Boomers Loved SweetTARTS

Every Halloween, boomers from coast to coast would rummage through their bag of booty for their favorite candies. Many of them were old favorites, like Milky Way, Snickers, Necco Wafers and Chuckles, while others were truly boomer candies, introduced during the prime boomer Era. One such candy favorite is SweetTARTS.

Sunline, Inc., the candy company that brought Pixy Stix to boomers in 1952, heard that parents wished for a less messy version of the popular sugar-in-a-straw candy. The result was SweetTARTS, introduced in 1963. The sweet and sour, tablet-like candies were based on Pixy Stix. The orange, grape, cherry, lemon and lime flavors gave a sweet kick like Pixy Stix, then had a sour after-note. The candy was an instant hit. By 1964, the company had sold more than $8 million worth of SweetTARTS.

Try though Mister Boomer and his friends might, it was impossible to dissolve a SweetTART on the tongue. Impatience was rewarded when a bite turned the tablets to Pixy-Stix-like dust, which was part of the fun. Kids had their favorite flavors, though Mister B didn’t mind any of them, except for not being a fan of grape.

Mister Boomer’s sister was especially fond of the sweet and sour tablets. At the height of her Halloween cravings, she would be willing to trade premium candies for a foil bag of SweetTARTS. Mister Boomer, possessive of all that he collected, would assess the quantity of SweetTARTS with which he was willing to part; after all, he was not going to barter unless he could grab some of his top favorites in return. Usually, he’d trade for Almond Joy or Snickers, if his sister was amenable. She liked Milky Way and Three Musketeers, so she wasn’t willing to trade with those. Sometimes he’d settle for extra Kits or Smarties, or maybe PayDay or malted milk balls, if candy bar chocolate wasn’t on the table. In any case, he wasn’t going to trade away his last couple of packages of SweetTARTS that he had worked so hard to attain.

This has absolutely nothing to do with SweetTARTS, but how can you resist an appearance by Bobby Pickett on American Bandstand, lip-synching Monster Mash?

Mister Boomer hasn’t had any SweetTARTS in a few decades, but hears the latest company owners have amped up the sour flavor. It seems today’s kids like sour even more than boomers did.

What memories of collecting and eating SweetTARTS on Halloween do you have, boomers?

Boomers Looked for the Union Label on Labor Day

Mister Boomer has noted what Labor Day meant to him and his family through the years; a holiday that called for a family gathering with his uncles, aunts and cousins, but also a dreaded school-year eve, as school began the very next day. Yet there was another aspect to the celebration of Labor Day that was impossible to ignore — especially growing up in the midwest Rust Belt — and that is union rallies and parades on Labor Day.

It is estimated that during the Boomer Years, approximately 35-40 percent of the workforce belonged to unions. By Mister Boomer’s experience, it seemed much higher than that. Mister B’s father did not work in a union factory, but all of his uncles (except one), and a few aunts, did. In the neighborhood, far more men and women worked at union jobs than those who did not. There were a host of auto and steel workers, but also telephone company workers, postmen, truck drivers, teachers and even one neighbor in a printers’ union. In short, middle class America during the Boomer Era was well represented by unions.

No one from Mister B’s family, unionized or not, generally appeared at Labor Day union rallies, though Mister B recalls seeing reports about them on TV. On the national holiday set aside to celebrate the American worker, there was always a worker-related component to union rallies, be it safety in the workplace, wages or benefits. TV reports would show workers carrying signs promoting the selected causes for the day, and speakers, from union officials to elected politicians, took turns extolling the virtues and rights of American workers. It became an annual tradition for many politicians to attend the rallies, since union endorsement might help propel a candidate toward victory in any upcoming election. From Mister B’s vantage point, it appeared unions were at their strongest during the three decades of the Boomer Years.

Now, as then, the subject of unions draws a great deal of pride and praise on one side, and venom and distrust on the other. Mister Boomer is in no way wading into the pros and cons of unions with his humble nostalgia blog. Rather, he is pointing out his observations on the way he, and possibly millions of other boomers, lived during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Mister Boomer never belonged to a union himself, though not for lack of trying. Union jobs meant better pay and benefits than non-union jobs — that’s the way it was. By the time Mister B was of teen employment age, two of his friends had union jobs at grocery stores. Consequently, once Mister B found a job, his friends made three times his hourly wage, plus had sick days, overtime and holiday pay. Mister Boomer saw what the union jobs meant in his area. No one would ever think his region was anything but a working class neighborhood, yet families could afford their houses and a second car, and in many cases, a vacation cottage and a boat, too.

While Mister B and his siblings were called “four eyes” for having to wear glasses, his parents had to pay for them. Kids of parents in some of the higher-paying union jobs, like his uncles, got complete vision care, and medical and dental coverage, too. Mister B’s family had no such luck.

From Mister Boomer’s vantage point, it is evident that unions played a major role in advancing the middle class and thus fueling the Boomer Generation. No matter how you feel about the role of unions in today’s workplace, Mister Boomer feels it is evident that the opportunities unions gave to the parents of the Baby Boom helped shape the generation to what it became.

Did your father or family members belong to a union in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, boomers? Did you ever attend a union rally on Labor Day?