Death of the Twinkie

My son posted yesterday on Facebook: “I just bought the last box of Zingers at the store.  Now I have to figure out how to make them last for the rest of my life.”  My wife and daughter hit our local grocery store yesterday, to see if any Fruit Pies or CupCakes were still on the shelves.  All gone, everywhere.  It’s as though the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us, and the only way to fight them off is with HoHos.

This Salon article does a splendid job of capturing how many of us felt yesterday when we read that Hostess had gone out of business. And let me say, I’m a Democrat and pro-labor, but a strike by a baker’s union is what drove them out of business, and come on, this is something that should have been solvable. Saddest news of all, of course, are the twenty thousand Hostess employees that have lost their jobs. Not much to say there except, gosh, what a shame.  Mr. President?  Bailout time?  Is Hostess Too Cool to Fail?

But there’s also that feeling, for the rest of us, of having lost our childhoods.  So much of our youth misspent eating horrible sugary garbage.  Remembering the first days of microwaves, when you learned that you could take a Hostess CupCake, and just zap it for a few seconds, and the creamy middle would melt into the interior chocolate, making it that much yummier. Remembering arguing over which Fruit Pies were best: I was an Apple devotee, while my friends generally were of the Lemon persuasion, misguided though that was of them. And as good as the Fruit Pies were, the Chocolate Pie was even best, on the exceedingly rare occasions when we could get our Moms to buy it for us.

Anyone else remember Cho-cola?  Or it might have just been Chocola.  It was a chocolate flavored soft drink, carbonated, with just a hint of Coca-cola.  Sort of like YooHoo, I guess, but way better.  It may have been a uniquely Indiana soft drink; I’ve never talked to anyone outside Indiana that’s heard of it, and I don’t know anyone who grew up in Indiana who hasn’t. Couple years ago, even Beuhler’s Buy-Low (that venerable Indiana institution) stopped carrying it; it’s probably gone forever now.  I remember there was one vending machine close to my house that carried it. Cost a quarter. They also carried a cream soda called Big Red, which tasted like bubble gum and which I drank by the gallon. You were especially supposed to drink Big Red for Juneteenth; a holiday, every June 19th, celebrating the end of slavery, which nobody celebrates anymore but which I remember kind of vaguely. It involved a barbecue downtown, and games of basketball, I recall, though in Indiana everything involved basketball. I remember, summers, when we’d visit our cousins in Utah, they’d try to turn us on to Fanta.  My brothers and I would turn our noses up.  Fanta, forsooth.  We were Hoosiers; we drank Chocola and Big Red.  And Mountain Dew, which I think then was more a regional drink than it is now.

There were rituals attached to crap food.  For example, does anyone else remember the Mountain Dew song?  Here’s the chorus (tune available on request):

Oh it’s called that good old Mountain Dew

And them that refused it were few

I’ll shut up my mug if you fill up my jug

With that good old Mountain Dew, yah hoo!

 

That was the chorus.  There were also verses, many of them, though unfortunately I can only remember one.

Old Uncle Mort, he was sawed off and short

He stood about five foot two

But he feeled like a giant when he killed half a pint

Of that good old Mountain Dew.

 

Feeled, not felt, as I recall, and ‘killed’ would be more like ‘keeled,’ for authenticity’s sake and to preserve the rhyme.  And you’d sit in a circle with your friends, each of you with a can of Mountain Dew, and you’d take turns singing the verses, alternating with the chorus, and then on the yah hoo! everyone would take a quick sip of the Dew.  That’s how I remember it, at least. Oh, wait, I forgot we live in the time of the Internet: here’s Grandpa Jones singing it.

But here’s my all-time favorite Hostess memory.  It has to do with the Order of the Arrow.

I was a Boy Scout; even made it to Eagle.  And part of Scouting in the Midwest was a society of super-elite Boy Scouts called the Order of the Arrow.  It was this sort of quasi-Indian thing, lots of ceremony, and you had to be invited to join.  Tapped out, in fact, as will make sense when I describe the ceremony. (The Wikipedia article about it says nowadays you’re ‘called out’, which suggests that they’ve since toned down the violence.)

OA started months before summer camp.  The ‘chief’ of the local ‘lodge’ would come to your troop, and explain what OA was and what it did (none of which I remember), and then you’d vote, a secret ballot, on who in your troop was a super-extra-special Scout.  He explained there were three degrees of OA: Ordeal, Brotherhood and Vigil; I never got beyond Ordeal, though my younger brother is Vigil and a former Lodge Chief).  If you got into the OA, you got a white sash with an arrow on it which you could wear with your dress uniform. Then, that summer, in Scout Camp, one night was given over to an OA ceremonial.  Parents could come, but had to watch from a distance.

Our Scout Camp was called Camp Wapehani, out just west of Bloomington–I think it’s a sub-division today, its lake, Lake Weimer, long since drained.  I can even remember the camp song:

On the shores of old Lake Weimer, stands a camp so grand

Nestled ‘neath the oaks and cedars, Wapehani stands

May its bonds of Scouting friendship, help us ne’er to fail

We will love and serve thee ever, Wapehani hail!

 

We were never that reverential actually, though: we called it Camp Wipe-My-Heinie, and mocked the name of the lake.  Anyway, on OA night, we all gathered, shirtless, in our tents, wearing trousers, shoes, and a blanket over one bare shoulder.  A kid dressed like an Indian (swimsuit, loin cloth, sneakers, lots of red paint on his skinny chest), ran through the camp, opening each tent flap and shouting “prepare to follow in silence.”  Then another Indian came shouting “follow in silence’ and he’d lead you to where the chief (head dress, war paint) was leading a Conga line of shirtless skinny shivering kids behind him, and we were supposed to follow along too, silently.  When we got to the OA circle, there was a huge square campfire built but not yet lit, and we stood in a huge circle, facing it.  Four guys dressed up like Indians, the chief and like medicine men or something, solemnly walked around and performed a ritual, reciting stuff like “To the East, from whence cometh: Rain.” and then they’d shoot an arrow off to the east, and intone “To the South, from whence cometh, Warm Winds”  and another arrow and like that.  Then they’d light the fire (traditionally with a flaming arrow), and that was very cool, that was the highlight of the ceremony.

Then came the tapping out. The chief and his three medicine men would walk solemnly around the inside of the circle, walking in pace with a drum beat: Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Then the drum would go Boomboomboomboom, and they’d stop and turn and face one of the kids in the circle, the one who had been elected months earlier.  (Your Scoutmaster knew who’d won, and was signaling from behind, so the chief knew where to stop).  The chief would than whack you three times really hard on your bare shoulder with the palm of his hand.  Whack.  Whackwhack.  You’d been tapped out.  Then the drums would start up again, and the chief would continue around the circle, and two runner Indians would grab the whackee and hustle him along towards the fire, then turn him to face the other boys. And so on, until you had a line of maybe fifteen tapped out kids, standing by the fire, shivering and scared, with red hand prints on their one bare shoulder.  I know I’m making it sound really dorky, but it was actually pretty cool when you were taking part in it.

So when all the kids who were supposed to have been tapped out had been, everyone else was dismissed and went back to their campsites.  The tapped out kids were told that they were now Ordeal candidates. Getting tapped out was the first step in the Ordeal.  The next step followed immediately after; the line of kids followed the Indian kids out into the woods, where you had to spend the night alone.  You were given two matches, and you’d walk along a path and then the line would stop, and when it was your turn, they’d say ‘take fifteen steps that way,’ directly into the woods, off the path, and then they’d abandon you. You were to ‘spend the night under the stars.’

Well, you had a blanket.  And it was summertime.  And Wapehani was a very safe camp. The match was useless, I remember; it rained the whole night.  I made a little bed out of leaves and (turned out) poison ivy, and draped the blanket over me, and slept as best I could; very badly, I remember, but heck, I was fourteen, I was resilient.  And the next morning the Indian kids came back and found everybody, and then all us sleepy, itchy kids were told it was time for our work day.  No breakfast, just a day spent in silence, and ‘in arduous labor’ which meant mostly clearing brush.  That was the final step in the Ordeal.  I was a little ticked off, as I recall (there were merit badges I wanted to finish, I didn’t have time for this pseudo-Indian mumbo-jumbo), but still, you kept quiet, you cleared the brush you were asked to clear, you went along. (But as I say, I was never into the organization after that.  Could hardly be persuaded even to wear my OA sash afterwards.)

And, okay, then came lunch, and the end of the Ordeal, and all the mean tough Indian kids transformed into the actually pretty nice high school kids they really were, and treated you like newly initiated brothers, which I guess we all were.  And you got lunch.  And I will remember that lunch ’til the day I die.  (And the food we ate for lunch is kind of the point of the story).

Wonderbread.  With processed cheese.  And bologna.  And a Twinkie.  Each.  And Kool-aid, glorious, sugared Kool-aid.

And now Hostess, barring a miraculous last-second buy out, Hostess is gone.  And with it, Wonderbread and Twinkies.  Snoballs.  Donettes.  Kids born today will never in their lives taste a DingDong or a HoHo.  What, oh what, will become of them.

 

6 thoughts on “Death of the Twinkie

  1. Mike

    Remember it all…Lake Weimer (spelled with an m, not an n), and now is urban sprawl. But most of all I’ll mourn the end of Hostess. Choc-ola was missed and still is (remember Cowboy Bob on Channel 4 singing the jingle for their commercials), but the whole country will miss Hostess not just as a source of great tasty snacks but as a cultural icon. They’re making the biggest deal about the end of the Twinkie, which I loved as a kid and still had one once in a while (when I was little, the Ding Dong and Ho Ho hadn’t been invented yet). But since Dolly Madison was bought out by Hostess, the Raspberry Zinger is going down with the ship, and that’s just catastrophic. Every one of those things was worth the time it took off my life.

    I’ve got a CD collection of Bluegrass Classics that includes Grandpa Jones doing Mountain Dew. It was his signature piece, and he might have been the first to record it back in the 1940s. Outside of possibly Foggy Mountain Breakdown, it’s probably my favorite bluegrass tune, and truly a great part of American music.

    We remember fondly Wapahani, Weimer, and Choc-Ola. Sic transit Hostess. A beloved part of the American experience passes on.

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  2. zstitches

    I was pretty sure the Mountain Dew song predated the soft drink and was referring to the older meaning of mountain dew–which was moonshine. Wikipedia agreed with me:

    “”Mountain Dew” was originally Southern and/or Irish slang for moonshine (i.e., homemade whiskey), or poitín as it is called in Ireland.”

    I guess Wikipedia doesn’t really say whether the song predated the soft drink, but I feel sure the song as written about bootleg liquor.

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  3. Christopher Bigelow

    Of course, the brands are one of the most valuable assets that Hostess is liquidating, and chances are very high that someone else will buy the brands and keep them going. But maybe they won’t taste real anymore and be as worthless and second rate as that Dolly Madison crap.

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  4. Mike

    And BTW, the bluegrass tune definitely predated the soft drink, and was certainly about Moonshine. My Mom grew up for a lot of her childhood on an Indiana farm where a lot of what came to be known as Bluegrass was played, and Grandpa Jones was doing the tune very early on. Also BTW, Grandpa Jones was known as Grandpa when he started performing in his twenties…he greyed his hair and put on a big moustache. He kept at it until his hair was actually grey and the moustache was real and grey too.

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