Some of you may remember a long past Suburban Times article of mine in which I mentioned that candy was a rare thing in my early childhood. My mother would hand me maybe one hard candy or a soft caramel a day if I had been good. I was quite average. But in average, I probably got more than my one daily candy. Because of our neighbors.
We lived in an apartment house with six units on three floors, and one of the old couples on the first floor almost seemed to lay in wait for us kids. Tumble down the stairs and howl with pain – their front door would open, and the kind couple would console you and gift you with a load of candy or cookies. Graze your knee outside and run inside for a BandAid – the door would magically open, and you’d get another load of candy.
Kids are clever. We knew that the couple had a soft spot for us, no matter if boy or girl, pretty or less so, older or young. We flocked to their door sometimes and rang the bell to ask for candy. No special occasion involved. Just on a whim. I usually hung back. My mother had told me never to join, as this was similar to panhandling. Still, in all fairness, my little brother, who had fewer scruples in this department, and my little friends usually shared what loot they came away with. I rather relied on my chance luck. And on one occasion, when I beat up a neighborhood bully to defend my little brother, a big package of assorted chewing gum flew out of a friend’s window, accompanied by the friendly wave of her mother’s.
I also got a couple of free Pfennig-candies from the lady at the dairy store down the road whenever I bought milk there. I was four by then, and, of course, the pride in doing something “grown-up” was sweetened even more by such a treat.
We moved to a different neighborhood when I was six. Candy jars for neighborhood kids weren’t the thing there, except with my mother. She religiously kept a candy plate by the front door to treat kind children or the mailman or the ladies who tried to convince her to join their church with choice candies. Even after I had long moved out. Even after I had moved to The United States.
I kept these sweet gestures at my first own apartment in another different neighborhood. I had two cute twin girls living next door, and their eyes lit up whenever I talked to her mother, they clinging to her side, and I offered them candy from the plate I kept in my tiny hallway. For sure, my own eyes lit up when they returned the gesture with little bouquets of self-picked meadow flowers.
The older I became, the fewer children were around in my neighborhood. My candy plate next to the front door disappeared. Here, in the U.S., it only reappeared on Halloween. But as we used to be the only ones in our neighborhood doing the whole shenanigans – dressing up, decorating our garage, carving pumpkins –, hardly anybody ever showed up in our driveway. And those who came were mostly young mothers with babies too young to enjoy candy. Or some shy teenagers who couldn’t believe their luck that they weren’t turned away for being “too old”. We never turned away anyone, by the way.
Over time, we have stopped going to the trouble. There are no more kids in our neighborhood. They have grown up and moved on. There is still candy on a pantry shelf in our home. Just in case. You never know, somebody might knock on the door and need a neighborly hug in the shape of a saltwater taffy or a Werther’s.