Retorts: Missing snowballs in the spring

SNO BALLS, the champion of kids’ pre-puberty dreams (Walmart/Hostess).

The coming of baseball season always leads to a singing of that most popular of sporting songs, “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.”

Estimated to be the third most-commonly sung tune in America (after “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,”), it is unique in that it immortalizes a snack food: Cracker Jack. The arrival of the warm weather is always a trip down memory lane, and it got me thinking about the sweet treats that formed a central desire of one’s youth.

   As comedian Jerry Seinfeld has said, in one’s younger years one is often a “candy moron,” motivated and obsessed in the way that adults might long for liquor or whoopee.

Until puberty hits, one’s central physical attraction is to sucrose-drenched goodies. Even after more adult pursuits arrive, we remember the fascinations of our youth.

My favorite treat was the Hostess Sno Balls. They came two to a package, and were rounded chocolate cakes covered with a layer of strawberry or vanilla coconut confection. This was the pinnacle of preteen passion; having all the Snow Balls you could ever want was a goal some of us set for adulthood, something to aspire to.

After that, there was definitely a hierarchy of treats. Hostess dominated the sweets world much as Microsoft Windows holds sway over the world of computing, and its cupcakes (chocolate with a creamy filling, and a vanilla sugar squiggle on top) ran a respectable second to the Snowballs, sort of like Hillary.

Bringing up the rear in the top three were Twinkies. Their principal deficiency, of course, was the lack of chocolate. On the plus side, a Twinkie was easy to eat and had a shelf-life of about 2,000 years. The Roman soldiers ate Twinkies while there were building Hadrian’s Wall.

There was a pretty good consensus on that area of snacking among kids, but in the soft drink arena, we were all over the map. Like Studebakers and (now) Oldsmobiles, some one-time favorites have been relegated to collector status. 7Up won the clear, lemon-lime drink sweepstakes, creaming the competition in the Seventies with its classic “Uncola” ad campaign, but if the truth be told, it wasn’t as tasty as one of its imitators, Bubble Up.

The most disgusting variant on that theme was (and is) Mountain Dew. The only thing that keeps the Dew on shelves is its powerful caffeine kick. Kids don’t need that, having all the energy in the world, but as we grow up (and work or play too much), Dew’s combination of liquid “speed” and funky taste keeps one away. Mountain Dew proved there’s a market for bad-tasting, high caffeine soft drinks, and now we have Red Bull, et al.

Without a doubt the top root beer was Hires, but the formula was blanded up when it was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes in 1989. Today, none of the so-called “old-fashioned” root beers such as Barqs or Mug can hold a candle to the original, Hires, which was invented back in 1866 and which may be America’s oldest soft drink.

For a kid, most treats were ladled out by penurious (or health-conscious) parents. The only opportunity for individual confection expression came when the ice cream truck trundled down the street or parked outside the schoolyard.

With funds cadged from lunch money (or won in some other mysterious kid way, such as bets on whether Mrs. Farkleson would wear the same dress every Monday), you could make your selection, as long as you could outshout the other 25 youngsters trying to get the ice cream man’s attention.

“Half and half!”

“Long John!”



If you weren’t assertive enough, your particular favorite might get sold out, and you’d have to settle for some lesser item, such as Eggplant Chip Bar or Pineapple Twist. Anyone who doubts Darwin’s theories about survival of the fittest should watch kids clustered around an ice cream truck.

Or maybe not. Times have changed. Moma’s not home when Trevor or Brittany return from school, and they grab whatever they want from the fridge. Heck, some kids even have their own cooler in their room, along with their computer, phone, cell-phone, CD player, game console and television.

But as the new growth of spring takes over, so do our memories of long-gone delights. So let’s toast to the sweetness of recalled pleasures with a Moonpie and a Cactus Cooler.

This is a “classic” Retorts from 2008.


Categories: Opinion

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