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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Another Piece of Childhood Lost


Picture from Hostess Corp.
 
 
Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.
 
Looking back across the years there are always certain things that define eras of one's life.  It may be something like a baseball glove, or a certain shirt; a ticket stub from a concert. Or something that commemorates the moment when we met that person who completely changed our life.  More times than not however, it's food that whets the appetite of rememberance.
 
A couple of weeks ago, a labor-management dispute reached a critical point.  Normally, these events come and go in the news without much outside attention.  But this time, the dispute involved the bakery and confectionary giant Hostess, the maker of things like Ho Ho's, cupcakes, Ding-Dongs, Donettes, and the iconic delight Twinkies.  I won't go into the specifics of the dispute, only to note that management, rather than compromise with the union, committed an act of corporate kamikaze and announced that it would close it's doors forever.
 
The announcement sparked an immediate run on the snack products, especially Twinkies.  A box of a dozen appeared on E-bay for $200,000.  Across the country, shelves of grocery stores and convenience marts were stripped.  In Kansas City, a radio station talk show received donations of several boxes of hostess treats and auctioned them off for charity, garnering almost a thousand dollars for a pile of treats that a week earlier could have been bought for 20 bucks.
 
The nationwide reaction to this news and the instant appearance of hoarders and collectors no doubt pleased retailers.  It became clear that a latent love affair with the golden cream-filled snack cakes had been revealed.
 
On the surface, there would appear to be no good reason to eat these things.  For adults, the amount of sugar and calories make them verboten to those with cardiac and blood sugar problems.  And yet, when an adult eats one, you can see in their face the memories that have returned.
 
Kids can eat just about anything, and usually do, without seeming consequence.  I suppose that's one reason why the affection for Twinkies is so strong.  At that age, it didn't matter how many calories or grams of sugar were in them.  We ate them because...well...we could.
 
And they were so good. 
 
On Friday nights after dinner, our family would make our weekly trek to the grocery store.  I was given the empty soda bottles to return for deposit.  For those, I would receive the astounding total of twenty-seven cents.  That left me the exact amount to buy the latest Superman or Batman comic book for fifteen cents, and a two-pack of Twinkies for twelve.  Thus supplied, I was rendered happy and content.
 
Tearing open the cellophane wrapper, I would lift one of the golden loaf-shaped cakes from it's cardboard backing.  They were soft and spongy, with just a touch of an oily sheen.  I ate each one differently.  After all, this was a treat to be savored.  The first one I bit into small pieces at a time.  It was always a pleasure to get past the cake and hit the leading edge of that glorious cream filling.  Consuming it thus, it took a good 10 minutes to get through the first one.  The second one, I would break in half lengthwise, so that the Twinkie would be laid out like a pair of yellow canoes. Then, enjoying every moment, I would lick the filling out of one half, then the other.  The remaining cake would then be consumed. 
 
It was childhood nirvana.  My mouth and tummy would hum with happiness, while my eyes took in the feats of my superheroes.  My parents would shop and shake their heads at the growing expense.  I remember my Dad saying once, "I can't believe that ten dollars of groceries can fit in one bag now."  But such esoteric concerns were beyond my awareness.  I was 9 years old, and nothing else mattered except Twinkies and comic books.
 
Time passed, and I grew older.  My tastes changed, preferring more sophisticated fair.  But that memory refused to die.  As a teenager, I once went with some friends to a county fair where I bought a deep-fried Twinkie.  Why not?  If I was going to load up on sugar and bad carbohydrates, why not add some artery-clogging fried lard as well?  It was given to me on a stick with a paper wrapper, already soaked in grease around it.  I wasn't expecting much.  Why mess with a classic?  But boy, what a treat!  The crunchy fried coat gave way to the delightfully warm sponge cake.  But the act of frying had melted the cream filling and spread it throughout the Twinkie.  The result was glorious.  Of course it was bad for me in every way possible.  But in the careless time of youth, wasn't that sorta the point?
 
A few years ago on an impulse, I bought a twinkie.  Of course I was alone.  My wife would have taken my head off for committing such a dietary act of infidelity.  Returning to the car, I opened that wrapper and ate one, then the other, just like I used to.  But it was different.  Maybe I should have gotten a comic book to complete the experience.  But for some reason, the Twinkie didn't taste as good as it once had.  And then I had the guilt to deal with as well.

Hostess is gone, but rumors abound about other snack companies rushing to buy up the "secret recipes" for these classic snack foods.  But I think something will be lost in the transfer.  Little Debbie Twinkies?  Really?  It'll be like Disney taking over the Star Wars franchise.  It'll never be as good as the real thing.
 
It is that way with memories.  Somehow things we loved and cherished in our youth have lost their appeal.  Our interests have changed; we've gotten older.  What was once the carefree existence of a child has become the worry-burdened life of an adult. 
 
But I still think we should try to find the opportunity to engage in a simple pleasure.  Perhaps after a Twinkie and a Superman story, life doesn't seem so bad after all.
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