When I was a kid growing up in The Bronx my favorite snack was Cracker Jack. It didn’t matter that the molasses-flavored, caramel-covered popcorn and peanuts got stuck in our teeth and remained there for hours; it was just too tasty to resist. My Dad used to say we were putting our dentist’s kids through college because we were there so often!
I’d run to the store with my allowance and grab the red, white and blue box with a picture of Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo just begging you to indulge in the sweet golden nuggets. That image of Jack popping a piece into his mouth made our tummies rumble and our mouths water. Back in 1960 a box of Cracker Jack cost 10 cents – one thin dime. In big letters was the message that made our little hearts flutter:
NEW PRIZE INSIDE!
We’d excitedly rip into the box wondering what we’d find. Would it be a decoder ring, plastic figurines, miniature notebooks, stickers, baseball cards or temporary tattoos? Once the surprise was revealed, we’d get to business gleefully stuffing our faces until our bellies hurt! My Cracker Jack treasures were stored in one of my mother’s large mason jars which I kept on my desk in my room; it was a clear vessel so I could easily see all my prizes – a plethora of multi-colored playthings and trinkets which to me looked like precious gems. Sometimes my friends and I would get together and trade prizes; the boys always wanted the baseball cards and miniature guns while the girls were more interested in the tiny baby dolls and jewelry. A big favorite was always the plastic whistle which we’d blow continuously while running around the house causing our parents to grimace and cover their ears.
Cracker Jack became so popular with people of all ages, it was even sold at the world-famous Yankee Stadium. A hot dog, a soda and a box of Cracker Jack – you couldn’t ask for more to make a perfect day with the Yanks – except a win, of course! You remember the old song, don’t you? I bet you’re singing it right now:
“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back!
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game!”
Nowadays kids won’t find surprise toys and trinkets in snack or cereal boxes and that’s a damn shame. Those days are gone; I guess somebody decided those little treasures were a “choking hazard”. Funny how back then we never heard about anyone choking on a Cracker Jack toy, getting sick from drinking water out of the garden hose or crossing their eyes so much they’d get stuck that way. We’d do our homework right away so we could go outside to play with our friends instead of plopping down on the couch watching shows like “Felix the Cat”, “Sky King” or “The Lone Ranger“. When the street lights came on, we knew it was time to run home for dinner – and our moms never had to yell out the window for us to get home. Man, those were simpler times!
Today there are only a couple of surprises about Cracker Jack and they’re not very good ones: there are no more peanuts because too many kids have nut allergies; a box costs way more than 10 cents and you don’t even get a full box for your money. And the only message on the package is “CONTENTS MAY SETTLE IN TRANSIT”. What big change occurred in transportation to result in the “settling phenomenon”? Just one more crazy thing to ponder in the year 2021.
Boy, I sure do miss those Cracker Jack days.
NAR © 2021