My parents are divorced, and my sister and I used to visit my mother in the summer. She was remarried, and we had a half-sister a few years younger than me. My mother's husband was kind of a goober, but we was well-meaning and we got along all right. We'd stay with my mother for about a month, and the trips were always eye-opening experiences. One thing was that at home with Dad, we had a black and white TV with rabbit-ear antennae, and it was never on; we didn't even ask Dad to watch it much, because we had not grown up watching. At Mom's, there was a large color TV, cable, and it was always on. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is watching that TV the first summer we visited, mesmerized by two sets of programming: the USA Cartoon Express and MTV videos. I had never seen either of these things, and the impact, as you might imagine, was immense.
I could go on forever about the USA Cartoon Express-- Jabberjaws, Speedbuggy, Clue Club, the Laffalympics... man, I soaked up 20 years of Hanna Barbera in a month that summer. Oh, and Scooby Doo, Blue Falcon, El Kabong! The hits go on!
Simultaneously, I was fascinated by the music videos on MTV. I had never heard any music like the kind they aired, much less seen the videos that accompanied them. This was back when MTV actually showed videos practically all day-- no douchebags whining about crap on reality shows. The two videos that defined that summer were LL Cool J's "I'm the Type of Guy" and Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance." I can still sing most of the lyrics to both of those songs. I waited lustily for those songs when I had control of the TV, and I reveled in their melodic genius. Neneh Cherry's song was especially wonderful, because as a kid, I was always trying to figure out what a buffalo stance must be. I imagined it to be a strong, regal stance, one like John Wayne affects in John Ford movies (I didn't know the John Ford part back then, but my granddad had always been a John Wayne fan, so I had an image.)
When I wasn't glued to the TV, I was riding a Huffy bike that my mother had found for me. It was one of the really old-timey ones, even back then: banana seat, large, jutting handlebars, wheel reflectors. There were a few kids in the neighborhood, and it was like a trip back to the 50s of Father Knows Best or something (again, I would not have known that reference then)-- we all raced down the street, played in yards, swam in the neighborhood pool. There weren't any kids back home, and it was great to just wander around on my bike, knocking on doors to ask if people could come out and play.
An added benefit of the bike was that I was often asked to ride the half-mile or so to the convenience store. Mom and her husband had only one car, so when he was at work, the bike was the mode of transportation-- because who wants to walk in the heat? So, whenever the household needed milk or bread or the like, I took a trip up to the market. It was tricky on the way back sometimes, as I had no basket and bags could be bulky, but I liked the fact that I was the go-to guy in the event of a staple shortage.
The other nice part about the trips was the fact that Mom was suffering from a decidedly guilty conscience-- and so, the world was my candy store. Practically every time I went to the little market, there was an implicit agreement that I could get a little something for myself. My step-sister started to notice this fact, and she began to accompany me to the store to get her fair share. As a result, we became candy buddies. We never got too much per trip-- just a Blow-Pop, a few Tootsie Rolls, or a small package of candy to split. Predictably, too, we became competitive about how much candy each of us had or could keep. We began not to eat the candy immediately, to save it to try to amass a great trove of it. Initially, we put each put our candy in plastic bags, but then one day, my step-sister had the idea that we should store it in an empty jewelry box. It was one of those tiered jobbies to display three rows of storage. It was pink faux velvet, and I thought it was divine.
Not because it was pink or girly or a jewelry box, mind you, but because the candy was put on such brilliant full display by this little pink box. Jaw breakers, Dum-dums, Tart-n-Tiny's: they all glowed as if phosphorescent against the pale pink backdrop. I am comfortable in my masculinity... why are you snickering?
Anyway, over the summer, we were able to collect quite a variety of candies, eating only the smallest tariffs and putting the rest in the box. We knew which was whose, but we liked the picture that a full jewelry box painted, so we kept the candy together. At the end of the trip, we split up our treasure and I took home quite a sac of candy. There was something satisfying about seeing it all mixed together in a plastic bag-- it seemed like the happy union of myriad sweet treats, and I had to dig through a mass of crinkling plastic wrappers to find what I wanted at any one moment. I hid my prize in my closet, and I ate on it for months thereafter. It was a sad day, indeed, when the last piece passed these lips. I have, on occasion, dreamed of finding a large bag of mixed candy in my closet, and I think I must be subconsciously remembering that summer when Neneh Cherry and a pink jewelry box defined my young life.