My father gave me the gum ball machine at least 15 years ago. It’s not a giant, industrial-sized thing, but it’s big enough to make little kids’ eyes bulge. Plus, it’s filled with M&Ms, which, personal research has shown, children prefer to gum 10 to 1.
The machine lives in the front hall beside the front door so that coming and going, kids get a treat. One boy new to the scene asked his aunt last week for a quarter, and when I explained that the machine took only pennies, he gasped.
“You can get M&Ms for a penny?”
You used to be able to get lots of different kinds of candy for a penny, I was tempted to tell him. But I didn’t do the when-I-was-your-age thing. I just watched him smile as he dropped the pennies in and the candy fell out.
His reaction, pure joy, got me thinking about Mary Janes and Squirrels, which were a penny each back in the day, and Mint Juleps, which were two for a penny, and Candy Buttons (a double strip for just 1 cent), and Atomic Fireballs, and those waxy things filled with colored sugar water, which were the best buy because after you drank the thick sugar water, you could chew on the waxlike gum all day.
One nickel, five pennies, bought you a fist full of candy and a heart full of joy.
Life was good.
Kids outgrow Mary Janes and Mint Juleps and Squirrels, and I wonder why and when and how. I was a penny-candy, junk-food, powdered-doughnuts-for-breakfast, fried-bologna-for-supper, and chocolate-ice cream-for-dessert kind of kid for all of my childhood. Sno Balls. The pink ones. Devil Dogs. Cream soda. Pretend candy cigarettes. Nothing that was even semi-healthful ever passed my lips.
But that was then.
Last week I tried kale. That’s what grown-ups do. Instead of smoking pretend cigarettes, they try a new superfood filled with nutrients and antioxidants that are supposed to make them feel as good as a Root Beer Barrel used to.
“You’ll like it. You’ll like it,” my friends said.
But I didn’t.
Here’s the problem with kale. It pretends to be lettuce, but it’s not. Kale salad with pecorino and walnuts. Chopped kale salad with edamame, carrot, and avocado. Warm balsamic kale salad.
Kale “belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts,” I read online. Hardly a description that makes your mouth water.
Here’s the other problem with kale. For decades, salad in American households consisted of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes that came in a pack of four wrapped in cellophane, cut up and drenched in some creamy Kraft dressing.
Americans evolved, of course, moving on to Boston and bib and green and red and oak-leaf lettuce, even adding arugula and spinach to the mix, trading plastic-wrapped tomatoes for fresh ones, sometimes making their own dressing. Adding cheese and nuts and apples and avocados and and anything and everything. But kale isn’t just an add-on. It’s a takeover.
A few years ago the American Kale Association (yes, there is an American Kale Association) hired a well-connected New York publicist who convinced New York’s most celebrated chefs to put it on their menus. They did and in 2013, The New York Times declared kale “veggie chic.” And thus began the trend.
The next trend, trendsetters say, will be black rice. Maybe. Maybe not.
How a palate starts out loving candy and ends up actually enjoying kale remains a mystery to me. The only thing I know for certain is that the M&Ms in my gum ball machine are liked by all little kids and by some people in grown-up bodies who, inside, must harbor a little kid, too.