Friday 28 Oct 2016

AJ Robinson

Darling's was the candy store on Circuit Ave, in Oak Bluffs, on Martha's Vineyard Island; it was the candy store of my childhood. And, it was the absolute stereotype, "Music Man" style candy store. Black and white checkered floor, big glass cases and an old-style scale for weighing the candies. Ah, but the best gizmo of all was the antiquated taffy-pulling machine that sat by the big picture window. I'm amazed it didn't give food poisoning to half of New England! It would never meet current health code. I never really appreciated what an awesome place it was, until it was gone

Funny how that is, isn't it?

The store sat in the same spot for more decades than anyone could tell me. I always loved standing on the sidewalk, watching that machine work away. The best part was when the cooks paused it to drip their secret ingredients into the taffy. Then they'd step back and the machine would spring to life once more, stretching and tugging and pulling away, the taffy changing color

What flavor would it be today?

Then it was fed into the wrapping machine, which always seemed to jam up. Those little lumps, wrapped in simple cellophane, would plop into the waiting basket

No, wait, I tell a lie. The really best part was when - after they were all done - the cooks would hand out free samples. Oh, heavenly! The gods on Mount Olympus, when they got tired of ambrosia, sent out for Darling's Fresh Saltwater Taffy. All warm and soft and gooey, I swear I lost three fillings trying to chew it

But, my story is not about me. It's a story my father told of his first adventure at good old Darling's. Way, way - way - back, in 1916, he was a carefree youth of three. One day, he found what he thought was a penny in his mother's purse. As he - like any child - worshipped at the altar of sweets, he hiked down the hill, passed the harbor, in to town and into Darling's, all by himself

Yeah, it was a different era

Once there, he indulged to his heart's content and bought a whole penny's worth of candy. For those of you of the Internet Generation, back then, that was a lot of candy! Then he returned home. Of course, this being 1916, road conditions were... shall we say: minimal? He kicked stones in the street and waded through the tall wet grass and pretty much got totally filthy. He was crying by the time he got home because he'd gotten his new shoes all wet

A little while later, the clerk made a discovery: a two-and-a-half-dollar gold piece in amongst the pennies! Now, where could that have come from? As this was a simpler, quieter era, it didn't take a brain surgeon to remember who had been in that morning and paid with a "penny." Cranking up the old ring-up box, he got the Island Operator on the phone and asked for Arthur Robinson. No phone number, just: "Get Arthur on the line!"

A quick conversation and the matter was ironed out. Grandfather drove his old model-T downtown, gave the clerk a real penny and took back the gold piece. Yeah, my Dad was in trouble, but they went easy on him. As it turned out, he'd eaten quite a bit of that candy, and had a tummy ache. Between that and his wet shoes, his parents figured he'd learned his lesson

They were right. He never again went snooping in his Mom's purse

And yet, Dad always wondered: what became of the gold piece? Had his Mom just stuck it back in her purse and used it to buy groceries?

Many years later, my dear old Grandmother left us at the age of ninety-three. Dad took is very hard. It isn't easy for a boy to say good-bye to his mother, even if he is a man. A few months later, Grandfather joined her. Dad said he died of a broken heart. Without his beloved "June Bride," life was cold and empty. Strange how the eyes see what the heart wants. No matter how old she got, no matter the color of her hair or the lines on her face, all Grandfather ever saw, was his lovely "June Bride."

May we all be as myopic as he was

Then came the sad task of settling their estate. Dad and I went to their house and carefully sifted through their treasures: baby booties, wedding pictures etc. You know, the important things

As he emptied Grandmother's jewelry box, I heard a soft sob. Dad was a tough old stoic New Englander, unaccustomed to displays of emotion. So, I knew something big was up. He turned and opened his hand toward me. I stepped closer, and saw the tear on his cheek. There, cradled lovingly in his large callous hand sat a beautiful hand-made charm bracelet. It had but one charm dangling from the old metal chain, just one:

A certain two-and-a-half-dollar gold piece

Yeah, Grandmother had always been good at keeping the really valuable stuff.

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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