Home Life A detour by the candy kitchen

A detour by the candy kitchen

Fannie Moore

Submitted by columnist Fannie Moore

There must be a bright side to every situation, but sometimes it is hard to find.

With so much anxiety about the COVID situation, we older citizens are hesitant to go places and participate in activities. And for that reason, there comes a time of feeling so confined that we must make a change.

Although still unready to take chances, we decided to take a short road trip that would not require us to get out of the car and mingle with people. (But we had our masks with us.) One day recently, we found a “back road”, (not a major highway) that led into Arkansas so we left home that morning with Arkadelphia as our destination. We were just riding and enjoying the scenery.

The foliage was beautiful in some areas along the way, but there were also beautiful pastures with rolls of hay for miles. Apparently, it was a good year for the cattlemen in the area as far as adequate hay supply. There were stretches of pine trees that offered a contrast to the colorful leaves and verdant pastures.

Upon arriving in Arkadelphia, we found ourselves on the campus of Ouachita Baptist University. It was not intentional, but while there we just enjoyed driving around the campus with its many buildings.

After touring the downtown area, we drove across the interstate to one of our favorite stopping places when traveling I-30 through that area, Juanita’s Candy Kitchen.

Juanita’s is the home place of the famous peanut brittle that we were introduced to many years ago when a friend gifted us with a bucket of the delicious candy. I donned my mask and made a quick purchase and we were on our way. We had one more stop for fuel and then we headed back south.

I was almost convinced that Juanita’s peanut brittle was the best I had ever had, but then I remembered the candy made by the women of the United Pentecostal Church in Springhill years ago. This candy was so thin and brickley that it had no rival. The women gathered at the church on Tuesday mornings for years, making the delicious confection. They sold it packaged with two large patties in each bag, first for $1, then eventually raising the price to  $2, which was still a bargain.

There was a retired gentleman in their church that took it upon himself to help the ladies by selling the candy for them. He became so efficient at the task he was soon known as the Candy Man.

When I interviewed him after he gave up this job, he explained that he worked at it like it was a regular job. He planned out his route and then gained permission from the managers and business owners in downtown Cullen and Springhill to sell to their employees. He also went to the I. P Gate, offices, and the  Container Division and its office to sell these sweets. There were some places that would not allow him to sell on their premises, however, this didn’t deter the Candy Man.

Spurgeon Wilkins worked every Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon for 17 years. He, along with some of the ladies at church, would sell as many as 300 packages per week, and when he finally had to give up his job due to a serious illness, he was selling 150 per week.

All the labor was volunteered, including Wilkins’ car and gas to deliver the candy. The proceeds were used by the church for various projects.

When I interviewed Wilkins for a story in a local newspaper, he was living in a nursing home. His illness had made it impractical for him to live at home. He had slowed down after his many years of service, however, his mind was still sharp, and his memories of being the Candy Man brought him joy,

I remember him coming by the newspaper office and we would all purchase candy from him. That was when he was busily making his way up and down the streets. I don’t know if any of the churches still make that delicious peanut brittle, but if they do, I would certainly like to have some.

And I would like to know if they have a dedicated Candy Man.