As I stood there staring over the bin, I knew what my target would be. Though I was a fan of gumballs, Sweettarts and Saltwater Taffy – nothing could come between me and the gratifying tastes of Smarties. Twenty-five single sweet treats that never seem to get eaten individually. I had a plan in place and knew this was the day I fulfilled it.
I was always the good one of the bunch growing up. First to tattle on others and equally fast to cower in shame when I knew I had done wrong. But today was going to be different. At ten years of age, I was out to prove myself.
Our neighborhood grocery store was small, larger than a convenience store but much smaller than the big box variety. I bet I made eight laps around its isles that day. My friends as I saw it, had started a life of crime; and like any good follower, I was going to get into the action.
The bins were located near the produce section at the front of the store. They differed from the candy section, which had its equally enticing sugar treats, but I wasn’t ready for such a bold strike on my first attempt.
I knew the consequences of my actions were grand. Public shaming, life in prison and the ultimate worst possible scenario: parental notification. With all of that firmly planted in my mind, I was going through with it and was going give it the best attempt possible. My bike was positioned perfectly outside for the fastest possible getaway. Even at ten, I knew my best option was to head in a different direction of my home in case the chase was on. It didn’t help that I lived half a block away. The stage was set. I was Billy the Kid. And I was going down in a blaze of glory.
My friends were there that fateful day, egging me on to conquer my fears and join the dark side. It probably wasn’t the case, but their acceptance felt like it rested solely on my ability to make it out of the store without paying for my candy.
As I took one final lap, I scanned the scene. One checker in her mid-seventies and one customer emptying her cart on the counter. It was go time. I grabbed. One pack to be exact and made my way determined for the door. My heart was pounding and my hands were sweating, I was convinced everyone in the place knew what was happening. As I made my way past the checkout stands, I made sure not to make eye contact – I would have caved on the spot. The lump in my throat grew with every step. Ten feet to the door. Seven. Five. Three. Contact. Luckily, the Western Family had automatic doors or I may not have been able to think clearly enough to get one open. Freedom.
I made sure not to run until I cornered the building and made it out of window view. And then I turned on the jets. My buddies were positioned on their bikes and mine was sitting there like a horse ready to be mounted and pushed to the limits. I pedaled harder on that bike harder than any boy my age could imagine. Those Smarties were like rocket fuel to my feet. I glanced back only once to see if the heat was on but alas, no workers were out searching for me. Still, I took back roads and loops just to shake any possible trailers and finally entered my yard from the alley. I had made it.
As I sat on my back porch getting high-fives from all of my friends, I came to realize is that those Smarties just didn’t taste the same – they were golden. Each bite was better than the one before, getting sweeter as I made my way down the pack. I stood up to the challenge that day, and the challenge was defeated. My prize: an eight-cent package of Smarties and a lifetime membership to a group of buddies that would ride together for years.
That single package of Smarties was my only foray into the life of crime; thankfully, Smarties are still around today to remind me of what could have been. As I envision it going forward, there will probably be a day when my two sons attempt the same stunt I did. My only hopes are that they learn their lesson early on and that Smarties will be around to provide some of the same stories to them as the sweet candy gave to me.
I am Billy the Kid.
Note: This was written and submitted as an unsolicited piece to Jason Santa-Maria for what looks to be running of 8 separate guest posts on candy this month. After submission, I got a nice note saying that he did enjoy it but already had his hands full with the articles he requested from certain writers. C’est la vie, it was fun penning it.