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Cracker Jacks

"Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize! That's what you get with Cracker Jack!"

If you remember JFK, you also remember actor Jack Gilford and his immortal Cracker Jack commercials of the 60's. Click on the movie to the left for one of my favorites, involving a kid who's just a bit short on cash.

Cracker Jack is one of those memories that our grandparents actually remembered from THEIR childhoods. The song "Take Me out to the Ballgame" was written in 1908, fifteen years after F.W. Rueckheim introduced a unique popcorn, peanuts and molasses confection at the Chicago World's Fair.

Cracker Jack was an instant hit. It has truly become a part of our culture. But we Boomer kids have our own memories. Many of them involve those Jack Gilford commercials.

One of my favorites was the one where Jack was dressed up like a witch, along with some other actors. They are adding ingredients to a boiling cauldron. One of them adds a "purple flurp." Then Jack adds the piece de resistance: a large, one-eyed, no-nosed nothing. The cauldron then explodes.

Cracker Jack was simply irresistible to a kid. Not only was it delicious to eat, but it came with a prize! I remember getting lots of puzzles that had tiny metal balls under a plastic cap and that required you to roll them into holes. Little clip-on plastic badges were common, as were semicircular thin plastic whistles that required dexterity beyond what seven-year-old me possessed. You put the whole thing in your mouth and somehow blew against the plastic to make a shrill whistle.

My memories of prizes were greatly enhanced by this cool site: http://members.cox.net/jeepers/archives.html The man is clearly passionate about Cracker Jack prizes.

Anticipation could be summed up in that feeling when you fished through the caramel-coated peanuts and popcorn and found that little paper-wrapped delight.

Of course, the candy itself was delicious, too. I loved how the heavier peanuts would find their way to the bottom of the box, to be savored at the end.

Cracker Jack cost a dime when most other candy bars cost a nickel. So I didn't buy too many boxes at Moonwink Grocery. But I went to many high school football and basketball games to watch my older brother play for the Miami Wardogs, and it was a tradition for dad to buy me a box of Cracker Jack each time. We had a circus that regularly came through town in the 60's, and I recall watching the performers with Cracker Jack crunching in my mouth.

I don't eat too many sweets any more, but I will treat myself to Cracker Jack every now and then. When I get grandkids, that will make five consecutive generations of my family digging through the candy to get to the hidden prize.

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