There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the danger of sugar in our diets. There’s even a new movie playing in selected theaters, Fed Up, warning about the extreme health hazards of sugar. Some experts are telling us that sugar is as addictive as heroin and as harmful as smoking. (Yikes, when I was a kid the biggest concern was that it would ‘rot your teeth out.’) I haven’t seen the movie yet but I plan to, and I’d like to take my young sugar-addicted nephews. We all need to cut back on our consumption. But with sugar being added to nearly everything these days, cutting back is about more than giving up the obvious goodies. It is a daunting and difficult undertaking, which got me thinking…about candy. And more specifically the lengths that we, as children, were willing to go to for even a small amount of this heavenly, sugar-filled miracle.
|WARNING: BEWARE OF CANDY!|
When we, my siblings and I, were growing up we didn’t have access to candy like kids have nowadays. Candy was a rare and special treat, mostly for holidays--Easter, Christmas, and that magical candy day known as Halloween. Candy seems to everywhere now, but when my sister, Tammy (who is closest to me in age) and I were young it took some serious, and dangerous, effort to get non-holiday candy.
Our neighbors across the road in the rural ‘neighborhood’ we grew up in had two daughters who were roughly the same ages as Tammy and I. Like us, they had parents who subscribed to the ‘space shuttle’ style of parenting, in direct opposition to the ‘helicopter’ method that seems popular today. You know--more of the ‘I-know-they’re-out-there-somewhere-but-I’m-not-sure-exactly-where’ than the ‘hovering.’ The four of us were best friends and remain close to this day, bonded by hours of shared chores, late-night ghost stories, and multiple near-death experiences--like the following...
Summers were especially free and we spent hours of these long, hot days plotting and executing our latest candy quest. After days of trudging up and down the country roads collecting discarded cans to recycle and bottles to return for deposit, we would then throw our bags of loot into the back of Dad’s pickup and then wait impatiently for him to get a chance to drive to town and trade them for cash. This took days, but in addition to washing cars and selling lemonade on the roadside, we would eventually collect a sufficient stash of coin to warrant a trip to the candy store.
But that was the easy part--because now we had to get to the candy.
This entailed riding bicycles to the country store/tavern (no I’m not making that up), Lottie’s, which was miles and several hills away. These bikes were all ownerless, well-used hand-me-downs and passably functional at best--shoddy brakes, missing pedals, loose chains that dislodged when switching gears, etc. But if even the front brakes worked inconsistently and the bike could only be ridden without switching gears we were good to go. And, to make an already unsafe trip even riskier, often at least a pair of us rode double--with one rider either perched on the handlebars or backwards on the ‘banana seat.’ Helmets? I’m sure only professional race car drivers were wearing them back then.
But the biggest obstacle on our journey was not the distance, or the ramshackle bicycles, or even a fear of drunken strangers. No, these things were mere snags easily overcome. Our only real problem was (insert dramatic pause) The Three-Legged Dog.
|Imagine this coming at you in white!|
Yes, he was as terrifying as he sounds. The dreaded Three-Legged Dog was a white, lightning-fast, canine terror of snarling teeth and fangs that lived halfway down the largest and second-to-last hill on the way to Lottie’s. Hence, the way there usually fell somewhere in the middle on the terror-inducing scale. Yes, the dog would come after us--three legs of evil incarnate, lunging and snorting spit and fire but we were prepared. Clever, scrappy, candy-obsessed children that we were, we would begin pedaling furiously before coming upon the downward slope. When we passed him we would be sailing at full speed--I’m guessing roughly fifty miles an hour down a narrow country road consisting of dangerous pebble-covered, cracked-and-patched asphalt. We usually made it by the dog unscathed but his enraged bark rang like thunder and we could feel his hot breath on our heels. By the time we made it up this last hill we were far enough away that he would abort his chase. Then our ragtag group would easily cruise the last half-mile or so to where the end of the rainbow awaited.
It was the return trip that could be ripped from the pages of a horror novel.
The last hill (the first on the return trip) was probably only about half the size of the three-legged dog’s hill, so you had to pedal like mad all the way down in order to gain enough speed to make it up the other side to avoid being intercepted by the vicious devil hound.
We probably succeeded at this fifty-percent of the time. So when you were attacked you had to remember the drill; it was absolutely imperative to bail off on the opposite side from the dog, keeping the bicycle between you and the ferocious monster at all times. You then had to do a sort of backwards scamper up the hill while simultaneously dragging the bicycle and using it as a shield. This is when you prayed for a car to come by because the dog, upon seeing larger prey, would take off after the car and you could make a run for it. Unfortunately cars were scarce. So upwards, terrified, backwards you fought and fled toward the top of the hill. Until, nearing exhaustion and close to the top, the dog would finally back off (after having successfully chased you out of his territory once again) and return to his lair.
After the attack it was easy sailing--just miles of baked concrete, hot sun and a sweaty hand clutching that brown paper bag full of hard-earned Wacky Wafers, Sixlets and Gobstoppers. We would pedal home leisurely while munching on our candy, giggling and recalling our latest brush with death.
I know cutting back on the sugar is the right thing to do--the healthy thing. And it’s essential to set a good example for the kids. But I worry. If, as children, we were willing to run this demon-dog gauntlet time and time again, risking our lives for this tiny cache of candy--what chance do kids have these days with candy seemingly falling from the sky? (Not to mention the sugar added to an estimated 80% of packaged foods?) How can we possibly expect them to resist?
As an adult I’m still in trouble, because even as I’m becoming more and more aware of the addictive nature of sugar and all its accompanying evils and causes of potential health problems, there are days when I would gladly run barefoot over hot coals for an apple fritter. Maybe if I had to actually do that now it would make me think twice, but I sincerely doubt it. And besides, I have a car now--and a wallet full of change. Take that Three-Legged Dog!