I'm not quite sure at what point calories go from being our friends and helpers to something we try to avoid or limit at all costs.

One day, we can eat anything we want and not gain weight. The next day, calories turn immediately to fat and start hanging out with our bellies.

I know my friends and I took in an unbelievable amount of calories on a daily basis when we were kids. Those were immediately turned into an energy that kept us going strong from morning to night.

As teenagers, our consumption of sweets may have declined but there were plenty of empty calories to be found in other junk foods. Those calories helped support our growth spurts.

The third stage is what is thought of as "nature's practical joke." It began when our bodies stopped burning up or using those calories, and we had to alternate from buying bigger pants to buying bigger belts.

We have yet to reach the final stage where we get to dream about eating all of whatever junk foods we want without worrying about gaining weight. Of course, we will only be able to dream about doing that. Our doctor will not let us actually eat such goodies.

Our parents were actually fairly conscientious when it came to limiting my siblings' and my intake of empty calories. For example, quarts of Kramer's Soda were generally reserved for Friday's supper of pizza and Sunday dinner.

Of course, they had no control over what we drank when we were out playing. Sodas then were a heck of a lot cheaper then than what bottled water is now, so it was a rare day of play that did not feature at least one or two soda breaks.

We generally followed the same arrangement when it came to candy. It was available only on a limited basis in our home most of year, with the notable exceptions of Easter and Halloween.

One notable in-house exception to the as-little-candy-as-possible policy was when our mom would play host to her pinochle club of seven other women who would visit the other ladies' homes every two weeks.

My brothers, sister and I would eagerly await the night the game was at our house because Mother would be in charge of refreshments. In addition to the coffee cake, she also put out candy dishes filled with bridge mix (a variety of nuts, fruits and creams covered in chocolate.)

If Mom forgot to hide the leftover bridge mix, we kids would descend upon the candy dishes at dawn of the next day with the frenzy of a quartet of chocoholic vultures.

In our defense, we did avoid filling up on snacks after we got home from school and before our evening meal. There were two good reasons for this apparent self-control.

First, we had all stopped at the neighborhood candy store on the way home. The second reason is that we didn't have time to fit in a snack at home before supper.

That was due to the fact that Dad liked to get home from teaching school, "rest his eyes" on the sofa for a half-hour and then have his "evening" meal at around 4 p.m.

The nice part about this is that even if we pigged out on Mother's delicious food and topped it off with a piece of crazy cake or snap-a-doodle coffee cake, we still had at least four hours before it was time for us kids to go to bed.

This meant that we could always fit in a snack after we got into our PJs and before our folks would finally order us to go to bed.

There were rare nights when the Friday-pizza and Sunday-dinner soda quota was lifted and the main attraction of the snack would be ice cream sodas. But, usually the pre-bedtime meal would involve ice cream and something salty.

We live in an age of convenience, but I don't know of many "snack-mobile" trucks that deliver snacks to our street.

Then, our chip guy would pull up in front of our house in a panel truck with a 5-pound box of Marsden potato chips for a week or so of snacking pleasure.

There was an accepted snacking procedure. While the teaberry or rocky road ice cream was softening in the dish, I would ingest a couple of handfuls of the Marsden chips.

When my cheeks would start to dry out from the salt, it was time for a couple of spoonfuls of ice cream. This would be repeated until I reached my allotment of chips or got an ice cream headache.

For a bit of variety, we would eat pretzels with our ice cream once or twice a week. I preferred potato chips, but it was nice to be able to use the pretzels to eat the ice cream.

While we kids all liked cheese corn curls, the orange after-effect caused our parents to limit our consumption of that snack to when we went to a drive-in movie.

It wasn't too bad that we would wind up with orange fingers and lips. It wasn't even bad that we had the only car on the block with orange upholstery.

But it was too much to ask to have cheese corn curl fallout turn our living room furniture and carpet orange.

(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)