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A Hard Christmas Candy

By Chuck Clegg - | Dec 23, 2020

Downtown New Martinsville 1930's

Recently, my Mom reminded me of a song that Dolly Parton recorded in 1982, it is titled, “Hard Candy Christmas.” The song and its lyrics gave me reason to remember hard candy and its part in my memories of Christmas from long ago.

Growing up in the sixties, hard candy was very much part of the tradition of Christmas. In fact, candy of all kinds was front and center in the lives of most kids. It was hard not to have candy in your pocket. Accompany your parents into the bank and the teller would look over the counter and say, “would you like a candy cane little fellow?” Without hesitation you would smile, accept the offered candy and immediately sample its flavor. Your parent would say, “What do you tell the nice lady?” That was your prompt to say, “It’s good.”

The county court house was a place Santa visited each Christmas. Maybe he figured if he asked if you were a good boy or girl, you had to tell the truth in the official center of law and order in our community. I did not always fit into the good little boy category. So, I crossed my fingers and told Santa I was good and what I wanted for Christmas. He would instruct his assistant elf to give me my bag of candy. A treasure of peppermint, lemon and cinnamon drops. I don’t think he ever knew I had crossed my fingers.

Back in those days, local industries would rent the Lincoln Theater on Saturday mornings. It was the time for the company’s annual Christmas party that was held for their employee’s kids. Children along with their parents would line up waiting for the doors to open. When they did, hundreds of kids rushed inside. Parents waved good-bye knowing they had some time to go shopping downtown. The Christmas program was timed to give parents a chance to do a little last minute shopping. Kids were entertained and local businesses were supported. A win win situation for everybody.

Inside the theater, the program entertained the kids for over an hour. Upon its end, elves’ positioned a large velvet chair center stage. From behind the curtain came a hearty, Ho, Ho, Ho, as Santa Claus made his way on to the stage. Bright faced little kids were sure this was the real Santa. And all they had to do was tell this jolly old man they had been a good boy or girl. He would then ask what they wanted under the tree. After you told him your request, his assistant elf hurried you off his lap while presenting you with a bag of hard candy and a gift. These annual Christmas parties sponsored by the local companies were a tradition for many years in our community. A time of Christmas joy and hundreds of smiling faces in downtown New Martinsville. Happy children with a gift in one hand and a bag of hard candy in the other. These annual events came to an end when most local industries faded away.

Looking back on those times and the abundance of holiday candy given to kids, I believe the local dentists smiled every Christmas knowing by August, they would be filling cavities in dozens of kid’s teeth. What kids didn’t know or care about, was the hard candy treat was 99% sugar with a bit of coloring and flavoring added.

Hard candy comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are round while others were shaped like candy fruit. Some were long and thin while others were the size of a jaw breaker. The goal of the candy manufacturer is for you to hold the candy in your mouth, letting it dissolve slowly, releasing the flavor over a period of time. Now, I will have to confess that I figured the best way to enjoy the flavor, was to crush it into small pieces releasing all the flavor at once. That way I could try another piece from my bag of sugary treats.

Of all the candies from my childhood, hard candy, chocolate fudge, jelly chews, candy canes and gum drops, there was one that was my favorite, ribbon candy. It came in a box neatly packaged. Most of the time there were six flavors in each box. Lemon, peppermint, cherry, sweet anise, spearmint and a spicy flavored ribbon. Each flavor had its own compartment to prevent breakage. You had to be careful when eating the candy. Expensive ribbon candy was thick and harder to break. While less expensive brands were thin and easily broken. The thinner candy was sharp when broken. A kid could cut their tongue if they were not careful.

Today, parents frown on having an abundance of candy around the house during the holidays. Maybe because they spent $2000 on their kids braces last year. And there is the question of calories and the health effects that comes with too much sugar. All important things, but I don’t believe when the kids of today are my age, they will have any memories of Christmas associated with hard candy.

When my Mom was reminded of Dolly’s song, “Lord, it’s Like a Hard Candy Christmas”, it took her back to Christmas of her youth in the 1930s. It was a hard time in the country and people were struggling to have any kind of a Christmas. My mother’s family was no exception. She explained at that time of the year, a bowl of candy sat inside their home at Christmas. The candy in the bowl was often stuck together, making individual pieces difficult to separate. She used an old table knife to break the hard candy apart so she could have a Christmas treat. That was over eighty years ago, she still associates the memory of that candy bowl with Christmas.

A piece of hard candy made with sugar and flavoring may not be important in our lives. But, somehow it brings back memories of families and community. It was a time when we all came together downtown at Christmas time. It was a time when gifts under our tree were purchased from a family owned business on Main Street. A time when a small bag of hard candy meant joy of the season. Today, downtown businesses are mostly gone. Industrial family Christmas parties are only a memory from yesterday. And, if your child was given a bag of hard candy, it may have a label warning of the health effects of too much sugar.

While I was writing this story I remembered a picture in the Joe Ward Collection. The photograph was taken by Roxie Fitzsimmons showing a snowy night downtown. I thought of the picture and could almost hear Christmas bells. I wondered if when she snapped the picture, did she realize her camera would freeze a special moment in time of our town. I miss our hometown Christmases from all those years ago.

The day after tomorrow is Christmas. A time of joy and happiness. A time of family. A time when we remember that a Child came into our world with the promise of everlasting life. From the staff of the Wetzel Chronicle and Tyler Star News, along with Mary and myself, we wish you a happy holiday and a bright New Year. Merry Christmas, as we look forward Through the Lens.