loading up on delicious sweets. For those of us having set up camp in Candy Land, leaving the lolly shops of our former lives far across the sea, Jolly Ranchers, Starburst, Skittles and Twizzlers hardly hold a candle to the Musk Sticks, Freckles, Freddo Frogs and Caramello Koalas of the less lyrical sounding lolly shops we left behind.
Every transplant will crave the comforts of home. Having fallen head over heels in love with New York City the first minute I set foot on the sidewalk, forsaking footy, the beach, loved ones and my cats never presented much of a problem. Only one of my teeth was mad- the sweet one. Born in the good old days when parenting in Australia entailed pouring sweet cups of milky tea down the throats of toddlers before the teeth had even emerged, I landed in the Lower East Side in search of sugar.
This was 1990, predating the advent of the age of expensive artisanal chocolates available around the clock, even in crappy bodegas. Hooked on Polly Waffles, Cherry Ripes and Violet Crumbles, imagine my dismay at the news-stand when confronted with Hershey Bars, Baby Ruths, Butterfingers and Paydays. Milk Duds were indeed duds. One by one I tried out these candy bars (not even called chocolates, which should have been a red flag). Not one to give up, I realized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were the go, and 3 Musketeers were passable. But for all the thrills of the bright lights and the big city, I missed the lolly shop. Why didn’t they have musk lifesavers here?
All of the candy had a nasty aftertaste which I’d never experienced from lollies. Recipes are different, chemicals are used in the US which aren’t (or weren’t) in Australia in the confectionery industry. But ingredients aside, what I really began to notice was that American adults had the same love of the candy they grew up with as I had for the mixed lollies of my childhood, teen years, upper youth and entire adult life. My point that the Australian sweetmeats I was missing were somehow superior was moot, and didn’t hold up against the memory of a trick or treaters basketful of Tootsie Rolls, Hershey’s Kisses and Junior Mints. If you’ve never been four and known the joy of shaking a box of Smarties (not the powdery American kind), you’re probably going to have some kind of fetish for ripping open a bag of M&Ms.
The fact seems to be that the experience of being a child and being treated to non-nutritive sugary treats by adults or Easter Bunnies, or being given a coin and being allowed to go into the lolly shop or the candy store and purchase your selection, whether it be 20 cents worth of mixed lollies or an all day sucker, becomes a precious memory capable of lasting a lifetime, coated in warm fuzzy nostalgia that rivals any of the chocolate manufactured anywhere on earth. That nostalgia can make a grown man or woman weak with homesickness, imploring international travelers coming their way to pick them up boxes of Jaffas (because movies just aren’t as good without them and Goobers can’t be rolled down the aisles), or a bag of Fantales to proudly show new friends who have probably never seen a chocolate coated caramel wrapped in a celebrity biography.
Whether the first commercial transaction you ever made was in a lolly shop or a candy store, there’s a good chance you formed some neverending preferences around that time. If your jones (craving) is severe, by now, you’ve probably discovered that you can find whatever old favorites from home that you’re missing on the internet. But if you’ve settled into a life in a land without lollies in which you get by with the local fare, there’s always a great thrill to be had on returning to the motherland and going crazy like a kid in a candy store.
Meanwhile, a new song with an opening refrain that salutes the lolly shop is, as far as I know, still waiting to be written.