When I began this blog, I vowed that I would not turn it into just another nostalgia blog that talks about the “good ol’ days.” I wanted to be sure that whatever I wrote about, reflected something about my life in Duquesne and had specific ties to the city. I hope I haven’t disappointed so far, but in the future, if I veer off course, be sure to let me know!
With all of that said, I was reminded by Eileen Phillips about buying candy at Algeri’s on Pennsylvania Ave. My dad would occasionally need to get milk, bread of some other small order and would drive up to Algeri’s since it was relatively close to our home. Those trips would always include allowing me to make a selection from their wonderful penny candy counter. Where as most kids had a tough time in deciding which candies they wanted, I had honed my “favorites” list to a select few. I knew exactly where they were placed in the case, so filling up that little brown sack they used for candy was never a problem.
As far as I know, thoughts of hyper-activity from too much candy never seemed to cross my folks mind. “Goodies” were a staple in any self-respecting hunky’s diet! This should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, we’re the ones who create the world’s largest cookie display at weddings and then try to consume them all in one night!
I though about other places around Duquesne where I’d buy penny candy. When you think about it, there were quite a few as I recall. Just one block up from our Thomas Street home was Puski’s, at the corner of Texas Ave. and Mellon Street. We didn’t like to go to Puski’s unless absolutely necessary. The truth be told, he often charged 2¢ for some of the typically priced at a penny. To this day, I don’t know if the higher prices were to keeps too many kids away, or just because he wanted to make more money.
I think the place where I first remember being taken for candy was across from my Grandfather’s house on Hamilton Avenue. It was a small store with very little in it. The candy counter was a big glass case to the right and it was lined with jars of treats. He lived at 307 Hamilton, and the store was in that same block. In later years, my Aunt Mary said that it was a big “numbers joint.” To this day, I am still not quite clear about what that meant, but it did sound very Al Capone”ish!” What I DO recall is that the person behind the counter was very friendly and knew my mom and I and us by name. Of all of the items there, I used to love the pretzel rods that were in a jar on the top if the counter the most. He would always give me one as a bonus whenever my mom took me in.
I guess you could say that I had a strange set of taste buds. One of my favorite candies was a small grayish little candy called a “Ben Hur.” They were anise flavored and I was one of the few in our family that liked anise flavoring and these candies. This, of course, assured that my brother and cousins wouldn’t be asking for a piece of my candy. Turn about was fair play however. Whenever they went to the candy store, they would buy Mary Janes, a candy I despised, and never had to worry about me asking for a piece. To this day, I cannot stand the taste or smell of peanut butter. I know, its un-American.
When I think about it, there were a lot of stores that were indulging people’s sweet tooth as I was growing up. The Hilltop Dairy at the top of Kennedy Ave., the little shop on the corner of 4th and Kennedy across from the High School, the candy counter at G.C.Murphy’s on 1st Street, to name just a few. The set-ups in each of these stores was similar and the assortment of candy was practically identical. There were pretzel rods, Mary Janes, Smarties, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, Bazooka bubble gum, dot candy, shoestring licorice, and gumdrops to name just a few. There are a number of sites on the internet where you can buy some of the candy we used to enjoy back then. I have tried a few of these and although the taste was similar, something was just not the same. I think the little brown bag was missing as well as the excitement of standing in front of that case, with your nose pressed against the glass, just trying to decide how to spend that nickel that was burning a hole in your pocket. No matter what you decided on, it certainly ended up being a treat!