THE CANDY MAN
By T.L. Petersen
Step forward to meet Roy Leonard, ensconced in his big, comfortable easy chair.
Eyes shining with an elven gleam, he doesn't say a word. He just reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a wrapped piece of candy, extending it to his guest as his smile grows.
Meet the candy man.
It's May now, and warming up, so Ray is passing out Werther's candies. A month or so, his greeting gift would probably have been a shiny silver Hershey's kiss.
Before his 90th birthday May 26, Roy said he planned to celebrate by sitting in his chair and dreaming a bit.
If friends stop by to wish him birthday wishes, that's OK. He'll be ready with more candy in his pockets.
Roy Leonard started carrying candy in his pockets for young acquaintances in the early 1960s, while he was driving a route picking up cream from area dairies.
"I ran the cream route here in Union County (and into Wallowa and Baker counties, too)," Roy explains.
"The kids along my route didn't have much candy then, and I felt sorry for those kids."
So Roy started loading his pockets with little square caramels. He was worried that they might choke on round candy, so he choose the square caramels.
It didn't take long for children along his cream route to start looking and listening for the cream truck, with it's rattling cream cans and it's driver with the candy-filled pockets.
Forty years later, Roy still smiles at some of the memories from those early candy trips, even though the cream route only lasted into the early '70s.
He remembers one small girl who stood near his truck with her eyes cast down and her hands behind her back. Trying to determine what was wrong, Roy finally heard her say that she'd been told not to ask him for candy.
Children from those days, Roy grins, sometime come up to him now when he's out and tell him stories about getting his candy, as do the now-grown girls who first got pieces of candy from Roy on Sundays before and after services at the First Christian Church.
"He forgot to tell you he usually gets a hug, too," smiles Loree, Roy's wife of more than 20 years.
It is Loree, since Roy no longer drives, who heads to Bi-Mart, Wal-Mart or some other store to restock Roy's candy supply at regular intervals.
"He still has grown women come up to him and hold out their hand Â— and tell him, Â‘you used to give me candy,'" Loree adds to the telling.
Loree knew what she was getting into, joining up with Roy.
As a high school girl, Loree left her family near Troy and moved in with the Leonards Â— with 13 children what was another child? Â— to attend school in
Loree was about the same age as Roy's younger sister, almost 10 years younger than Roy, who recalls being about 25 at the time.
After both Roy and Loree lost their spouses, they got together again. And she started learning the candy man's habits.
It was Vicky, Loree's daughter, who convinced Roy to start carrying the Werther's candy pieces, telling him that if he was going to carry candy, it should be Werther's.
"But in the winter, it's Hershey kisses," Roy say. "I got some in a shirt pocket all the time."
"He's not dressed without it," Loree notes, smiling as she pulls open a kitchen drawer to show one of Roy's candy stashes.
"I expect Werther's to come around and give me credit," Roy laughs.
Thinking about how much candy he's given away, Roy looks around his South McAlister home's living room.
"I expect if it was all gathered in this room, there'd not be enough room for you and me, too."
Loree shakes her head at Roy.
The waitresses at the Flying J, she says, see Roy coming and say, "here comes the Werther's man."
Roy bought his home and original 120 acres in 1943. He worked his own land, including keeping some milk cows, and worked for a farmer out in the valley after the cream route ended.
He later sold much of the property to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Â— perhaps remembering that in 1933, his senior year in high school, he'd had his home room in the LDS church in La Grande, at the corner of Fourth Street and N Avenue, after La Grande's high school had burned.
And there have been a few tough moments trying to bring a little smile with candy, Roy says, although he doesn't like to talk about them much.
"There was a kid," Roy recalls, "who said, Â‘I don't want caramel, I want candy bars!'" He never got them from Roy.
There was also a tour group Roy and Loree travelled with in the 1980s in Southern California. Several of the women wouldn't accept caramels from Roy, saying they might be drugged.
"That's never happened in Oregon," Loree says.
Roy shrugs those moments off, preferring the stories about the young woman who proposed to him on one of those bus tours, and another about an Australian woman who told him she's gotten "a lolly from my jolly."
"I always remember that," Roy says.
Loree put together a big party for Roy when he turned 80, but told everyone not to bring any sensible gifts. Roy, she says, got lots of candy that year.
"And over 100 cards," Roy adds, "and no duplicates!"
There's another, more hidden side to the candy man, though.
He's a rock hound, a man who used to spend free time looking for stones he liked and then turning them into polished necklaces and bolo ties.
Roy keeps jewelry cases he bought at sales to display his rock jewelry, and when he's enjoyed a lady visitor, sometimes asks her to decide what piece is most beautiful.
With a grin, he then hands her her choice.
Teased about what he's given Loree, Roy orders visitors into their bedroom to see. Loree had a polished rock necklace for every colored outfit and mood.
Thinking about what else he'd like to do, Roy ponders as once more the phone rings. Usually Loree gets the phone, he says, since it's usually for her. This time it's a woman's voice for Roy.
He's polite and shares a few comments, then hangs up and admits he never did caught the caller's name.
Back to the coming birthday.
"My dad died when he was 92," Roy says. "I want to beat that."