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EDDIE COSTIK: Savoring the candy, and memories, from Derricks

George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I was born and raised in “Our Town” – Middletown. For the most part, I lived and worked here my entire life. It’s not what I expected. It just happened. Most things in life do.

At 62, I have a lifetime of memories growing up in Middletown, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

For all of us, as we get older, life takes on a greater sense of urgency, an urgency akin to plugging the leaks in a sinking boat. We get so busy trying to plug the leaks with new memories and adventures that we forget about the old ones. We forget
what the boat looked like when it was new.

As I share my early memories of Middletown, some of you won’t have an inkling of what I’m talking about. For others, they’ll be vague recollections. For the rest, perhaps they’ll evoke some happy, forgotten time in your life.

I attended parochial school – St. Mary’s, Seven Sorrows of the B.V.M. (Blessed Virgin Mary). For me, there was always a certain amount of communal disconnect not attending public school. Some public school kids called us “fish”. Back in the day, a
tenet of the Catholic Church was to abstain from eating meat on Friday. Fish was fine. Farm animals a no-no. To this day, I still don’t know why.

The rectory of the priest, Father Cavanaugh, sat on the corner of Race and Conewago streets, where the new church now stands. One day, as a second-grader, after lunch at home – yes, we were actually allowed to go home for lunch back then – I saw Father Cavanaugh’s dog eating a hunk of garlic bologna. It was Friday. Catholic priest. Catholic dog. No meat on Friday. I snatched the hunk of meat from the jaws of Father Cavanaugh’s mutt, who promptly bit me in my cheek.

There was a buffer between the public elementary school, the George W. Feaser building and St. Mary’s Elementary School – Derricks. It was where we Catholic kids and public school kids co-mingled. It was a soda fountain and candy store that stood
across from Feaser.

Elmer Derrick ran the shop with his wife. They both worked there. Elmer mostly. He always wore a full-body white apron. He had a storefront window, but I don’t know if he ever displayed anything that I can remember.

There were two or three booths but I never saw them used much. Most everyone sat on the stools with their little legs dangling off the stoop of the floor. I usually had a nickel Hires Root Beer. Dispensed from an actual Hires barrel. He served it in a frozen mug. Half of it was suds. Half root beer.

We used to ask Elmer for a “nickel mug of suds.” If I didn’t get a root beer, I’d get a nickel Pepsi that he made himself with real fountain Pepsi syrup, carbonated water and ice. Loved his ice. He had the best twin Popsicles, too. Orange, root beer, raspberry and grape. They don’t make them like that today.

If I didn’t get either of those three, I’d stand in front of his glass encased display of penny candy. Squirrel Nut Zippers. Atomic FireBalls. Jaw Busters. Licorice Babies. Brown, white and pink coconut squares. Sugared jellied fruit slices. Mary Janes. Pixy
Sticks. Candy necklaces. Candy dots. Red Hot Dollars. Mexican Hats. I can’t remember them all. But for as much as we needled Mr. Derrick's speech impediment, he certainly was patient and kind with us as we tried torturously to pick our lousy 5 cents worth of penny candies. Then he carefully put them in a small brown paper bag.

I look back on my memories of Mr. Derrick. Here was a man who ran a little shop, eked out a modest living, lived modestly in a modest home right next to his shop. I used to deliver his newspaper. He always tipped me. He was a nice man. So was his
wife. Today, Derricks has been remodeled into a cozy little home. Cycle of life.

I get teary-eyed as I write this. Memories do that to me. They sadden me. Don’t know
why. Wish I did. But I don’t.

Now that I’ve reached 62, I regret that I didn’t savor every moment that life offered me. Probably true for all of us.

I’ve always remembered one bit of advice Mr. Derrick gave me on one of the last evenings I went to his house to collect for his newspaper. I was 13. He patted my head and said, “Eddie, don’t get old. There’s no future in it.”

He chuckled as only Mr. Derrick could.

And you know what? He was right.

Eddie Costik, a Middletown native, writes from Hummelstown.

 

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