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Back In My Day: Part 2 – Pennies and Piraguas

A penny doesn’t buy you much these days.

In fact, legislators are recommending they stop making the penny. The cost of producing, handling, and counting penny coins is simply not worth it.

Back in my day, a penny was worth something.

The Penny Loafer’s opening in the strap was a good place to keep a penny or two for an emergency phone call. Pay-phones were once five cents.

The penny was also seen as good luck.

For brides it was  “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky penny in the shoe.”

Back then, you wouldn’t walk by a penny and not pick it up.

Like the saying went, “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.”

Unless, of course, the penny was tails side up, then some people would turn it around for the the next person to find.  Some people believed that it was only good luck to pick up a penny if it was heads side up.

But for children back then all pennies were good luck. It meant a trip to the corner store.

Back in my day, there were two corner stores within a three block radius of my home.

The corner store supplied our neighborhood with everyday household groceries.

But, the most important thing it provided the neighborhood kids with was the variety and abundance of Penny Candy!

…swedish fishes, bazooka gum, tootsie rolls, Johnny appleseeds, lemon heads, wax candy, now and laters….

Sometimes, I was lucky, and I had a nickel or dime. That meant…

sunflower seeds, candy cigarettes, sour pickles…

Oh! How we ate some of those things…

I recall one particular time, I had to go to the corner store for my godmother Judy to purchase a can of beans, or something like that. She gave me a $1 food stamp.

It was a common thing to use food stamps in my neighborhood.

It was money.

And that day, the $1 food stamp paid for my 5 pieces of candy, which was my payoff for making the trip for her.

On those hot summer evenings, we sat on our porches waiting for the Piraguero (snow cone man).

He could be a block away, but he would make his presence known with the loud – occasionally Salsa – music.

Once he got closer, we can hear him yelling…

“Piraguas ,Piraguas, Piraguas, chupa, chupa, chupa (suck).”

He would double park his Brady Brunch looking station wagon in the middle of the street and open up the trunk, which contained a huge rectangular cooler that stored the block of ice, and five pump dispensers that had the best fruit flavored syrups- strawberries, cherry, coconut, tamarindo, and guayaba.


The neighborhood kids would crowd around with their quarters waiting to purchase the best treat our neighborhood provided.

The old man would take out his glorious gadget- the silver scraper- to make the shaved ice.

He would then take funnel shaped tool to create the cone-pyramid.

Lastly, he would pour the flavored syrup on top of the ice.

The name piraguas derived from the spanish words “piramide” (pyramid) and “agua” (water).

The piragua is sipped through a straw, unlike the American snow cone, which is usually eaten with a spoon.

Which explains the “chupa, chupa, chupa.”

Today, a penny wouldn’t buy you much. Heck, $1 wouldn’t get you much these days either.

Back in my day, you can make a child happy with a penny.

Those were simple times, with simple expectations, and a whole lot of sensational sloppy smiles due to all the outdoor playing and candy and piraguas indulgences.

This entry was posted in: Blog

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Rosabel Sanchez is a woman who loves God- serves Him with great humbleness, loves her family and friends- serves them with great love, and love life with such a great appreciation for all that she has been blessed with. She, her husband and 4 children lead two churches on the southwest-side of Chicago, where they all live. As I embark on this new journey, I pray and hope I can become a part of one of your daily practices- your morning inspiration, your afternoon break from the world, or your evening cool down. So join me with a cup of your choice- coffee, tea, chocolate- and you will be blessed with encouraging words to warm your heart & soul.

2 Comments

  1. Oh my, how much this story made me smile and laugh. I realized how rich we were in the simple things, like having a penny and how much I miss that Praguero yelling from blocks away, “Chupa, chupa, chupa piragua!” I remember parents getting upset with the kids and each other trying to decide what flavors they wanted or couldn’t decide from Pina with coco(typical pincolada) to Tamarindo with coco or simply my favorite cherry. Makes me want to build a Piragua stand with the kids for this summer…lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says

    Indeed it brings back so many memories! For me it was the ” paletero” that still goes around in the summer with the delicious paletas, and how can I forget the big dill pickles! Oh my, I think I had like 3 a day! And tamarindos with citric acid and chile!!! I would spend my bus money while in high school, on them and had to walk to my grandmas house, to ask her for bus money! Today I have terrible acid refux from all that! KARMA!!!!!!! But I would not have traded that for anything!

    Liked by 1 person

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