It’s a Beautiful Day in My Neighborhood

I have a drawer in my kitchen completely devoted to candy. I blame my Aunt Betty. As a child, I would visit my Aunt Betty and Uncle Eddie, sometimes even staying with them for lengths of time, and marvel over the fact that they had this not-so-secret drawer stocked with candy. You could visit it any time. Just grab candy, then hit the garage fridge for a root beer, then a handful of one of their thousand comic books and head to their beach.

Think about that. It was like a dream existence for kids. For me though, rather than go outside, I’d hit their sofa in the front room overlooking the lake and read and drink root beer all day long. I’ve never been outdoorsy, that trend obviously began early.

At one point while gulping down cheesy, delicious, greasy tacos—another phenomenon I experienced at Aunt Betty’s, I vowed that when I grew up, I’d have a candy drawer, too. And eat tacos. I set attainable goals for myself. I like that kid.

My own kids enjoyed the candy drawer growing up and the weird thing about it was that they didn’t over-indulge. Probably because they always had access to candy, and it became a so-what kind of deal. I’m not a huge candy eater, so it wasn’t a problem for me either. If it was called the barbeque potato chip drawer, we’d have a problem.

I sent my daughter off to college with a big bowl and lots of candy, which she didn’t really eat, but others enjoyed. While growing up, her friends would walk into the house and directly to the drawer. I loved that. Neighborhood children know about the drawer and the doorbell rings frequently with little visitors, some of whom I’ve never met with friends in tow, going to the drawer for their single daily selection. That’s my rule. You only get one piece a day.

The mothers in my neighborhood have mixed emotions about the candy drawer. Those that know me are tolerant of the fact that candy—laden with trans fats, are available. A no-no in their own homes. And there are those moms who don’t really know me—most of them newbies in my transient neighborhood who worry about the strange lady and the drawer. I don’t blame them. Just writing it sounds creepy to me too. But I’m a safe bet. And the candy’s safe, too.

The kids are an interesting mix. I get tons of gossip about what everyone’s up to, not all of it good. Sometimes I hear about parents quarreling, but I hold that intel close. Most times, I hear about sports and who’s playing with who, and what they’re up to. What plays are being put on in the neighborhood, where the sleepovers are at. They keep in me in the loop and bring me sweet drawings, which I adore and put on the fridge. I care about them and they form an acquaintanceship with a neighborly experience.

There are troublemakers, though. They amuse me. Some of them grab more than one piece of candy then look extraordinarily worried. Not refined thespians yet. Sometimes I let it play out and don’t stop them, but for the more aggressive ones, I call them out and tell them no. I worry a bit about those kids. Their parents have their hands full, but the world needs all colors of temperaments and personalities. I wonder if they’ll remember their anarchy and stretching the rules of the candy drawer.

The problem I’m having lately is that the dog goes nuts when the kids come inside. It’s summer and foot traffic has picked up. I usually put my baby in her kennel when the kids come inside because her energy level and strength are a bit much. But I feel so guilty for doing that. Puppies just want to have fun. Gemma bucks and jumps in the metal cage like a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. It’s sad.

Sometimes I make the kids sing for their supper. I’ll give them assignments like they have to go directly home and hug their mom, or they can never get candy again. Or, horrified that they don’t know who Elvis Presley or the Beatles are, I tell them that before they can get candy again, they have to tell me about one of the songs. It’s good stuff. I boss them around and yell at them sometimes. Tell them to stay out of trouble and not skip school. I don’t know, they seem to like the ridiculous discipline and keep coming back for more.

Kids are cool. They inspire me. Nothing makes me feel better than when one of them opens the drawer and instead of grabbing the candy, they first look at me and smile. Because I stocked up on their favorite. They requested it. I bought it. They know it. It’s a person-to-person connection. One Tootsie Roll at a time.

Thank you, Aunt Betty.

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