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1970s kids remember candy cigarettes and freedom at their little corner stores

It might have been a little corner store, but for kids it was their first taste of freedom, columnist Tracy Briggs says. But she wonders, will her children ever feel the way she did?

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Tracy Briggs (in yellow) with her sister and cousins. Our summers in the 1970s were spent running wild, and we loved every minute of it. Did our kids have the same fun?
Contributed / Tracy Briggs
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FARGO — It's a funny thing about being a reporter. You write a story, turn it in — then often, can't stop thinking about it. It sticks with you. Of course, with some tragic stories that's very bad. Other times, like now, it's very, very good.

Last week I wrote a column about Masse's Grocery, at 1140 Eighth St. N. in Fargo — a little mom and pop shop that delighted customers from 1947 to 1971.

The story made me remember my own childhood and the little corner store where we spent our days. The memories flooded in about bike rides, sugary treats and getting our first sense of independence during some of my favorite summers of all time. I can't help but wonder if my kids ever felt that carefree.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE:

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Oakland Market

Oakland Market was located at 1452 Fifth St. S. near Clara Barton Elementary School. Run by Frank and Marian Prim from 1966 to 1991, the market was at the center of kid life for the thousands of us who grew up in the area — a place to get our fill of candy, pop and the best of preteen conversation.

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Oakland Market was a popular mom and pop store near Clara Barton Elementary School in south Fargo.
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But it was so much more than that. If you grew up in the ‘70s like me or in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘80s, these trips to the corner store, where we spent the fifty cents Mom gave us, were our first tastes of real freedom in our beautiful, wild, unencumbered childhoods.

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Tracy Briggs (in yellow) with her sister and cousins. Our summers in the 1970s were spent running wild, and we loved every minute of it. Did our kids have the same fun?
Contributed / Tracy Briggs

Timeline of a '70s kid summer

See if you can relate to the timeline of my typical summer day in the ‘70s.

  • After a hearty breakfast of Pop-Tarts and Tang, I’d go outside, run into other neighborhood kids and strike up a game of freeze tag, red rover, or red light/green light.
  • By noon or so, we might pop home for a bologna sandwich — but we wouldn’t stay long. There was too much to do outside.
Vintage boy looking at an old tv
Kids in the 1970s didn't spend a lot of time indoors during the day. Watching "Search for Tomorrow" with our Tab-drinking moms somehow wasn't as much fun as hanging with our pals.
Shanina / Getty Images / iStockphoto

  • Later in the afternoon, we’d jump on our bikes and head to Oakland Market where we’d replenish the sugar in our bloodstreams with Tangy Taffy, Fire Stix or Wacky Packages. (Next week, I'll take a closer look at some retro candy that might deserve to stay in the past).
  • All fueled up, we’d play until dark when Mom called us home or the street lights flicked on. (Chances are throughout the day, she, like all the other moms, never really knew where we were.)
  • At the end of the day, I’d be so tired, I wouldn’t bother to wash up — even though my body was probably filthy, with the Tangy Taffy I consumed earlier acting as the perfect glue to adhere the dirt to my skin.

At the risk of sounding like an old coot, the good old days were an absolute — if not sticky — blast!
Best of all, it was like that day after day, all summer long.

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My husband, like most of us '70s kids, spent a lot of time on his banana-seat bike. He even decorated his for a bicentennial parade in 1976. It's obvious why I married him, right?
Contributed / Special to The Forum

My kids' summer

My kids have had a great childhood, I think. But there wasn’t a lot of biking to the neighborhood store. In fact, we don’t really have a neighborhood store.

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If they biked anywhere, they wore helmets at my insistence. (Of course, I failed to mention that not only did we not wear helmets, but I also wasn’t wearing them when I’d ride on my friend’s handlebars. Shh.)

Vintage playground at the beach
This was typical of our playground equipment in the '70s. Slides were usually metal. After sitting in the sun, they'd fry our legs. The sand on this beach was probably the most padding we ever saw.
Shanina / Getty Images / iStockphoto

In the ‘70s, I lived in a perpetual state of skinned knees, sometimes tinted red from the Mercurochrome mom painted on. Together with pink dabs of Calamine lotion on my mosquito bites, I was a colorful little thing.

When my kids were little, they would go outside and play but I always knew exactly where they were. They wouldn’t be out long. They’d come in and get on their devices or we’d head out to a planned lesson or activity I had signed them up for. And, of course, they ate lunches not as heavy in sugar and fat as I did.

Grateful, but wondering

Their childhoods have been more protected. They've been buckled into cars since they rode home from the hospital. They never had the chance to shout out “I call the way back!" before anyone else. (The "way back" was the ledge behind the back seat in those big old ‘70s cars — where you could lay down flat and soak up the sun like a cat.)

As a mom, I’m so grateful that we have more tools these days to keep our kids safe and healthy, including knowledge about nutrition, secondhand smoke, preventing head injuries and fostering positive mental health. While I’m a huge proponent of all of these things, I just hope kids today have even a percentage of the joy and freedom we ‘70s kids felt — skinned knees and all.

We’re probably lucky we survived it all.

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Evel Knievel was a big influence on '70s kids who, like my husband, tried to replicate his tricks. His friend Marty survived being jumped over and today is a productive husband and father living in Colorado.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

Time marches on, but can we stop the music?

The Oakland Market closed years ago, Mercurochrome for skinned knees was banned in 1998 and we’re all grown-up now. As I write this column, my husband is asking me to get him my W-2 form so we can start doing taxes. We’re working on a budget and details for sending another kid to college. I like being an adult. I like bourbon and R-rated movies.

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But what I wouldn’t give to time travel for just a day. Put the bills and responsibilities away. Go outside, smell the lilacs, close my eyes and live my ‘70s kid summer one more time.

Boy from the seventies
A '70s kid ready to take on the world in his Toughskins jeans from Sears.
Shanina / Getty Images / iStockphoto

I'd jump on my flowered banana-seat bike and let the wind whip through my Marcia Brady hair as I rode at top speed to Oakland Market to buy whatever treat I wanted with no regard to fat, carbs and calories.

Best of all, on the way home, the adult time-traveling me would take a long, sugary drag of my candy cigarette and savor that I’d get to do it all over again tomorrow. And this time, I’d make sure to appreciate it just a little bit more.

Tracy Briggs is a News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 30 years of experience.
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