The Candy Kitchen
Poletown, Detroit
Eastertime
And Me, the Kid

Watercolor on paper (18 x 24) courtesy of multimedia artiste Michele T. Fillion
(Scanned image darker than beautiful original.)
There is something waiting for you at the very end of this. If you are not in the mood to wramble right now, so go there, please. But, there are some other presents along the way. Guaranteed to please. And, hey, I didn't write this for my health. Reading is good for your brain. 

I grew up in a neighborhood of the Detroit inner city known as Poletown, the famous community of Polish immigrants first settled in the 1870’s. Almost all of it was flattened in the early 1980’s to make way for economic development. They paved paradise and put up a… Cadillac factory.

The whole of Poletown was razed to accommodate the new Cadillac plant. Up until that time the existing factory in another part of town was a very antiquated multi-story structure and the new plant was constructed in the modern, more efficient single level design. At the time, the then mayor planned placing the new factory in that spot as an urban development project and as an important tax revenue source for the city.

[There’s the story of a low wage working stiff in Detroit who saved and scraped up his whole life to buy a brand new Cadillac when he retired. On that happy day as soon as he took ownership and drove it off the dealer’s lot, a persistent irritating knocking noise developed. He brought the shiny behemoth back to the dealership to fix, but nothing could be found. After many more visits and not a little expense, the exasperated fellow had the service center literally tear the car apart. They finally found it. There inside the door was a loose nut, but not a piece that was part of the car. Tied to the nut was a note: I hope you have a hard time finding this, you rich sonofabitch!]

I recently learned in looking into the history of the demise of Poletown that the church of my baptism, Immaculate Conception, was the site of a sit-in protest against the razing of the neighborhood and all the forced relocations. None other than Mr. Ralph Nader joined the campaign to save Poletown.

"On Bastille day, July 14 1981, the police assembled an armada of forces and at daybreak began to seal off the neighborhood preparing to evict those occupying the church.”

The Immaculate Conception Church was a small gem in my old neighborhood. My grade school was directly across the street and we went to Holy Mass every school day. I was an altar boy there and even had to serve at Mass during the summer months. There is a lot of church deep in my blood. Read Why Can't I Be Good for more of my Catholic school daze.

The centerpiece of the altar was a most beautiful and graceful life sized statue of the Blessed Mother. I visited Detroit recently when we had a funeral service for my mother. Saint Hyacinth is the church where my mother was married and it seemed fitting to have her Detroit family and friends congregate there for her memorial service. A very nice surprise I found there was a small chapel niche where the statue of Mary from Immaculate Conception is installed. Along with her flanking angels and some sections of the communion rail from the demolished church.
The side altar including statues of the Blessed Mother and angels from Immaculate Conception.
Saint Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church 3151 Farnsworth Detroit (Poletown) Michigan
But, when I was a boy, Poletown was also my hood. And a certain candy shop was my church of sweet refuge. There are so many other deeply felt and precisely recalled memories of that neighborhood. But I want to remember one that was for me as a boy an integral part of the richness of life, and particularly so during the Easter season: The Candy Kitchen.

The Candy Kitchen of my youth is also gone. I don’t know if it closed when the owners retired, but I do know that it is buried somewhere under the Cadillac Poletown factory. It was located on a corner at the intersection of Chene and Trombley streets. Across the street from the Chene and Trombley Lanes where I learned to bowl, when school boys worked as pin spotters, and on Friday evenings there was an excellent fish fry on the restaurant menu.

And just down a few doors was the barber shop where most of my preteen hair was shorn. I mention that place because of some vivid memories. I recall how it was lined with mirrors on each side of its length. The effect was psychedelic, you could look and see a progression of reflections out to infinity. Do you ever wonder what is there when one mirror faces another? Kind of like... if a tree falls in the woods and you're somewhere else (or, a bear is in the woods and does something, who would know what is was like?). My brother's friend Bob had this ultra cool flat top brush haircut. His was particulary excellent because he had this major widow's peak at his front hairline and it made the flat top look, well, really cool. Bob said he went for his hair cut at a shop that was the mecca of flat tops, specialized in them. My own barber could never quite get it to my satisfaction. When you say flat top, you want FLAT on top. Capiche, Italiano? Once out of his own exasperation with me, and taking advantage of his adult status, he embarrassed me in front of all the waiting clientele by putting, really plopping, a telephone book on my head to guage the flatness. I didn't have the nerve to press further to tell him that a telephone book doesn't lay flat, on your head anyway.

The last thing about the barber shop — I promise to get you along to the end of this soon—was the magazine selection. Where else but the barber shop could a boy get a glimpse of what we now call, adult content. I remember Terry Moore and her tight angora sweater; so nicely filled out all pert, perky and pointy. Just to recall how those were simpler times, I also remember myself handling a tabloid that claimed the front page headline was impregnated with LSD, and all you had to do was to go home and place the page in some ethyl alcohol and drink it to get the effect. Holy Cow! Those were the days. Psycedelic, for sure. (The newspaper was later denounced for giving bad instructions about the kind of alcohol to use. Something about it being poisonous. Nothing that I recall about the LSD. Hey, kids. Just say NO to babershop reading material!)

Continuing along... When I was a grade schooler we lived on the East Grand Boulevard near Trombley. The Candy Kitchen was a short four block hop from my house on Chene Street. After schoolwork on many an evening I would trek through the night — even in the dead of winter, snow up to here — to enjoy a delicious banana split at the mecca of wonderful sweetness.

The Candy Kitchen must have been there from the early 1900’s. A lot of towns have a shop called the Candy Kitchen. In St. Louis still chugging along there is the Crown Candy Kitchen that dates back to 1913.
 Images from Crown Candy Kitchen St. Louis
At a place with that name you can expect to find all kinds of goodies, but mainly a wide variety of homemade chocolates. There’s probably an owner operator, some old timer in the back who’s been at it for a lot of years. And, unless someone from the new generation steps up to take over, the place will probably close when the maestro retires.

My Candy Kitchen was a big brick corner building, with display windows on either side of the center door. The left window usually featured colorful candies of all kinds, but it was the window to the right that was the showstopper. Come Easter the display on the right side was the zenith of the chocolatier’s art. More on that in a moment.

Inside was a huge space with a high tin paneled ceiling and floors covered in those old fashioned glazed ceramic hexagonal white tiles with black borders and accents. On the right as you entered were the oak and beveled glass cases filled with an assortment of all types of handmade chocolate bonbons. On top of the cases and on the shelves in back were huge jars filled with a rainbow of colorful sugary treats. One jar that I visited often was the one with rock candy. One of my favorite fascinations, rock candy, translucent crystals of pure sugar formed around thin white strings. How’d they do it?

The back of the store was separated by a white lattice gazebo style partition. Potted palms, here and there. In the center back there were tables and along the walls booths painted white and in the same gazebo motif. I never ever saw anyone sitting there and I imagined there were ghosts from an earlier time when bobby soxers would come in after school and hang out nursing a soft drink and listening to bebop on the juke box. The kind with the real bubble lights and actual vinyl discs. Or, in an even earlier time, when a fella would take his gal for a date and linger over a shared milk shake with two straws and some innocent flirtation.

On the left side of the shop in front was a small showcase with packaged items such as gums and Life Savers and such and the cash register. But the crown jewel of the whole shebang was the soda fountain. About eight or so floor-mounted high stools set before a bar of solid swirled gray marble. Right behind was the usual wet bar set up replete with sweet condiments and syrupy flavorings. Naturally, there was a fancy dispenser tap with plain water and fizzy soda. Not the flavored soda like now, just (2 cents) plain seltzer. The syrups were added to order.

And, finally, up against the wall an elaborate carved wood built-in of dark mahogany done in the art nouveau style. A counter set up with glassware, a milk shake blender, and a dispenser of malt powder for those malted milk shakes. Straws and the ever present jar of foot long pretzel sticks. And behind it all, 3 large expanses of mirrors framed in finely carved wood. A palace. An altar?

Whenever I visited the Candy Kitchen there were two people in charge who I would always see there. Besides the pièce de résistance front Easter window, those two were amazing to behold. From my young point of view both the man and the woman were in their early 30’s. Both had jet black hair, well groomed, and always dressed in black and white. He with black slacks and a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up to do serous ice cream scooping. She with a close fitting long black skirt, a tight belt, and frilly white blouse buttoned right up to the neck. He had a barrel chest, a swarthy mustache, and the large hooked nose of a sinister swashbuckling pirate. Her luxurious dark hair was done up flamboyantly with fancy combs, ruby red lips, and lots of dark eye makeup. Also, quite a chest, herself. Woof! I imagined they were a married couple. It’s just that they didn’t look like the sort that you would find in a quaint candy store. They were "muy" sexy and very mysterious. Adding to the mystery, they never spoke to me (or to one another when I was there) except to ask me what I wanted. And they always prepared my ice cream sundae or banana split with meticulous care.

Particularly on those winter evenings that I remember going there, imagine this young kid sitting at the counter making love to his ice cream delight and these two theatrical figures waiting on me who looked like they were right out of central casting in some Mickey Spillane pulp steamer. I took due notice, but the dish in front of my face commanded my full attention.

So now to the Easter window at the Candy Kitchen.

After taking you by the long scenic route I am now confronted with the task of paying off the reader’s expectation with a description full of wonder and awe. My powers of painting with words have limits. It would be helpful if you also summoned up your own feeling of wonder and awe to supplement my attempts to recreate the excitement of a young lad looking in on a window with what to my small eyes looked like a half ton of chocolate. All done in the most carefully and artfully molded Easter shapes.

The display was set up in a stepped vertical arrangement so that the whole impression was a wall of chocolate set against a waterfall of decorative green plastic grass. Plenty of crisp white doilies under each group. There was always a chocolate bunny so big that I couldn’t imagine ever being able to deserve one that big. I don't know if it was solid chocolate through and through, but I prefer to imagine that it was. We’re talking two foot high rabbit here, easy! And a retinue of lesser bunnies in various sizes and poses. Several typical colorful woven Easter baskets each filled with assorted goodies, also in a variety of sizes. One for every pocketbook. Wrapped in colorful cellophane with big satin ribbons.

But the main thing that I could never ever imagine getting my hands on was the centerpiece basket. Made entirely of chocolate; the square basket and the round handle, solid milk chocolate. Intricately formed to resemble a real basket. And then filled with more chocolates. Have some chocolate with your chocolate, why don't you?

I would many times just walk down to stand and gaze at the spellbinding vision of that window.

Now, alas, it is only a bittersweet memory. Ah, yes.

But now, look what the Easter Bunny brought for you!

Notice below the sugar egg. When I was a boy we had a sugar panorama egg as big as a football. It was kept in its own box and came out once a year at Eastertime. Inside that egg were colorful paper cut outs of boys and girls and bunnies and chicks on a green grassy field. Each year I looked forward to have a peek. It never got old. Ever new. That's Easter for you.

Happy Easter 2011. And ... 2016


2 comments:

Linda said...

You're right! Easter is for new beginnings!

Little Me said...

Great article I lived on the other side of Poletown area on Mitchell and Kirby.St.Hyacinth was down the street went to7&8 grade there.I liked growing up there.