The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Malted Milk Ball Weekend

By Wm. Axley Allen © 1984-2012

Issue: May, 1984

It was 1964 when Ken Campbell and I went to Hickory, North Carolina to spend the weekend. I had grown up in Hickory but had moved to Greensboro several years earlier and Ken and I were making the rounds of my old friends.

After getting lost on our way through Winston-Salem, we finally got my old '53 Chevy into Hickory early Saturday morning. For a reason I can't remember, we went shopping at the Sears store on Main Street. It was there that the malted milk balls caught my eye. The old fashioned display bins were pilled high with a wide variety of candies, but it was the malted milk balls that set my mouth to watering.

Now some people like candy, but I loved malted milk balls They were my favorite candy and even held a higher place in my heart than watermelon or fried chicken. That statement might not mean much to some folks, but when a Baptist preacher's son likes anything better than watermelon or fried chicken, it's a serious matter.

The malted milk balls on display at Sears that morning were priced at the unbelievably low price of only 11 cents a pound. I rushed to the counter and in an excited, shaky voice, placed my order for 20 lbs. of malted milk balls. The young lady behind the counter looked at me rather strange and said, "How many?" I assured her I knew what I was doing and I wanted 20 lbs. of malted milk balls. I explained to her that I loved malted milk balls. She said, "You must," and started on a storewide search for a bag that would hold 20 lbs. of malted milk balls. She must have told everyone in the store about my purchase, cause by the time she found a bag and filled it with malted milk balls it seemed every eye in the store was on me If you’ve never seen 20 lbs. of malted milk balls in one pile, let me tell you, it takes a heck of a shopping bag to hold them all.

She wrestled the full bag to the counter, then turned to the cash register and played a full verse of the merchant's anthem. I had already counted out $2.50 from my pocket and was anxiously waiting to pay my bill and carry my dreams come true to a less conspicuous place.

When she said, "That will be $15.87," I almost fainted. Quickly I looked at the price posted in the now empty malted milk ball bin and sure enough, at the top of each of the ones in eleven was a little slash mark, making the ones into sevens. They were 77 cents a pound instead of the 11 cents and I barely had enough to pay for them with just enough left over for the gas to get home.

That was a weekend I will never forget. Man might not be able to live by bread alone, but he can make it on malted milk balls, believe me, I know. I'll admit, however, that it took me twenty years to learn to like malted milk balls again and it don't take anything close to 20 lbs. to satisfy my taste nowadays.

We lived on malted milk balls that weekend. We had 'em for breakfast, lunch and dinner, even for midnight snacks. By the time we got back to Greensboro, there was a crowd of folks in Hickory, North Carolina that thought they'd seen everything and there were two teenaged boys that hoped they'd never see another malted milk ball for as long as they lived.

One benefit of this experience was the lesson learned: If it's either swallow pride or twenty pounds of malted milk balls, the malted milk balls don't stand a chance.