Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good-Bye, Old Friend

In 1933, James A. Dewar started on the path to genius. That was the year Mr. Dewar suggested to his bosses at the Continental Baking Company of a new pastry treat, something that would obviously revolutionize the snack cake industry. That was the year, Continental, who baked snack cakes under the Hostess banner, created the Twinkie. The company had been making strawberry shortcakes for several years but when the strawberries weren't in season, the machines sat idle. Dewar suggested a new treat filled with banana cream. One day while driving down the road he had an epiphany for the name when he saw a billboard advertising shoes from the Twinkle Toe Shoe Company. He shortened the name to Twinkie and priced them at a nickel for a pair. 

When World War II caused a banana shortage and rations were put in place, the good folks at Hostess changed the recipe and filled the spongy cake goodness with vanilla creme.

The popularity of Twinkies grew in the 1950 when the little yellow cakes sponsored the Howdy Doody Show. Under the constant threat of a doomsday nuclear scenario in the 1960s sent Twinkie sales soaring again, when it was discovered the cakes would "stay fresh forever." It became an American icon.

President Bill Clinton included a Twinkie in a time capsule. During its heyday, Twinkie sold half a billion a year.

In 1966 another cultural icon would come along: Me. A couple of years later I started a 40-year love affair with the little snack cakes. I was smitten from the start. Twinkies, and their closest cousins the Ding Dongs, were staples in the Hays' house when I was a kid. My Scooby Doo lunch box was packed with one or the other of the snack cakes every day. I must have broke open and licked the creme out of center of nearly 10,000 Twinkies as a child.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a nice, award-winning when Hostess Brands decided to move the Twinkie-making mother ship to the Dallas-area burg of Irving. I went on and on about how the Twinkie had brought so much joy to my childhood. I informed readers about how whenever a teacher somehow misunderstood my genius during a school day, the Twinkie would be there waiting for me. I talked about how I considered Twinkie the Kid, the lovable Twinkie mascot, one of my best friends. I recounted all of the joy those little guys brought.

But, like many things, it was too good to last.

One day, almost out of the blue, I realized that Twinkies didn't taste quite as good as they once did. The one spongy yellow cakes oozing with creme, somehow seemed to be more springy than sponge and the creme wouldn't even pile up on my upper lip anymore. Soon thereafter I figured out that Twinkies might be the cause of what some doctors might call, and I quote, "a weight problem." So I quit them — or at least limited my consumption to maybe one box of Twinkies per year.

Then, several months ago, Hostess began working with its union bakers trying to come up with a solution to a shrinking snack cake market. Those talks eventually failed and Hostess asked a judge to allow them to liquidate the assets. Twinkies could be gone forever. I was sad. Then the baker union said it would buy the recipe and equipment and keep making Twinkies. I was elated. Then the union said they couldn't work out a deal. I was sad. Now it seems, save from a miracle from the good Lord himself, the Twinkie brand will be no more.

I can't look at my little Twinkie the Kid mascot on the corner of my desk without waxing a little nostalgic. The demise of the Twinkie brings one of the last connections to my childhood. Pretty much all I have left is Pancho's Mexican Food Buffet and Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. What happens when those are gone? I shutter to think.

So, with a sad heart, I say good-bye to another dear friend. So long, Twinkie, you gave me more than I could ever repay (including about an extra 60 pounds or so). Thank you for everything.

As I write these words, I sit here in one of my favorite Twinkie shirts. It has a Twinkie cut in two pieces exposing the delicious creme filling and the words "It's what on the inside that counts." Truer words have never been spoken.

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