Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Shortcut to Mushrooms

We were in the car for a long time that day. Or, at least, so it seemed. When you're young, you don't like any rides more than twenty minutes or so. You've all seen it in the movies. Hollywood really nailed that whole "are we there yet" bit. Spot on.

But eventually, I started to recognize some familiar sites. The dizzying turns on those mountain roads began to straighten out, and my nausea subsided slightly. When Dad pulled into that convenience station, I eagerly jumped out to feel the solid ground beneath my feet. The station was one of those small, old-time places, with Coke in 12-ounce glass bottles, off-brand pork rinds and individual beef sticks. But my sister and I weren't interested in any of that; we headed straight for the candy aisle.

We rarely asked if we could get anything, because we had been trained to know that the unasked question often got the desired answer. Sure enough, just looking down at the Bazooka Joe gums, the Atomic Fireballs and the Fun Dips did the job. Dad came up to us and told us to grab something so that we could go. My sister quickly grabbed a roll of SweeTarts, as if she was sure of her choice, but I was more hesitant. I had not had most of these candies before, and I did not even know what a SweeTart was. The one thing I did know was that I did not want to miss out on what my sister seemed so keen on; well, that, and that the SweeTart roll gave the impression of containing the most candy in its class. That roll was way longer than the Rollo one, for instance. So, I, too, grabbed some SweeTarts, and away we went.

Simple. Classic. Elegant.

When I tore open the end of that roll in the car, I noted the color and asked my sister what color hers was. I don't remember her being interested in comparing. But before I could eat the first one, I had to count the candies so that I could ration them. Through the taut paper wrapper, I marked the end of each candy with my thumb and counted 26 lines. That made 27 pieces. Astounding. I could not believe that my Dad had let us each get so much candy. Usually, it was watermelon and yogurt for us. Occasionally, an individual tootsie roll or the like, but nothing like this. I wanted to clutch the roll to my stomach and double over so that it would be impossible for anyone to get at my stash. 27 candies. Sunshine brand became a god to me that day.

I ate the first SweeTart and was even more enamored of my treasure. It was a pink one, and man, was it sweet. I quickly ate the green one that was next, and had to stop myself from scarfing through half the pack. By the time we got to the lake, I had stopped at 3, leaving 24 candies to go. The lake was one of our favorite places, because someone had put up a water-slide that went out into the deeper water. It was just a regular slide that had water running down it. None of these crazy whirli-gigs that are all the rage these days. Just a lake and a slide. I was a little afraid of heights, so climbing up that slide was a bit terrifying, but the ride down was awesome.

The view from below.

That day was a blur of climbing up the slide, shooting down into the luke warm water, running to the car to eat a candy and repeating the whole process. I splashed my Dad and sister in the water and ranked the SweeTarts flavors. I rushed about with the energy of the sugar and felt the sun on my face. I laughed with my sister and wished she was always like this.

Eventually, we tired ourselves out and started the ride back as the sun set. I climbed over the backseat into that station wagon place where a trunk would be and I slept the sleep of the just: with half a pack of SweeTarts clutched in my hand and the sweetest of dreams dancing through my head.

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