Hostess is going out of business after feeding America’s sweet tooth for over 80 years. Their products of icons of Americana, but times change. And even icons are often not what they seem. This really happened to me.
There were some things we just didn’t eat in our family. Blue ICEEs, Pixie Sticks, and most Hostess snack products. I think it had something to do with the fact that Taiwanese desserts are comparatively bland and not sweet at all compared to the cloying sugar bombs of America. It may have also had something to do with the fact that before staying home to raise kids, my mother was a biological researcher who performed lab tests on rats.
But America manages to corrupt even the purest of palates. We tasted of the baked goods and they were… good. Since baking is not something most Taiwanese girls learn how to do, and my mother had limited interest in all the fussy measuring and mixing that were so antithetical to the little bit of this and little bit of that method favored by Chinese housewives, our desserts came from a store. Usually something a little more high class, such as a Sara Lee pound cake or Pepperidge Farms turnover. But somehow, I do remember tasting the occasional Twinkie (too sticky and sweet), CupCakes (I’m surprised they didn’t spell it Kup Kake) and if anything, Ho Ho’s (as they had a more reasonable cream filling to cake ratio) than most of the other products. All the spelling and punctuation is Hostess’, not mine.
I had already tried some of the packaged sweets and decided weren’t really all that great. Even though they had the Peanuts gang shilling for them, Dolly Madison’s Zingers were not even palatable. In first grade, the spelling of Suzy Q just didn’t seem right – especially when anyone could see that they were just big rectangular versions of Hostess CupCakes.
But there was one package that beckoned to me from the shelves at our local Kroger. Cellophane wrapped two to a package, and sometimes tinted in seasonal pastel shades, Hostess Sno Balls promised to satisfy the sweet tooth that none of the aforementioned products could sate. After all, they had cream and chocolate cake all wrapped up in a layer of marshmallow. As if that weren’t enough, the entire package was rolled in shredded coconut, so they looked like they’d be right at home on a flocked Christmas tree.
I don’t know exactly how those Sno Balls ended up in my lunch box, but having two children, I have an idea of how one’s resolve gets eventually worn down by constant whining and begging. But my memory of the day I tasted my first Sno Ball is crystal clear.
I was in Mrs. Petersen’s second grade class. She was young and pretty, with an ash-blonde page boy that never moved, thanks to her twice daily sprayings of Aqua Net, which she kept in a locker at the back of the room. For some reason – perhaps there was an event in the cafeteria – we ate lunch in the classroom that day. I opened up my Holly Hobby lunch box and there they were: my Sno Balls. Whatever sandwich I had was forgettable. It could have been tuna or bologna, but I’m sure I ate it, just to get to dessert.
Then, the main event. Pulling the two sides of the plastic wrap apart, I took out the first Sno Ball. They were pink. I bit into the coconut and marshmallow, through the chocolate cake to the cream center. Cake, candy and frosting – the godhead three in one. This was worth fighting for. This was what my mother was holding out on me, while all the white kids casually opened their packages and stuffed their treats in their mouths. This is why… I didn’t feel so good anymore.
The bell rang, signaling us to throw away our trash and put away our lunch boxes. I had barely finished that first Sno Ball and had no desire to eat the second. My hands were sticky and my mouth was dry. Shreds of coconut clung like dandruff all over my clothes. Mommy was right. Those things were bad for me. I couldn’t take the evidence home and have to explain why I didn’t eat both cakes. Yet, I couldn’t throw it away, either. My desk was toward the back of the room, near the trash can, and more importantly – near Mrs. Petersen’s locker. Did students get in trouble for throwing away food?
As the other kids stampeded to the quickly filling garbage, I had to make a split second decision. If I dropped an entire Sno Ball in the bin, someone would be sure to notice and yell something about it. Glancing around, I lifted up the top of my desk and slipped the cellophane package inside. Then I pulled out my workbook like a good little girl.
But I was not a good little girl. I was the kind of girl who throws temper tantrums in supermarkets, who demands that her mother spend money on unhealthy snack foods, and then doesn’t even have the decency to eat them.
I tucked that Hostess package behind my books and pencil boxes and tried to put it out of my mind. Of course, even a seven-year-old quickly learns that when you try to cover something up, that thing will grow and take over your thoughts – and your desk space. Part of me though I might eat it someday. After all, there were starving children in Africa. My own father said he was so hungry as a boy in wartime Taiwan that he tore pages out of cookbooks and ate the pictures. So no, throwing away perfectly good food was not an option.
But with each passing day, the chances of me consuming the Sno Ball grew slimmer. I hoped that like a real snowball, it would melt slowly until one day I’d open up the desk and nothing would be left. Maybe an empty wrapper.
It never did disappear. Still round, still pink, still there. The marshmallow shell hardened up a little over time, making it more Peep than Stay-Puft. After a while, you get so used to living with a lie that you forget it’s there.
I carried on like than until June. The last day of school. That day, the janitor rolled in an oversized garbage can for us to dump all the odds and ends we’d collected over the year. The bin was nearly as tall as I was, and I couldn’t see the bottom unless I stuck my head over the edge and peered in. Other kids tossed in broken pencils and crumpled up worksheets. I threw away a handful of my innocence.