A few days ago, my husband and I were driving down the street discussing candy bars. He’s one of the few people in the world who doesn’t like chocolate, so we were trying to think of as many non-chocolate candy bars as we could. I mentioned Zeros, and suddenly was transported back half a century, to Boynton, Oklahoma, and the eatery that my grandmother owned for over forty years, Mrs. Casey’s Cafe, on Main Street. That cafe was a very large part of my childhood, since we traveled to Boynton from Tulsa every other weekend to visit my dad’s mom, and we kids spent at least two weeks with my grandmother every summer.
Our two summer weeks were no vacation, either. My grandmother couldn’t afford to take time off from her cafe, so she put us to work. I imagine that at the time we were like any other family ristorante in Italy or corner cafe in Greece, where a ten year old with a dishtowel wrapped around his waist comes to your table to take your order. I don’t know what Family Services would say these days about all the times I carried a tray full of open beer bottles to the men in the back room when I was pre-pubescent, or fried up hamburgers on the grill, or stood on a step stool in the kitchen to wash up glasses in a sink full of lukewarm dishwater
Her cafe was a very small affair; a counter with half a dozen twirling stools that we kids made good if annoying use of, and three booths. Every weekend that we went down there, one of the rituals my sisters and I indulged in was to take a small paper sack and fill it with candy bars from the display behind Grandma’s counter to take home with us. We were thoughtless and greedy little buggers, and it never occurred to me that this was costing my grandma money. I hope that my father reimbursed her. I wasn’t aware of it, but knowing Grandma, she probably did bill him.
There were certain candies and treats that she always stocked, such as Hershey Bars, Mounds, Milky Ways, Snickers, Mr. Goodbar, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, Three Musketeers, Pay-Days, Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes. But there were others that only made an occasional appearance, and we would snap those up with delight when they did show up. One of these was the aforementioned Zero Bar, which resembled a Milky way, except for the fact that it was white chocolate, or something-that-would-be-called-white-chocolate-in-the-future. I don’t remember that term being in wide use back in the olden days. I also kept a sharp eye out for Heath Bars, Brown Cows, Almond Joy, Krackles, and good old Hostess Sno-Balls, which came in white and pink. I liked the white. Pink snow balls just seemed wrong to me. We didn’t neglect the chewing gum, either. My sister liked Double Bubble and Juicy Fruit, but both were too sweet for me. I liked Spearmint and Beeches Clove gum.
I can’t say I enjoyed bussing tables every summer all that much, but I’m sure it was good for my character. Perhaps one of the reasons I write about food so much in my fiction doesn’t have something to do with the experience.
I wonder if they still make Zeros?