Penny Candy

I grew up in Mill Valley, California. This is by far one of the best places on earth for raising kids — or at least it was in 1954. I went back there on the fourth of July to take a hike on Mt. Tamalpais with one of my daughters. With each crunch of sun-baked pine needles underfoot, my heart began to soften and childhood memories brought a smile to my face. 

Dad’s voice came to me: “Your allowance is 25 cents a week. Susan, if you want more money, you need to go out and earn it!” Well, being only about 8 years old, my options were somewhat limited — but there was one golden opportunity for those who owned a bicycle and weren’t afraid of a little dirt. Glass bottle deposits!!

The first challenge was the “hunt”. My sister and I would hop on our faithful horses (bikes) and ride off into the sunset searching for stray soda bottles. They were there. You just had to look real hard, mainly, because we searched these parts just about every day. But we would find them, letting out hoots of joy with each find. We always washed them out so that the man at the store would accept them. He never said he wouldn’t, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

Ah! Record day! Three bottles!! Next, we would wrap the clean bottles in a rag and one of us would carry them in our horse’s basket (bike). The ride down to the grocery store was probably a mile. In those days, in Mill Valley, this was OK. It was all downhill going to the store, so this part of our job was glorious. Coming home, not so much!

I remember as if it were yesterday, going up to the counter in the Old Mill Supermarket. There was a giant wooden barrel, filled with penny candy: Tootsie Rolls, Jaw Breakers, Bubblegum. Ah, treasure, glorious treasure! Because I was the older sister, I always got the job of presenting the bottles to the “man”. That’s what we used to call him. The man. This was serious stuff. There was always the chance he would not take the bottles — who knew? He may not like root beer bottles. He may only want Coca Cola bottles. So, with my best John Wayne swagger, and Dale Rogers smile, I would saunter up to the man and place the bottles, one by one, on the counter. My sister would stand slightly behind me and stare at the man from around my waist, her big brown eyes liquid with excitement.

With both of us staring at the man in the most absolute anticipation, he would pick up each bottle and inspect it carefully and then place it in a box under the counter. With each bottle, he would look at us and wink, a smile curving at the corner of his mouth. My sister would huddle in a little closer against my back. Finally, he would push the buttons of the old cash register and with a ringing sound, the drawer would fly open. Six pennies, counted one by one, were placed on the counter in front of us.  Glimmering, coppery treasure! Ours! We were RICH!!

I handed my sister her three pennies and she stuffed them into her pocket. I did the same. The man didn’t matter any more. His job was done. All that mattered now — the barrel!! Oh happy day! What should I choose? One Tootsie Roll, and two pieces of bubblegum? Two Tootsie Rolls and one piece of bubblegum. The jaw breakers weren’t good. Knew that going into this decision. About thirty minutes later, and having touched just about every piece in the barrel, we had made our decisions and handed our pennies back over to the man. With gobs of glorious chocolate stuck to the roof of our mouths, we threw ourselves up onto our saddles (bikes) and home we flew, ready for our next adventure!


My phone crashed yesterday, and I lost all my pictures of this week’s hike and about 1,000 others (good lesson in backing up files, learned the hard way). So, I will store the memory of a special hike in the woods in my heart, along with this special childhood memory. Thank you, God, for memories to cherish.


About susansplace

Widowed in 2012, I am a mother and grandmother. Born in San Francisco, I now live in the town I grew up in: Mill Valley, California. I love nature photography. Just an amateur but that's OK! My goal: world peace. Got any ideas?
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8 Responses to Penny Candy

  1. Sunny Lane, A story about two cousins.. says:

    Hi Cinderella”)
    I think your childhood has many moments of imagery that sticks..your writing is very visual. I had a friend when I was a teenager that taught me how to ride horses and I thought about that reading your post. It was magical as a teenager for me because I was a foster child.

    A bit about me:
    My name is Lydia and I was a foster child and now an aspiring filmmaker. I am writing you because I think that you may like what I am writing about and I like to connect with others that I could learn from and share stories with. I was given six banker boxes of documented abuse. It was very cold and factual with no life or love in it. So I decided to start publishing original journal entries from childhood between my cousin and I. I named it Izzie and Eden’s Journal.

    We used to write our secrets and plan escapes in it. I hope you stop by and take a look. It is very important to me to share it and keep the story alive. Take care and I look forward to reading more of your post! Sincerely, Lydia

  2. kaiyasworld says:

    I lived in Sausalito for quite a few years and would go to the Tennessee Valley Trail almost every day. I miss that area so much. Mill Valley is such a beautiful town. Hopefully I’ll move back there some day!

    • susansplace says:

      Tennessee Valley Trail is one of my favorites! I lived in Sausalito, too, for awhile! In my running days, I used to love to run that trail; and now, love to walk it. It’s always so wonderful to reach the beach and those beautiful cliff rocks. Thanks for checking out my blog!

  3. Bev says:

    Great memories, Sue !! I remember that store! And could just about hear the cash register as I read !! And could see your two little faces looking at “the man” !! Now I want that CANDY!!!!
    Love, Bev

  4. I have a pic almost exactly like that with AV poppies and a barbed wire fence. 🙂

  5. susansplace says:

    It’s actually a greeting card that my sister sent to me long ago…

  6. Gay Parker says:

    I grew up in Mill Valley at the same time
    Too. Up on Birch St.

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