The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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November 20, 2012

Empty shelves stir childhood memories

As a farm kid growing up in the 1970s, going to school had a few givens: Trudging down a very long lane to the waiting yellow school bus and carrying your lunch to school. As far as the walk went, on a good day, your mom would drive you down the path from the house to the road and your dad would pick you up on a tractor at the end of the day and take you back to the house. On a bad day, you walked in the rain — both ways.

And the lunch? Well there was no hot lunch offered at the country school I attended until the spring of my second-grade year. So, your lunchtime fate was in the hands of whomever packed your lunch the night before.

In my case, I carried a pink vinyl lunchbox with a matching bottle. Every once in while, there would be Kool-Aid in that bottle, but most of the time I got white milk off the cart. Now the lunches I had, not unlike those of others in my class, consisted of a sandwich — bologna on a good day, plain cheese on a not so good one — potato chips that mom had put in one of those folder-over sandwich bags or popcorn if the chips were gone — and an apple, which I didn't touch.

There often were Snack Pack puddings — the kind in the little can with the pull-tab lid — or a candy bar.

And then there were the days when Twinkies, a package of Ding Dongs or Ho Hos, or one of those large apple pies made it into my pink vinyl satchel.

Very good days, they were, when those treats showed up.

But then I grew up and hot lunch began to be offered at the new school I attended. Ordering one of those every day became the fashion.

So, it is safe to say, very rarely did a box of Twinkies, or any of its kin, find a place in the cabinets at my parents' home or in mine after I became an adult, especially during those four years in the 1990s when I swore off soda and sugary snacks altogether — something I aspire to do again in the near future.

That is until last Friday, when the news was flooded with reports that Hostess was closing its doors as the result of union negotiations that went south.

I happened to be taking a vacation day and was at the grocery store when I passed by the Hostess display sign, which actually is something I cruise next to at the end of my shopping trip each week. That's when I noticed a guy holding two Twinkies and asking the employee next to him if there were any more in the store.

There was none.

And with that, the last two Twinkies began to make their way toward the checkout counter.

Before he left, the guy, who I didn't know, offered up his plan: Eat one and freeze the other for his future child.

That's when I realized things were about to get real serious.

I grabbed a box of Zingers — yeah, I remembered liking those — and another box of the cinnamon streusel cakes, although I admit, I liked them better when they were round and had cinnamon-sugar morsels you had to push into the top of the cake because they were apt to fall off once you slid them out of their plastic packet.

But darn it, these were going to be gone soon, and I needed to make sure I had some in my cart for posterity's sake.

I brought them home, but didn't feel the need to open them. They were safe in my house and they stay good for years, right?

So I figured I would open them up when I was good and ready.

It could be weeks.

Actually it was more like two days. I got a craving for something sweet and decided to pull one of those treats out.

I went to the cupboard.

They were not there.

Uh, oh.

Who has my treats?

I hope nobody took them.

I closed the cupboard door. And then went back less than a minute later to begin rummaging in the cabinet again. They have to be in there. My heart began to thump a little louder as I was driven crazy by the thought of those treats being handed out wildly either by my son at school or my husband in the workplace.

That's when I remembered.

I hid them in the pantry.

No one but me knew they were there.

It's funny, I now realize it was the last-minute run on these sugary snacks that caused me to put a greater value on them. If they had not been predicted to be unavailable in the near future, would they have even made it into my cart?

The answer, I am pretty sure, is no.

But, honestly, I am enjoying the reconnection to my childhood — probably even moreso because I know that for me, wallowing in these snacks is  —  or at least should be — for a limited time only.

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