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Penkava: In the Twinkie of an eye, an icon is gone

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I’ve always had a secret stash of Twinkies, just in case, only I never imagined it would come to this. It was not until I recently learned that my beloved sweet snack faced extinction that the reality of the literal end of their shelf life truly confronted me.

My first reaction was to sprint to my clothes closet and check my clandestine Twinkie stockpile. After a frantic search I found them … all 15 individually plastic-wrapped golden delicious cream-filled cakes hermetically sealed in a large glass jar … a final retirement gift from my last class of third-grade students. Four years and counting, and they’re as good as the day they were baked.

As I held the jar in my hands and stared deeply at its contents, my mind wandered back to my childhood days when I first discovered what would become a lifelong companion. It was like I saw the future, and the future was cream-filled, baby.

Back in the day, you could buy a two-pack for 10 cents. I might be mistaken, but I think Twinkies were bigger back then. Or maybe it seemed so because my hands were smaller. Or perhaps I was holding them really close to my eyes. But, be that as it may, the taste has always been larger than life.

Somehow Hostess had been able to combine 39 different ingredients to arrive at a tasty “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling” that people have been snarfing up for more than 80 years. Among those ingredients are sorbic acid (a compound derived from natural gas), polysorbate 60 (a component of rocket fuel), and various artificial colors and flavorings (petroleum byproducts). Gee … natural gas, rocket fuel, and petroleum … it’s no wonder we kids perked up after a Twinkie break.

But Twinkies aren’t just for kids. Remember Archie Bunker? He had Edith put a Twinkie in his lunch box every day. He called them “The White Man’s Soul Food.” Twinkies have appeared in movies such as the appropriately titled “Grease” and “Die Hard.” The White House even put a Twinkie in its National Millennium Time Capsule. They called Twinkies “an object of enduring American symbolism.” Just think, when the capsule is opened in 2100, ones will be able to see Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, a piece of the Berlin Wall, the literary works of William Faulkner … and … a Twinkie!

Although the focus now is on the loss of the Twinkie, there is also some collateral damage to this catastrophe. I’m talking about that cream-filled wrangler named “Twinkie the Kid.” The Kid first came onto the scene in 1971, a stunning work of molded plastic sporting a 10-gallon hat, a kerchief, a pair of gloves and cowboy boots. He, like his namesake, is a petroleum product, as well.

Suddenly orphaned due to the loss of his parent company, he must now find another path to follow. Maybe he can mosey on down to Cinnabon and pick up another sweet gig. Perhaps he’ll change his name to The Cinnamon Kid. Maybe add a little frosting to the outfit. You go for it, little guy! Sniff.

In the meantime, I was wondering whether there are any Federal Reserve bailout funds available. I mean, if it was good enough for Chrystler and AIG, what about Hostess? If you can save a bunch of Jeeps and some high-margin corporate insurance guys, why not step up and help out an iconic struggling bakery? After all, if it came down to it, what would you rather nibble on, a Twinkie or a Grand Cherokee?

In the great scheme of things, I suppose losing Twinkies is no big deal. I probably could have better used my time writing a column about something of vital importance, such as the NHL player lockout. But it irks me that just when you think everything’s going fine, someone yanks the cream filling out of your life.

Next thing you know they’ll be closing down Marshall Field’s. Geesh.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently busy bidding on a box of Twinkies on eBay. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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