The Penny Candy Store

I grew up in a rural community. Mostly there were apple orchards and dairy farms. We lived about a mile from a hamlet which was really nothing more than a cemetery, a church, a Grange Hall, and a cluster of houses. And LaFlam’s.  We rode our bikes to LaFlam’s every chance we could.

Mr. LaFlam owned a small orchard. He was an older, bald man. He also ran a penny candy store on the enclosed front porch of his house. His youngest daughter, Anna, helped him with the penny candy business. Anna was what we called “slow” back then.

One of Anna’s brothers was intellectually disabled. He would hitchhike up US-20 to the town proper, where he was known as the Mayor. People watched out for him.  There was a perpetual bald spot under one of the trees on the Presbyterian church’s lawn where Henry (as he was known in town) sat. In his home hamlet, we called him Hank.

Both of Anna’s children were also severely intellectually disabled. Eddie and Ginny were adults when I knew them. The people in the hamlet watched out for the LaFlams. It’s what folks did back then.

Someone had given Eddie an old bicycle. It was, as far as we all could tell, his prized possession. He couldn’t ride, but he pushed the bike up and down the road all the time.  If he heard a car coming, he would push the bike way off the road to avoid being hit. Eddie also wrote love letters to his “girlfriend.” He always had a small spiral notebook and pencil stub in his pocket . His wavy lines were very neat, between the lines on the paper. He would share those love letters with us if we asked him to show them to us.

Sometimes, visitors who weren’t familiar with the family, would try to take advantage of Eddie…get him to give away apples and such. But no one in the hamlet did that. No one was mean–not intentionally. Yes, we sometimes imitated the way Eddie spoke, called it our accent, but there was no meanness in it. One of my cousins had Eddie down-pat.

In the summer, every Monday night, Anna and her daughter Ginny would walk to dinner at a house down the road from my parents place. We would always greet them. But Ginny was shy and seldom spoke.

After old Mr. LaFlam passed away, the penny candy store had to close. Anna wasn’t capable of doing whatever needed to be done. We lost our place to buy Turkish Taffy, Fireballs, Tootsie Rolls, licorice whips, and cherry vines. Another family tried to do the same thing on their enclosed porch, but it never succeeded. LaFlam’s was an institution to a generation of children in the area.

I grew up and moved away. My folks weren’t sure whatever happened to Eddie and Ginny after their mother could no longer take care of them.  Dad thought Ginny went into a home, but didn’t know what happened to Eddie.

I did a little Internet snooping

Henry/Hank died in 2005, survived by one niece and one nephew.

Ginny died in 2017. Her obit reads: She is survived by her brother Edward. Ginny loved getting her nails manicured; going shopping and to her ARC program.

Eddie was the last one to pass away. He died only a few weeks ago, at the age of 88. I missed his memorial service by two weeks. How utterly sad that his short obit reads: Edward has no known survivors. Please contact the funeral home with any additional information. 

I don’t suppose they meant memories of bicycles, love letters, and penny candy.