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Pennies buy innumerable pleasure in childhood

We were probably about 8 and 6 years old when my sister Sally and I were allowed to take a few pennies on a Saturday and go by ourselves to the Little Old Lady Store. That’s what we called the small shop on the corner a couple of blocks from our house in Salem.

We had to cross one busy street, but we were very careful. Nothing must spoil the walk that would lead us to that store with the wonderful glass case, filled with the best candies you could imagine. They were laid out in colorful array, mostly unwrapped but protected from flies and children’s hands by the glass we pressed up against to make our selections. We had pretty much discussed the choices and made our decisions on the walk there, but sometimes the appeal of one of the other beauties could change all that. I nearly always bought at least one of the sugar-coated striped flat “bacon slices,” so chewy and sweet. There were root beer and horehound hard candy in the shape of little barrels, Tootsie Rolls and candy cigarettes, looking like white pieces of chalk with red on the ends so they looked like they were lit. A really novel item was a little wax jug filled with some Kool-Aid type of liquid inside. One bite would release the fluid down the throat, and then one could chew that wax a long, long time before deciding whether to swallow it. The little old lady I’m thinking now was probably 35 or 40 years old would wait patiently for us to choose, then put the precious pieces in bags for us and collect the pennies we had brought.. One cent for each piece! Later on, in 1943, some of the pennies weren’t copper as copper was needed to make shell casings. Wartime-issued pennies were made of steel, coated in zinc, and were a dull silvery color.

After we left the store, we sometimes went one block farther to where the railroad tracks ran through town. If we were lucky, we could eat our goodies while watching a train go by.

Standing really close to the tracks, the immense power of the steam engine would thunder through our chests. The wheels were churned round and round by the huge metal arm, and they clicked on the seams of the rails.

If the engineer saw us, he might blow the whistle, and oh! It was loud! He wore a stern look under the bill of his striped cap, but we weren’t scared... just in awe. The steam came pouring out of the stack and made a puffing noise. Wind could make a cloud of it come briefly down to surround us. What fun! There were some boys who used to put pennies on the tracks so they could pick up the flattened coins after the train had passed and show them to us. We would never waste our money that way, not when there was penny candy to be bought. After watching a few oil tanker cars and assorted freight cars, we would try to judge how long before the caboose came. Sometimes we waited, and sometimes just turned and headed for home, supremely satisfied with how the day had gone so far. My daughter tells me that in Seaside there is a shop that sells all those old types of candy. I would imagine they charge more than a penny, though.

Lynn S. Turner is a Tigard resident who looks at the world in unusual ways.