As we age, things do change, but… Grandmas and Grandpas, penny candy and safe spaces too…

I remember, as a child, how my cousins and I used to laugh kindly at our dear grandmother who used to bemoan the changes that had come with time and mostly how she used to only have to pay a nickle for a loaf of bread. She was such a dear little Irish Catholic lady, a roundish, plumpish sort of wee little woman whose wild wirey hair stood up all over the place, and whose blue eyes were the bluest I’ve ever, to this day, seen. Gorgeous, just gorgeous.

I think of the wonder-filled days when there was a little mom and pop store on nearly every corner in the old fashioned neighborhoods of the time, when everybody knew everybody, neighbors helped neighbors, and looked out for each other, and grandma would send my cousin and I down to the store to get some penny candy from the huge glass front display. Depending on how many cousins were there that day we might each get a nickle or a dime, but when you were there alone, on occasion, you might get a whole quarter! I would positively swoon in front of that glass front counter and a quarter’s worth was worth more than winning the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. It was real goods in real time that we could relate to as a huge delight in the context of our own lives. I would go back to grandma’s house holding my little brown paper bag full of candies tightly in my fist smiling so hard my face hurt.

My very favorite candy of all-time were those colored sugary dots on rolls of paper. I still dream about those. They really weren’t much to eat, but they held a whole world of enchantment for me. And though I never smoked in my life I loved the candy cigarettes, the the red hot jelly coins, and OH, the jawbreakers (…which likely account to almost every tooth in my mouth being filled! Back then they were big on candy and short on good advice on dental care. Who ever heard of flossing for goodness sakes?!). I could just die for some Mary Janes right now, another top of the line favorite (…ditto ditto ditto the above, candy, teeth, etc.), and the Necco wafers that we Catholic girls used to pretend like we were giving communion to one another with, and, oh, WAX LIPS! And LICORICE!!! I never liked black licorice but I loved red of all kinds, especially the long strings of red licorice that looked like spaghetti, and a neighbor’s mom used to get us CHOCOLATE LICORICE!!! which I’ve never heard of again since I was little, and the whole world was full of magic and wonder.

I remember my dear grandpa, who died when I was 6, sitting me up on a big stool to watch him shave. I sat transfixed as he mixed up the big white foamy mug full of soap and used the huge soft bristle brush to cover his face so he could shave. I still feel very nostalgic about those old shaving mugs, and he always wore Old Spice which I still adore on the rare occasion when I sniff it somewhere, increasingly seldom, and I remember grandma making homemade donuts and giving we cousins the “donut holes” to eat which were heavenly, even while grandpa tried to get us to drink buttermilk! Icky poo!

Those were the days. It may be said that it takes a village to raise a child, but then you didn’t need one. A whole lineage of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more lived relatively close to one another, and the neighbors were all like family. No one locked their doors, no one had a lot of money, but we were happy to play in the sandbox, and one of my most glorious memories was going down with grandpa into the coal bin in the basement to get coal for the heater. And he showed me how if you put coal in water, oily rainbows would float on the surface. My grandfather died young, but I think he is responsible for sending me so much magic down from the heavens.

Grandpa was a magic maker. He was also an Irish Catholic old school fireman who was laid off a lot because he was drunk and once fell through a floor in a fire and was burned so badly that he never till the end of his life went without an undershirt at all times, his chest and back were so badly scarred.

Grandpa taught me how to fish and took me down to the public horse stables and I had my first lessons there. I would later go on to fancy stables and winning quite a lot of trophies riding English saddle and jumping five foot fences in fancy equestrian dress, but nothing in my memory is so tender and sweet as going to those old stables in East St. Louis, IL in the late 50’s. In 1960 I was in first grade, 6 years old, and grandpa died. Grandma lived until she was 74 in 1977 in September. My eldest, Jennifer, was born in January 1977 and Grandma was so happy. It was her first great grandchild and the only one she would ever know. Seeing Jenny in grandma’s arms and seeing the bright pink cheeks of joy on that tiny little wirey haired woman is a sight I will never forget and it makes me feel sad and melancholy. At my grandmother’s funeral I cried harder than I ever have in my life. No one’s death has affected me as much as hers. I never got over it.

Along with all of the other things I’ve written, I only felt safe at Grandma’s house, or when she spent the night with us. I was a child of long term sexual abuse but my grandmother kept me safe. Even though I was a married woman with a child and no longer being abused, my last vestige of safety, in some sense, disappeared when Grandma died. I have spent the rest of my life trying to find a safe space to rest. It has taken me over 50 years to find it. I have found that safe haven within myself and no one can take it away. I have found a safe haven in a little animal-filled cottage, a tiny one, with gardens, and books, and fibers, and spinning wheels and knitting and crochet and weaving and teaching and writing and now, being a minister.

Now I am about to begin to do pastoral counseling. It is a deep privilege and something I am most serious about. I think one of the first things I will ask people is this… Where was your first safe space, and where do you find it now? Once you know those two things, you will be able to figure out, much more easily, how to work through the best.

And if you’re around my age or perhaps older, what was your favorite kind of penny candy? I really want to know.

With love and wishes for safe spaces everywhere…


If you enjoy this blog a donation would be deeply appreciated to help me continue to bring “Maitri’s Heart” to you. Thank you, and many deep blessings to one and all…

Comments

  1. Oh, my dear friend…what a nostalgic trip with took with you today. I remember it all so well and long for the comfort of those days. What a delight to read. Thank you SO much!

  2. My grandfather died before I was born. Thank you for letting me borrow yours, for a little while.

    Blessed Be,
    VSD

  3. What a great post!!

    The questions you want to ask during pastoral counseling are very confrontational.

    I was asked these questions at a time I was going to a not too rough spot.

    My first safe space was with someone who died.
    There was no safe space at that moment.

    The loneliness that waved through my body was soooo intense, I can’t tell. But that loneliness is still with me at times.

    I’ve done pastoral work at a hospital and in an ambulant setting and I’ve learned that listening is of utmost importance.

    It’s true that past experiences can be a good lesson for people.
    But not all are able to learn from the past.
    I’ve worked for over 20 years with parents of babies who died during pregnancy or shortly after.
    Not all people have a religious lifestyle and many people are so shocked or numbed, that they can’t find the rest to realise what their safe space is.
    Often women say it’s their husband, which means that he stays firm to support his wife and isn’t able to work through the grief himself.

    To me pastoral work meant adjusting to the people in front of me and leaving everything I wanted to put in the middle just behind me.

    Well, you’re in a slightly different culture, so maybe that means a huge difference.

    I’m putting your site on my bloglist, in case I’m thrown out of entrecard. 🙂

  4. Mother Maitri,
    What wonderful memories you have shared.

    As you know I too am a child who suffered almost from birth to some form of abuse or another.

    Yet, I find it odd that even those of us who had such a hard time, as children, often times have such good memories too.

    Oh my I loved the waxed lips and haven’t thought of those for years. And it was always a treat later on when in school, when my cousins and I would get a quarter to buy a Dr. Pepper on our way home from school.

    I never cared for licorice either. I have always been a chocolate girl.

    My first truly safe place was school. I say this modestly, but, I was bright and always in accelerated classes.

    I lept my home life a secret from everyone at school. At school I was just another kid. No one knew what my real life was.

    I was voted queen of the 2nd grade and best dressed in the 7th grade.

    Learning came easy to me then. Some times, even now, things just seem to come to me. I suppose the best word would be via osmosis.

    Because I never studied. Yet, I always knew the answers and got A’s on everything.

    School was definitely my first safe haven. My second would be Church.

    My parents never attended but neighbors, even though we moved almost, every year, God always seem to supply a neighbor that would take me to Church.

    I always felt safe and good there. I loved working in the nursery, and, I also loved visiting with the really old people.

    It always made me so happy to make them smile.

    See I said I would visit when I could and I am visiting you tonight.

    I have cleaned and cleaned all day. All of my glass and crystal is sparkling.

    Also, I am going to try my best to blog a little while on the road. So once we get out I will try to do a post a week.

    I hope you have a grand week. Please have no worries about me ever visiting you.

    If I can, I will be here, always and ever. Please also remember that you are always in my thoughts.

    Big hugs and much love to you,
    ~Jackie

  5. This was wonderfully written. I felt like I was there with you.

    Kimmy

  6. Hi Maitri – I have been searching over the last few days for your Entrecard widget. It currently doesn’t appear to be loading.

    My best wishes, Polly

  7. I’d like to say that I did have a favorite candy. Would you know Bazooka Joe? It’s bubble gum and it comes with entertaining little comic strips for the inner wrapper. I got a lot of smiles from those. Ü

  8. I just wrote a entry on how much I love Dum Dum lollipops. I remembered getting them from the bank or doctors office!

  9. Great posting.I have 2 awards for you on my site.come and get them.

  10. That was a fantastic read…absolutely fantastic. I was lost in your words, many of which I closely related too.

    Your words sent me back…and gave me chills. I was born in 1961, so I do remember many of the candies you mentioned, but I do not remember a favorite. We were rarely allowed candy, only sometimes, so I loved whatever I could get.

    I too, am from an Irish Catholic clan, except my grandfather was Sheriff of the parish we lived in, and my father a deputy sheriff, (my Irish ancestors started out bootlegging, then switched to law enforcement) and I dearly loved my grandmother.

    And like you, I feel like the world was a safer place when my grandmother was alive.

    In fact, I was thinking about that earlier today. Isn’t that odd?

    To answer your question about what makes me feel safe today, I suppose it would have to be writing, for the moment, but then again it has always been my escape.

    I’m always looking for more “safe places” or “nice places in the sun” where I can go to relax.

    Great read~

    Which is one of the reasons, I have two awards for you on A Nice Place In The Sun.

    Stop by when you have a chance and scoop them up~ Congratulations~

    Annie

  11. Wow, I’ve found your blog again through a new widget and read all your recent posts.

    We are close in age. My Grandmom lived to be 101 (b. 1901) and I miss her so.

    My favorite candies were root beer barels, and also the dot candy, wax lips, candy cigs (oh my!), rock candy (remember the clear crystalized sugar, clumped together & so pretty?) and also those powdery things that came in long tubes.

    Give all your little pugs a {{hugs}}.

  12. Gina Emacs says:

    Wow, it’s as if I wrote that myself! I had very similar experiences (including watching my grandfather shaving with the brush). You named many of my favorites but I also liked old fashioned sticks (like candy canes without the curve) and these wafers I used to call flying saucers. And Pixie Stix, too. I don’t recall if they were penny candy, either a relative gave them to us or our neighbor who owned a candy store did so I didn’t know the prices. What about fruit striped gum and violet “mints”. My mother loved Sen Sen but that was too strong for me.

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