Boomers and After-School Snacks

After-school snacking, like practically everything else these days, was fundamentally different in our boomer years than today. TV commercials picture the perfect mom, popping frozen nuggets or bites into the oven to serve their perfect children and their perfect friends. Better yet, the perfect children microwave their own snacks while mother gives them her Good Homemaker Seal of Approval.

In Mister B’s experience, after-school snacking wasn’t really a thing — it was called “the time before dinner.” As such, boomer children were reminded that they didn’t want to spoil their appetite. This could very well have been, for many of us, a practical approach due to limited family budgets. Nonetheless, there were times that snacks were consumed, though different and in smaller quantities than today’s kids have grown accustomed to.

By Mister Boomer’s unofficial poll of boomers he knows, the number one after-school snack for boomers was fruit. A banana, apple, orange or grapes was the recommendation of boomer moms. For Mister B and his siblings, after-school snacks were not a regular occurrence. Mister B’s sister did, on a regular basis, make herself celery stalks with peanut butter — something she actually liked. Brother Boomer didn’t seem all that concerned about snacks, but he might on occasion, sneak a cookie with Mister B (those were intended for lunch!) right out of the package in the cupboard. When “nothing looked good,” Mister B and his siblings might grab a handful of cereal out of the box. Remembering that many cereals had a high sugar content in the boomer era, that handful of Frosted Flakes or Sugar Smacks might as well have been a couple of candy bars. Again, cereal was intended for breakfast so it was not part of normal daily snack life.

By the time boomers became teenagers, the fast food industry was also booming. Mister B knew many kids who stopped at McDonald’s or Burger King at least two or three times a week on the way home from school. Mister B does not recall a single time he ate at these establishments after school. In the rare instance he did go, it would have been on a Saturday since Sunday was dedicated to afternoon dinners at his grandmother’s house.

Wait a minute, you might ask, what about Little Debbie cakes, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Hostess Snow Balls and, for that matter, Jeno’s Pizza Rolls? In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, those were assigned to particular times and meals, and those culinary rules were rarely broken. Snack cakes were intended for lunch; a dessert to a sandwich. Pizza Rolls were a possible substitute for kids’ dinners, in a pinch, or maybe served as a first course. Otherwise, these snacks that required using the oven were relegated to being served at parties.

Surely, you might say, there were potato chips on hand. In Mister Boomer’s house, you would be correct. Mister Boomer’s mother had a potato chip jones and there was often a bag available; but again, chips were not intended for after-school consumption. When his mother usually wanted to munch on them was after-dinner while watching TV. She would often use that dry pouch mix stirred into cream cheese to make an onion dip that Mister B despised. Likewise, Mister B’s father was a pretty big snacker, but never before dinner. At TV time, he was the household member responsible for bringing home a box of Bugles, Triscuits, Fritos or his favorite, Cheez-Its. Snack crackers — usually plain and straight from the box — was his snack choice. The kids nibbled accordingly, but not after school.

Today’s families eat dinner at later times than boomer era families. That may be one reason for the emphasis, nay, need, for an after-school snack. Families today have, as a general rule, more spendable income as well as fewer children to feed. Of course, we cannot discount the effect that the massive marketing of after-school snacking has on the American family. This advertising blitz was in effect during the boomer years, but has really reached fever pitch in current decades.

How about you, boomers? Did you have after-school snacks on a regular basis, and if so, what were you allowed to eat?

Boomers Got Their Air and Water for Free

It has become increasingly apparent to Mister Boomer that the times, they aren’t a-changin’; they have already changed. There are so many areas of our lives we knew as Baby Boomers that operating in a fundamentally different way now than back then, that boomers can’t help but feel the encroachment of age. One such area that is wearing on Mister B’s mind lately is how we pay for air and water.

The mere notion of paying for air or water was as alien to boomers as the sci-fi visitors they watched on the silver screen. Some parts of the country only got TV by way of a cable in the 1960s, which meant those households would to have to pay for TV. Yet, most boomers would have said, “Pay for TV, what are you, crazy?” TV came from your antenna, delivered to your living room as if by magic. It seemed a national right. The very same thing can be said of water and air.

Boomers took for granted that when they turned on the faucet in their homes, fresh water would pour out. While not free, water in most municipalities was very inexpensive. Water was automatically given to every person seated in a restaurant. It was just the way it was. Except for some dry spells when water may have been rationed, boomers and their parents could drink from the backyard hose, wash cars and water lawns to their hearts’ content. It seemed like water was a never-ending resource that would forever remain available at affordable prices.

Furthermore, drinking water came from a tap. From Mister Boomer’s perspective, it was a higher class that had access to bottled water. Some sources say bottled water from Europe was sold in the U.S. as far back as the late 1700s. Other documentation points to an increase in the popularity of bottled water thought to have medicinal properties, taken from springs in New York, Boston and Maine, and sold in the early 1800s. Most boomers, like Mister B, would thumb their noses at such conceits. To most of us, water was local, and not bought in a bottle.

The modern era of buying water in a bottle caught hold in the 1970s, when flexible plastic containers were perfected, and Perrier introduced its brand to the world. At the same time, alarms were being sounded over water quality around the country and decades-long discussions of additives to the municipal water supply, such as flouride, convinced some people the time had come for a potable water source that did not come from the tap. There has been a steady, if not recently precipitous, climb in sales, brands and availability ever since.

When Mister Boomer mentions free air, he is referring to the kind needed to fill the tires of bicycles and cars. Air-filled tires were first sold in Europe in the 1890s, and to a smaller degree, in the U.S. Meanwhile, John Dunlap invented the pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888, about the same time that pneumatic automobile tires were being tested. By 1900, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, the country’s largest tire manufacturer at the time, moved from making bicycle tires to automobile tires. Through his close relationship with Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone inked a deal to be the exclusive supplier of tires to the Ford Motor Company. In 1905, Firestone convinced Ford that his pneumatic tires offered a better ride and more durability than the solid-based rubber for Ford’s car buyers, and Ford purchased nearly 30,000 of them that year. The pneumatic tire has reigned supreme for cars ever since.

From an early age, Mister B recalls riding his bike to the Sinclair gas station, where, like all other gas stations, there was an air pump off to the side of the main building. There was plenty of room for a car to pull up next to the pump, which had a hook that held rings of extended hose so the car owner could reach all four tires around the car without having to move it. The pump was attached to an air compressor, usually housed within the service bays of the station. Some air pumps had the compressor built into its structure.

On a bicycle, it was a piece of cake to use the air pump. Brother Boomer first demonstrated to Mister B how to take the hose nozzle and press it over the bike tire valve to inflate the tire. It was especially handy to have this free access when your bike tire had a slow leak; easier to refill the tire than take out the inner tube, find the leak and fix it, only to have the need to refill the tire with air again. In later years, Brother Boomer bought a hand bicycle pump that could be employed in the Boomer household’s backyard.

In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, every kid got their first car between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Cars could be had very cheaply, but of course, at those price points, tires may not have been in the best shape, requiring multiple trips to the gas station air pump. It was at the time Mister B got his first car that he purchase a tire pressure gauge of his very own, to determine the stage at which the tires were properly inflated.

Somewhere between the late ’70s and early ’80s, stations began charging for air. At first it was 25 cents, but within a few years, it had jumped to 50 cents. Now, when you can find an air pump, you’ll be spending a dollar or more.

Of course, the air was never free; the station had to have a compressor and pay for the operation, but it was a courtesy for customers. Back then, your windshield was wiped and oil checked for free, too.

Did you ever imagine you’d buy water in a bottle on a regular basis, boomers? Do you remember filling your bike tires or car tires at the gas station for free?