Penny Candy

(1 of 2) My Grandfather, Augustine Brailer --- your Great-great Grandfather Brailer --- lived his whole life in the tiny town of Mt. Savage, MD. Of my own grandparents, he's the only one I ever knew. He eked out a living by mining coal and making bricks.
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In the previous essay I mentioned penny candy. It evokes memories of our trips from Silver Spring to Mt. Savage to visit my Dad's relatives. According to my computer travel planner, the distance is 121 miles and on the Interstate, it should take about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get there.

In the days when I was little, those 121 miles took a lot longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes. Nevertheless, it was a great and interesting trip. We went on old U.S. Route 40 --- a two-lane road through the western Maryland countryside and over many of the Appalachian Mountains. We journeyed through Frederick, Hagerstown, and Cumberland. Then, we left route 40 and wound our way on backroads through tiny little mountain towns til we got to Mt. Savage.

Mt. Savage was named for the mountain it was built on. Dad's family home was about halfway up the mountain. Several aunts and Uncle Joe lived in the house. Uncle Joe had a little building next door that was his barber shop. He had two chairs but so far as I know, he never had another barber working there so the second chair sat empty.

My Dad always got a haircut from Uncle Joe when he was in Mt. Savage. That was a highlight of the visit for me. I'd sit in a chair and listen while the men (no women in that barber shop) talked about Hitler or the Great Depression or the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. I never talked ... just listened. Joe had a radio in the barber shop and it was generally tuned to KDKA, Pittsburgh which carried broadcasts of the Pirates games during baseball season. If something exciting happened in the game, the men would stop the conversation briefly and then return to whatever they had been discussing.

When Dad's haircut was finished and we were leaving the barber shop, Uncle Joe would go to a big glass jar he kept on a counter. He would take off the lid, reach in, and pull out a present for me. A piece of penny candy. A jawbreaker, maybe, or a piece of licorice. What more could a kid want? Listening to the grownups talk topped off with a treat!

Before World War II, my grandfather Brailer was still alive. He was a huge man with a walrus mustache. He was pretty old but he still stood as straight as a ramrod. I held him in a good deal of awe. I loved him but nonetheless, I viewed him with a lot of respect.

What I know of your great-great-grandfather Brailer comes from things my Dad told me from time to time. He was of German ancestry and spoke German in addition to English. When World War I ended in defeat for the Kaiser, my grandfather sulked the entire day. Granddad worked very hard. Six days a week, he mined coal near the top of Mt. Savage. After supper, he would walk down the mountain to a brickyard where he worked making bricks. Then he would walk back up the hill to his house, sleep a few hours, and start another day. There wasn't much spare time ... but there was some. Dad remembers hearing his father play the fiddle from time to time. Maybe on Sundays after Church.

I mentioned my cousin Billy earlier. He was one of Uncle Joe's sons. We would roam the countryside. Next to the family house was a big field with one cow. That cow had horns and I was kind of scared of it. But as long as Billy was nearby, I figured it was safe. We'd go through the field and head to a little store. If I had a coin, the store was one more source for penny candy. I never had a brother, but if I did I wish it would have been Billy.

In our kitchen on the counter by the stove, we have a penny candy jar exactly like the ones that were commonplace in oldtime stores. And it's filled with hard candy. A reminder of the trips to Mt. Savage.