The 1970s was the decade when Gene Wilder invited us all into the wonderful world of Wonka's Chocolate Factory; and I was lucky enough to live diagonally across the street from a candy store. Our candy store was not owned and operated by a reclusive, eccentric, purple-coated, wild-haired candy magician, nor did a group of diminutive green-faced Oompah-Loompahs sing catchy songs as they stocked the shelves. Instead, the candy store in our neighborhood was owned by Mrs. Turner. She was in her 70s in the 1970s and pinned her long white hair in a low bun. She wore sensible shoes and plaid house dresses and usually kept a box of sticky-eyed newborn kittens behind the counter. Her grown cats lounged on top of the glass candy cases; and her two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Collie, kept watch from the sun-warmed concrete steps that led up to the store.
Mrs.Turner did not offer golden tickets; but I did not need one. My dad set up a charge account for me. He explained that, each time I shopped at the store after school, I could pick out my candy, and Mrs. Turner would write down my purchases. At the end of the month, my dad would go into the store and "settle up."
This seemed too good to be true. I no longer needed to worry about scrounging change from the bottom of my school satchel or remembering to ask mom in the morning for a few coins to use at Mrs. Turner's. I could hardly wait to let the charging begin.
The first month with the charge account was like a dream come true. I feasted on BB Bats, Fun Dip, and grape-flavored Tangy Taffy. Some days, when I craved a more savory snack, I asked Mrs. Turner to slice a hunk of pickled bologna for me. She kept a huge jar on the counter and pulled out the coiled bologna, slicing it with a knife that she wiped on her apron. She sold the bologna by the chunk and added a short sleeve of Saltine crackers for no extra charge. I fished a bottle of cold Peach Nehi out of the ice-filled Coke cooler and enjoyed my after-school snack while leaning against the railing outside the store and surveying the neighborhood.
I was only a few days into my charging spree, when some of my friends noticed I was not setting coins on the wooden counter. Mrs. Turner was penciling in my list of treats on the little carbon copy receipt book she kept. Feeling very grown up, I was signing my name at the bottom of each tab in loopy cursive that I had only recently mastered.
"I have a charge account," I explained. I was not trying to brag; but it did seem pretentious. I decided to share the wealth and bought a round of candy for all the kids in line. It wasn't long until I found myself generously footing the bill for everyone's daily candy fix. Boston Baked Beans, Necco Wafers, Nik LNips, Blow Pops...the list of candy I was buying was growing longer and longer; and I was beginning to worry that Mrs. Turner was going to have to start a second receipt book for me. Still, I continued to charge.
I bought packs of Kings cigarette bubble gum for myself and my best girlfriends. Before unwrapping the gum, we gave the fake cigarettes a puff so we could see the powdery sugar waft into the air in a sinfully grown-up cloud. We "smoked" whole packs while playing Monopoly and carried the realistic-looking Kings' packs snapped inside our purses.
The end of the month came much too soon; and my dad went to pay my bill. I was on too much of a sugar high to anticipate his reaction; but it wasn't good. With candy averaging only about 20 cents a piece, I had managed to spend more than $80 in my first, and last, month of charging.
While explaining to me that the charge account was for my personal use...not to be used to stock the entire neighborhood with candy, my dad looked about as frazzled as Willy Wonka in the scene where he accuses Charlie of sipping the fizzy lifting drink. Like Charlie, I humbly accepted the consequences, relinquishing my charge account, like Charlie let go of the Everlasting Gobstopper...without a fight. It was the right thing to do.
Unlike Charlie, I did not inherit the candy kingdom or fly away in a magical Wonkavator. Most days, though, my Dad generously gave me just enough money to buy a little something from Mrs. Turner. All was forgiven; my charge account was paid in full.