Growing up during the cold war wasn’t all that bad. That’s because the cold war wasn’t exactly cold and it wasn’t exactly war. The cold war was really more of a squabble between two little-girl super powers arguing over whether Barbie should live in Barbie’s Dream House or on Barbie’s Soviet Union Collective Farm — except that if these two little girls ever got mad enough to start pulling ponytails, mankind would have been wiped off the face of the planet.
But while the constant threat of getting blown to smithereens at any given moment wasn’t a pleasant thought, we kids of the 1950’s were pretty much able to shrug it off.
After all, we had pop bottle empties to redeem, money to collect, and penny candy purchasing decisions to make!
Here are some of my thought processes when it came to making penny candy purchases in the cold war:
When investing in penny candy, I always made sure I included at least one stick of black licorice. Black licorice came in long, braided sticks. It not only cleansed my palate for other penny candy flavors, but also, it was a tremendous bargain.
A stick of black licorice was about eight inches long, and in the event of a national emergency such as a nuclear attack by the Russians (the only kind of national emergency that existed in the 50’s), a highly-disciplined child might be able to survive a week or more by rationing a single stick of black licorice– providing, of course, the child was safely tucked away in a bomb shelter or, failing that, not quite so safely tucked away in grandpa’s aluminum foil- covered basement.
I always felt red licorice to be a far inferior penny candy to that of black licorice both in flavor and in value. Aside from the obvious drawback that it was Commie Red, red licorice was also much shorter than a stick of black licorice – making it a much less suitable choice for atomic bomb holocaust survival.
Because when you really think about it, how long could a kid actually survive after a nuclear holocaust on one lousy stick of red licorice — bomb shelter or no bomb shelter? (And that’s not even taking into account the fact that one measly stick of red licorice would make for a really lousy last meal.)
Pixie Sticks were paper straws filled with a sickeningly-sweet, Kool-Aid-like, powdery substance that came in a variety of flavors such as: cherry, lime, orange, grape and lemon. All the flavors tasted the same except that they turned your tongue the color of whatever flavor you thought you were eating.
I have no idea what that powdery substance consisted of — but if you were to look at my sorry dental X-rays from that era, it was probably some sort of concoction devised by Russian scientists to penetrate the Colgate Shield.
Jaw breakers were the “ve have vays of making you talk” penny candy of the cold war world. A jaw breaker was a ball of sugar hardened to the consistency of steel (probably utilizing secret technology stolen from the Russians).
Jaw breakers were designed to do one or all of the following things:
1) break your jaw
2) shatter your already cavity-filled teeth (see Pixie Sticks)
3) administer death by choking.
But despite these drawbacks, jawbreakers remained a reliable penny candy purchase if only for the sheer excitement of sucking on them while cheating death.
Sputnik Jaw Breakers
The most memorable jaw breaker of cold war penny candy was called a Sputnik.
It was blue with sharp little spikes sticking out of it. It had that telltale 1950’s mysterious blue candy flavor you could never really put your finger on – maybe because it was derived from blueberry extract with just a hint of radio- active isotope but we’ll never know for sure.
The United States government was pretty sore when the Russians beat us into space by launching the Sputnik satellite; but not as sore as the Sputnik Jawbreakers made the inside of kids’ mouths all over America.
There were two types of bubble gum to choose from: Double Bubble and Bazooka. Both came with comics wrapped around a little pink squares of bubble gum and each had a dividing line down the middle so that it could be divided equally and shared with a friend or comrade (if it came to that).
I always preferred Double Bubble simply because I felt the Double Bubble comics were funnier than Bazooka’s. Plus, I never much liked Bazooka Joe. He seemed untrustworthy with that patch over one eye, which, looking back on it now, probably had a miniature camera hidden in it to document whether or not American kids blew bigger bubbles than Russian kids.
Kids today just don’t realize how lucky they are to not have to worry about such things while making their penny candy purchasing decisions.
On the other hand, one piece of penny candy now costs $2.59 –so I guess everything has a way of evening itself out in the end.
And there you have it, Dear Readers. My brain, Peanuts, remembers penny candy.