Twinkies: Out of Bankruptcy and Back in My Lunchbox

Fifty-five years ago, my mother enrolled me in an institution of lower education, Frayser Elementary School. On the day after Labor Day, 1958, Momma took me by the hand and walked me to our neighborhood school, just a block from my house. We entered the school house doors and did not have to go through metal detectors. Momma took me to Mrs. Oswald’s class and kissed me good-bye as I started the first grade.

But Momma did not leave me empty-handed. I was ready for school. I had a book satchel in one hand and a Roy Rogers lunchbox in the other. In the book satchel was a Big Chief writing tablet and two pencils approximately the size of baseball bats. And in my Roy Rogers lunchbox was a ham sandwich wrapped in wax paper, an apple, a thermos full of milk, and a package of Hostess Twinkies.

During the course of the 1958-1959 academic year, I learned reading, writing `and arithmetic. I read all about Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot. I learned to write my name in bold letters on my Big Chief tablet. And although I didn’t get to multiplication or division, I learned to add and subtract.

And every day, in the lunchroom at Frayser Elementary School, I ate two Twinkies.

Using the arithmetic Mrs. Oswald taught me, and the multiplication skills I was taught by my second grade teacher, Mrs. McMurtry, I can now calculate that during my years at Frayser Elementary School I ate more than 2000 Twinkies. There were 180 days in each school year, which meant that during each academic year, I consumed 360 Twinkies. (There were two in each package.) Over the course of six years, a conservative estimate of my total Twinkie consumption is 2,160, which did not count Twinkies that I ate in the summer time or on weekends.

I absolutely loved Twinkies. Even on my worst days when my fellow scholars made fun of me for being the smallest kid in the class, I always looked forward to opening my Roy Rogers lunchbox in the cafeteria and biting in to the golden sponge cake with the cream-filled center.

I graduated from Frayser Elementary School in 1964. There was no commencement exercise, no sixth grade valedictorian triumphantly announcing, “Today is the first day of the rest of our lives!” When I got my report card on the last day of school in May 1964, there was a one-line entry indicating that I was being “promoted” to another institution of lower education, Frayser Junior High School, located across the street from Frayser Elementary.

But on the day after Labor Day 1964, when I “enrolled” in junior high school, I no longer carried a Roy Rogers lunchbox. Instead, as a sophisticated 12 year old, I was given lunch money by my father so that I could purchase a meal in the Frayser Junior High cafeteria.

It was at that moment that I stopped eating Twinkies.

I have no idea what I had for dessert during my junior high and high school years. I have some vague recollection of blue Jell-O, tapioca pudding, and other concoctions that would never be mistaken for crème brulee, cherries jubilee, or bananas foster.

But I do know they never served Twinkies in my junior high or high school cafeteria. And since I no longer had a Roy Rogers lunchbox that needed to be filled each day, Momma quit buying Twinkies at the Piggly Wiggly.

It is amazing that at the age of 12, I just went cold turkey on Twinkies. It was as if the Surgeon General had put a warning on the side of each package of Twinkies telling me they could be “hazardous to my health”, and I just abruptly dropped my Twinkie habit.

I can’t really say I missed Twinkies. In the seventh grade, they were suddenly out of sight, out of mind, out of my lunchbox, and no longer in my stomach.

But then one day last fall, after nearly 50 Twinkie-free years, I suddenly desperately wanted a Twinkie. I can tell you the exact moment when I was ready to kill for a Twinkie. It was on the morning of Nov. 21, 2012 when I heard on a television news report that Hostess Brands, the long-time manufacturer of Twinkies, had gone bankrupt, and a bankruptcy judge had approved Hostess’s request to shut down, abruptly ending Twinkie production in the United States.

Suddenly, I longed for my old Roy Rogers lunchbox with a golden cream-filled sponge cake inside it. I grew nostalgic about Frayser Elementary School and Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot and my Big Chief writing tablets and giant pencils, but most of all I grew nostalgic for a Twinkie.

I hadn’t even thought about a Twinkie in almost a half century, but once I heard the news that I couldn’t have one, I became hysterical.

My mind was flooded with Twinkie memories. I remembered not only the Twinkies in my Roy Rogers lunchbox, but I remembered as a child hearing all about how my hero, Elvis, liked to eat deep-fried Twinkies.

I’ve never in my life had a deep-fried Twinkie, but suddenly I could think of nothing else. Yes, deep-fried Twinkies may have converted Elvis from the skinny hip-swiveler in a gold Lamé suit to the bloated 1970s version of Elvis in the white jumpsuit, looking like he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy or one of those floats in the Macy’s Day Parade.

But I didn’t care. I wanted a Twinkie, either deep-fried or raw, and if it meant that I must trade in my seersucker suits for a white jumpsuit, so be it.

I hadn’t been this depressed since 1985 when, for a brief but agonizing period, Coca-Cola was replaced by “New Coke,” a horrible drink that was like a Pepsi impersonating a Coca-Cola. (New Coke was the Elvis impersonator of sodas.)

I found myself taking lonely walks through the Piggly Wiggly, searching the shelves for the golden sponge cake of my youth. I tried to placate my Twinkie cravings by devouring Oreos, Tootsie Rolls, Count Chocula cereal and other favorite snacks I enjoyed during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. But they did not satisfy my Twinkie desires.

Over the winter, I sank into gloom and despair (not to be confused with the law firm by the same name), hating myself for giving up Twinkies at the age of twelve.

I kicked myself for not stocking up on Twinkies over the years. After all, Twinkies have a shelf life longer than Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

By the spring, I was spending most evenings in my kitchen with a loaf of pound cake in one hand and a cream-filled turkey baster in the other, desperately trying to create my own Twinkie. But as it turned out, like Coca-Cola Classic or Colonel Sanders, Hostess Brands had their own secret recipe for Twinkies.

And then, just a few weeks ago, my prayers were answered. Hostess Brands was purchased by a private equity firm, and with the approval of a hungry bankruptcy judge, Twinkies returned to grocery stores shelves across America.

I have not yet had my Twinkie reunion. I’m planning on doing so soon, but first things first.

I need to find a Roy Rogers lunchbox.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.