Not that long ago, at the counter of a local drugstore, I caught myself reminiscing about the candy of my past. Specifically Bottle Caps. But not today’s version.
Those Bottle Caps found at the five and dime of my childhood were bigger. Back then they came in a flat package, neatly lined up, each one closely resembling a bottle cap and duplicating soda flavors: root beer, cola, cherry, grape and orange. It may be a faulty memory or wishful thinking, but I seem to recall another flavor akin to Dr. Pepper.
While Bottle Caps stick out in my mind as a favorite candy, their taste evokes memories not just of the candy itself but also of adventure. According to biological anthropologist John S. Allen, the author of The Omnivorous Mind, food is a powerful trigger of memories. That explains why many of the collective memories of my immediate and extended family revolve around food. Our family travels on its stomach, with a standing joke that one uncle journeys from restaurant to restaurant on vacation.
Perhaps my Bottle Caps experience isn’t that unusual. It’s not the candy itself that provokes strong feelings of nostalgia, it’s the associated adventures it signifies.
Once in a while, my brother, sister and I were allowed to ride our bikes the six-tenths of a mile to that five and dime. (Some quick but unverifiable research shows it may have been Les and Don’s Market, near the corner of W. Leslie Drive and N. San Marino Ave., but I don’t recall it being a big store. Perhaps my focus on candy led to tunnel vision.)
This was a time without cell phones, when we’d carry a dime for a pay phone. Not that it was expected that we’d have to use it, and I don’t think we ever did.
It was the greatest experience—our first taste of freedom…with candy. Crossing each driveway, each cross street required a new level of responsibility and awareness. We were now accountable for our own safety. We left the familiarity of our neighborhood behind to more intimately explore bordering lands. In our minds, those six-tenths of a mile could have been one hundred miles.
However, Bottle Caps candy was redesigned in 2009. Each piece became smaller. The underside was flattened, diminishing its approximation of a real bottle cap. There’s a rumor that Bottle Caps stacked in paper tube packages are the original size and shape, but I have yet to confirm this.
I went on to have other adventures, but the emotions and wonderment originally associated with Bottle Caps also no longer exist in their original form.
There are no instructions for life. It progresses into a series of memories. It’s those that you choose to carry and those you leave behind that form your expectations of adventures to come.
This isn’t a lamentation. Just ask my wife; a kid-like wonderment still exists within my soul. But those embers of wonder need to be stoked.