Spring Cleaning for Boomer Youth

The annual ritual known as spring cleaning seems to wane in popularity with each passing year. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that time is so much more structured in the average family than it was in the 1950s and 60s. Another big consideration is that when we boomers were growing up, the vast majority of our mothers stayed at home. Yet even though they stayed at home, they were modern women who were most definitely interested in any technology or product that would lessen the drudgery of house work. They were not about to do things the way their mothers had to.

For the Mister Boomer house, spring cleaning fell into three main categories: personal space, seasonal replacements and seldom-performed household tasks. Mister B’s mom, the acting general in the spring cleaning attack, would request each child to “clean” their own closet. This amounted to, for the most part, removing the piles of toys in the bottom of the closet, cleaning the dust bunnies that had taken up residence, and carefully selecting toys that had been outgrown and relegating them to the storage areas of the basement. Rearranging the toys to place back completed the bottom half of the closet cleaning. Of course for some, like Mister B’s brother, the piles that went back in looked a lot like the piles that started.

The second part of the annual closet cleaning was connected to seasonal replacements. Each spring, fall and winter clothes in the closets were gathered and moved en masse to a chifforobe in the basement. From the basement storage, spring and summer ensembles, smelling of moth balls, were resurrected and, like spring itself, renewed for another year in the light of the season.

The family hall closet got the same treatment. Each family member removed and stored the winter coats, scarves, hats and gloves and replaced them with the lighter-weight outerwear needed for spring weather.

Sometimes, Mister B’s mom would want to kick it up a notch and clean the walls in the bedrooms and living room. The kids hated that job, but, armed with old rags and buckets filled with warm water and sudsy Mr. Clean or Spic ‘N Span, they’d dutifully wipe the walls, climbing on chairs to reach up to the ceiling.

Cleaning the venetian blinds were another spring chore. Having the oldest child assist in removing them from each room, the blinds were set out on the backyard grass. There, Mister B and his brother would train the garden hose on the horizontal slats, power washing the winter’s dust from the white aluminum. Next they’d drape the blinds over the backyard clotheslines to dry in the sun, while Mister B’s mom took a brush and soapy water to any tough remaining spots. When things weren’t coming clean, she’d fill an aluminum tub with soapy water and dunk the blinds, letting each soak a few minutes so the modern cleaning technology could do its work.

With the product reaching the maturity of nearly ten years old, Mr. Clean got a “new formulation” in 1960 that made “him” tougher than ever on dirt.

Marketers, ever tapped into popular culture, never missed a trick to tie their product into popular movie and TV shows of the time. When this commercial was released, the James Bond series had hit the silver screen while The Man from U.N.C.L.E. appeared on TV.

The final spring cleaning ritual was delegated to Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer; it involved the outdoor storm windows. The boys retrieved window screens from the basement and brought them to the backyard, where a quick hose-down removed any remaining dirt from the previous year. Then, Brother Boomer, as the eldest, got on the family’s six-foot ladder outside each window as Mister B took up position on the inside. Sliding each storm window up the aluminum slats until reaching the opening where it could be removed, the boys took down the heavy glass storm windows and replaced them with the summer screens.

Completing the window-to-screen task, a simple twist of threaded screws on the aluminum frame of the front door was all that was needed to removed the door glass, and quick as a wink, it was transformed from storm door to screen door.

What spring cleaning tasks were you required to do as youngsters, boomers?

Food vs. Food: Boomer Food Always Had Competition

Throughout the boomer years, innovations in food science and technology — as well as the advent of TV mass marketing to a newly-minted generation — filled supermarket shelves with products that young boomers knew by name. Boomers formed a highly competitive demographic even then. It seems like as soon as one brand became popular, another would want to get a piece of the market action. In other words, for every Coke there was a Pepsi, for every McDonald’s there was a Burger King. Here are a few products that showed up on Mister Boomer’s radar. See how many you remember:

Hydrox vs. Oreos
The Sunshine company (later Sunshine Biscuits) introduced Hydrox cookies in 1908. The cookie consisted of two chocolate cookie discs sandwiching a vanilla creme center. Oreos were brought to the consumer market by Nabisco in 1912. It grew to be the biggest selling cookie in boomer times, most likely due to clever marketing that got kids to twist the cookies apart to lick the filling off, then dunk the chocolate parts into a glass of milk. To cookie aficionados, Hydrox was the better of the two because the cookie was less sweet and crunchier, so it stood up to milk longer than Oreos.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Oreos was the hands-down winner. Mister B’s sister preferred them, and his father enjoyed snacking on them, too. Hydrox showed up on rare occasions, but the bag lasted a lot longer. Mister Boomer was never an Oreo lover: the filling seemed too sugary and the cookie, far from chocolatey.

Heinz Ketchup vs. Hunt’s Catsup
Heinz introduced their bottled ketchup in 1876, while Hunts joined the market in 1888. Both were decades away from being boomer products, but Heinz was considered the premium brand of the two in the 1950s and sixties. Hunt’s marketed their bottled tomato condiment as “catsup” east of the Mississippi, and “ketchup,” west.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Mister Boomer was a big ketchup eater in his formative years. He put it on sandwiches, steaks, boiled potatoes and even scrambled eggs. As such, he greatly preferred the taste and consistency of the Heinz. Yet in a budget-conscious family, Hunt’s was the cheaper brand, and often won out over Heinz. Mister B was always confused and amused by the multiple spellings of the word that amounted to a young boy’s impression of, “catch-up” or “cat’s-up,” depending on your prerogative.

Mountain Dew vs. Kickapoo Joy Juice
The current formula of Pepsi’s Mountain Dew debuted in 1958. Maligned by some for its high caffeine content (decades before Red Bull) and bright yellow-green color, it was first marketed with hillbillies on the label. The Monarch Beverage Company brought Kickapoo Joy Juice into competition with Mountain Dew in 1965. It had a similar citrus-y flavor and unreal color like Mountain Dew, and even mimicked their hillbilly marketing. The name originated in a L’il Abner comic strip, though the drink in the comic was alcohol-based.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Neither soft drink made it into his home, but out and about on a summer’s day, Mister B and his brother tried both concoctions at least once. Mister B didn’t like either one. The neighborhood kids called Mountain Dew “monkey pee,” and as far as Mister B was concerned the Kickapoo tasted even worse.

Post Toasties vs. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Chronologically, Post’s version of toasted corn flakes came first in 1904, then the name changed to Toasties in 1908. Kellogg’s entered the market in 1906. In 1952, sugar was added to corn flakes to make Frosted Flakes, and Tony the Tiger was born.

In the Mister Boomer Household: While the occasional Post cereal found its way into the kitchen cupboard, Mister B’s house was squarely in the Kellogg’s camp. His father loved Corn Flakes, though Mister B and his siblings couldn’t stomach the dry, crumbly cereal without adding some canned fruit cocktail or fresh banana. Mister B’s sister, however, couldn’t get enough of Frosted Flakes, to the point of eating them out of the box like potato chips.

Ovaltine vs. Nestle’s Quik
Hitting the U.S. market in 1915, Ovaltine is a milk flavoring made with malt extract, sugar, cocoa and whey. It had what seemed to be an “adult” taste, meaning it was less sweet than the competition. Nestles Quik, on the other hand, was a true boomer product, introduced in 1948. You can guess the age of a boomer by which Quik commercials he or she remembers. The ventriloquist dummy named Danny and puppet dog called Farfel sang the classic TV jingle in 1955.

Danny would sing: “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle’s makes the very best.”
And Farfel would finish with: “CH-O-O-O-O-CK-LAT” and his wooden jaw would snap shut as the final exclamation point. Younger boomers instead recall the Quik bunny in commercials, and the strawberry flavoring.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Nestle’s Quik was the big winner with Mister B’s family. They had the powder in the house throughout the fifties and sixties. Ovaltine did find a place in Mister B’s kitchen in the late sixties for a short time. The company also made PDQ Chocolate Flavor Beads, which were fun to spoon out of the jar and into a glass of milk, over ice cream or directly on the tongue.

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup vs. Bosco
Hershey’s brought chocolate syrup to the masses in 1928. It came in a can, which is the way Mister Boomer first remembers encountering it at his aunt’s house. As it turns out, Bosco was also introduced in 1928. Taste-wise, they were about the same. Both were used for making plain milk into chocolate milk, and both were equally delicious over ice cream.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Mister B and Brother Boomer drank a lot of Quik, but by the time his little sister got to have a say, Bosco took over as the undisputed king. Hershey’s made a guest appearance every now and then, but it was Bosco’s show.

Cheez-It Crackers vs. Cheese-Nips
Sunshine introduced Cheez-It crackers in 1921, while Nabisco brought Cheese-Nips to market in 1955. Cheez-Its were tiny squares of cheddar-cheese flavored cracker with a sprinkling of salt. Cheese-Nips were slender sticks of cheesy cracker that had a similar flavor and texture.

In the Mister Boomer Household: With this snack, it was Mister B’s father who made Cheez-It the top brand for the family. A voracious snacker, he really liked Cheez-Its and attempted to always have a box on hand. Mister B’s sister also liked Cheez-Its, so the deal was sealed. Cheese-Nips came and went, but Cheez-It was the preferred brand.

Royal My*T*Fine Pudding vs. Jell-O Pudding
Royal first sold their boxed pudding mix in 1918. Jell-O followed in 1936. Both mixes required stovetop cooking with milk, meaning it was a task only for boomers’ moms. Instant puddings from both companies were released in the early 1950s. Then even boomer children could make pudding, because all that was necessary was to add the mixture to cold milk and stir.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Jell-O was the winner. It seems like Royal was around only if it was on sale, or the store was out of Jell-O brand. Chocolate flavor was numero uno, though Mister B and his father enjoyed the occasional butterscotch. Dessert wasn’t a regular thing in the Mister B house, but when it wasn’t a holiday, pudding was most often the choice. The kids could make it, which made Mister B’s mom happy. She’d tell the kids to place plastic wrap on top of the dessert dishes before they were placed into the refrigerator, but the kids protested. Putting plastic over the dish prevented the layer of skin from forming, which was the most prized part of the pudding.

PC or Not PC, that wasn’t the question when Pillsbury marketed Funny Face drink mixes as a competitor to Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid in the 1960s. Mister B’s sister loved the Goofy Grape, so it was the flavor most often found in the house.

Flavor Aid vs. Kool Aid vs. Funny Face
The Jel Sert company began selling Flavor Aid drink powders in 1929. They also made Royal pudding. Meanwhile, Kool-Aid had beaten them to market by two years, appearing in 1927. The Kool-Aid marketing blitz that boomers recall began in 1953, when it was sold to General Foods. In the fifties and early sixties, both required moms to mix in their own sugar with the flavor pack. Pillsbury’s Funny Face differentiated itself by not needing added sugar.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Like most premium brands, Kool-Aid cost a bit more than the others and was therefore generally an also-ran in the supermarket race for the Mister Boomer family. His mother made lemonade from concentrate, and iced tea, when Mister B and his brother were young. By the time his sister reached pre-teen, the mixes did enter the house. Boomer Sister did latch on to Funny Face; she liked that the Goofy Grape turned her tongue purple.

Oscar Mayer Wieners vs. Hygrade’s Ball Park Franks
Certainly frankfurters — hot dogs to us boomers — had been around for many decades before the Boomer Generation. Like many other food products, however, regional brands played a role in a family’s choice of hot dog. Two brands that gained national fame in boomer decades are Oscar Mayer wieners and Hygrade’s Ball Park Franks. Hygrade’s released Ball Park Franks to the country in 1959, but didn’t really catch national attention until their commercials debuted the catch phrase, “They plump when you cook ’em,” in 1966. Oscar Mayer had their first Wienermobile on the road in 1936, but it was in 1965 that they introduced the jingle every boomer can sing: “Oh I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…”

In the Mister Boomer Household: Both brands shared time in the Mister Boomer family fridge. As with many brand products of the time, however, it was Mister B’s sister who often chose which to take home. When she wasn’t eating bologna, SpaghettiOs or Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni, she was eating hot dogs. Mister B’s family often had a meal of beans and franks, too. Mister B’s mom would drop a can of pork and beans into a pan and set hot dogs on them. Each hot dog would be slit across the top and cheddar cheese stuffed into them. Then strips of raw bacon would be wrapped around the hot dogs and secured with toothpicks. Popped into the oven, dinner was ready as soon as the bacon was crisp. It was an economical way to feed a growing family of boomers.

What brands fought for shelf space in your homes, boomers?