A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lunch At The Candy Store

I started my school career dutifully partaking of the nourishment offered by our school cafeteria. Being a somewhat picky eater, I held most of the entrees in complete disdain, other than the occasional homemade roll or peanut butter cookie. And the little cartons of milk…just not my thing. However, sometime in third grade, a decision was made that I would be allowed to have lunch at a wondrous place called The Candy Store. Saying goodbye to the unfortunate chumps that were relegated to the cafeteria, I discovered for the first time that school could be a place of culinary excellence as well as learning.

There were actually two Candy Stores. Gatlin’s, or The Green Candy Store as we called it, was more popular with the elementary crowd. Burden’s, or The White Candy Store, was more often frequented by the high-schoolers. Over the years I developed the pattern of having my main course at The Green Candy Store and then leisurely strolling over to The White Candy Store for my dessert. When you first walked in to Gatlin’s, you were immediately hit with a continuous clatter that sounded like a severe hail storm on a tin roof. This was caused by about a hundred elementary students pecking on the glass candy counter with their nickels. The popular belief was that it was necessary to peck in order to be waited on. Gatlin’s had all the popular candy bars, but elementary boys and girls had developed an affection for Winner Suckers more than any other product. A Winner Sucker was a grape flavored sucker that actually was shaped like a cluster of grapes on one side. The other side was flat. When you bought a Winner Sucker, the person working the counter would carefully unwrap it, and if the flat side of the sucker had a piece of tape stuck to it that said “Winner,” you won another sucker. One kid actually won three additional suckers one time, a record that was never bested. Grape Jolly Ranchers are the closest thing nowadays to the taste of a Winner Sucker.

The Gatlin’s candy counter also often featured a punchboard, a form of legalized gambling for elementary kids. You paid your nickel, picked a number, and the sales person would punch out that square on a cardboard frame, and you got to keep whatever trinket was located behind the number. Of course, the punchboard had samples of some really great prizes attached to it. One day John York told me that he had asked the ladies working the counter if, when the current board was used up, could he have the board (with the samples still attached). To his surprise, they agreed. I tried this and was actually promised a used board myself, but when I showed up to claim it, the new board was in place and nobody knew what happened to the old one.

Back at the grill in Gatlin’s, my usual choice was a Frito Pie. They kept a big pot of chili cooking all the time, and to make a Frito Pie they would cut open a package of Fritos on the side and pour a ladle full of chili on top of the Fritos. Add one plastic spoon, and you’ve got yourself a Frito Pie. That costs twenty cents. Also for twenty cents, you could get a grilled cheese (delicious), or a “hot dog” which was actually a piece of bologna that had been cooking in the pot of chili, served on a hamburger bun. For the more affluent, a hamburger was twenty-five cents. You got your sandwich and a package of chips, and then headed over to the fountain for your coke, which set you back ten cents. It was standing room only, so you ate standing up. Oh, there was a back room with some benches and a juke box, but that was the domain of older kids and elementary students didn’t dare step in there. I did peek in once and saw one of my brothers back there.

After finishing my Frito Pie and Coke, I would generally go over to Burden’s for a candy bar. I always thought they had a slightly better selection of candy bars than Gatlin’s. I always got the same thing; Mars Bar. After that tasty dessert, it was time to stroll back to class.

It’s kind of amazing to consider that the Candy Stores were unsupervised by any school people, but there were very few problems. I think both the Gatlin’s and the Burden’s made it a point to monitor the students and were able to head off most trouble before it got started. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and sometime in about tenth grade, the school district closed the campuses and that meant no one could go over to the Candy Stores anymore. But they remain the source of some of my best childhood memories.


  1. Who can forget that wonderful soda fountain drink served at The Green Candy Store --- "The Suicide".... they would take a cup of ice, go down the line of levers for all the different soda drinks and put a little of each and then finish it of with a squirt of cherry flavoring.... probably not the most healthy thing for a growing elementary student... but they sure were good !!!!

  2. Marilyn Douglas LittletonFebruary 15, 2011

    The couple in the picture were from the class of 1966. Don't remember what year this picture was taken. It is of Linda Watkins and Ronnie Keener. I believe they eventually married but no longer are together.