Things from the 90s: Memories from School Lunch | Gushers and more

Recently, General Mills announced they’re bringing back one of my all-time favorite snacks: Dunkaroos. As a kid in school in the 90s, I remember peeling back the film on the plastic container of the Dunkaroos, licking the frosting off the film, then dunking the cookies into the frosting with as much drama as possible to ensure that the kids at my table might be jealous enough to consider a trade next time.

Once I read about Dunkaroos, memories blossomed in my mind the same way Anton Ego, the critic in Pixar’s Ratatouille, is instantly transported to a memory of his mother when he eats the Ratatouille made by a rat named Remy. Just from the mere mention of the word Dunkaroos, school lunch, my friends, the classes, the teachers, it was all so vivid in my mind suddenly.

The mind is an amazing thing. So, I decided to write a blog post, an almost homage to great snacks and things from the 90s, but with one twist: Whatever memory the snack inspired, I would write about that, too. Whether it was the memory of how the lunch lady scooped the mashed potatoes with an ice cream scooper or how I always pretended to not have read the assignment to sneak a peak at the notes of the girl I had a crush on or how I was kicked out of a prep rally for starting a playful brawl. So, here are my favorite snacks/things from the 90s — and some memories.

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Shark Bites: Things from the 90s

Shark Bites were some of the most underrated fruit snacks, and they came in all different flavors, shape, types of sharks, and color. I personally loved the solid white shark the best. In some way, these shark bites might have given me some unconscious control over one of my greatest fears: Jaws.

When I saw that movie, I was around around 12-years old, and for some reason, my conservative grandma took me to Blockbuster and rented the movie on VHS. When Jaws jumped out of the water the first time, I leaped out of my seat, and I remember her laughing. I was so scared of water for the next few months I couldn’t even take a shower, terrified that somehow Jaws would slither through the complex city plumbing to bust through the bathroom floor à la the Kool Aid Man and tear me to bits.

Perhaps taking the tiny sharks in their fruit snack form, lifting them above my mouth at school lunch, and tearing them in half was my way of reclaiming some of that fear.

Gushers

Gushers is a fruit snack and a thing from the 90s, and they are elongated hexagonal bipyramids, according to Wikipedia, which does nothing to accurately describe what these fruits snacks were. Gushers were actually waxy yet firm orbs made of a fruit-like substance. When you bit into a Gusher, they bursted with a rush of flavor and liquid. It was like a waterfall of juice smacked you in the face. (The commercials certainly played on this element.) They came in a yellow package, and when you held them in your hand, they were hefty for their size, almost like spitballs. Ah, there is the memory.

I had Gushers once at lunch, and I can recall walking back to Spanish class with them still in my bag. I was going to save them for later. It was 8th grade, and I was at Clinton Middle School.

I hated Spanish class, not because I hated the language, but because I found the soft-spoken teacher incredibly boring. She was a sweet and professional woman, always dressed in pencil skirt, but she had no idea how to keep our attention. She would wheel out the projector, role down the screen, and put a translucent piece of paper on the projector and begin reviewing grammar and conjugations. Boring.

When the teacher would turn around to grab something, people would throw paper at her. We treated her poorly. We were assholes. I was an asshole. That was 8th grade, and it was a real rebellious year. My parent’s divorce was almost over, my mother was in a hospital, and, honestly, I didn’t think I had any friends. So, I saw an opportunity to work out some of my pain.

I bit off the back of a Bic pen, removed the ink from the pen like removing guts from a fish, and wadded up a piece of paper in my mouth. I really wet the paper and made a perfect ball. I inserted the paper-missel into the pen-canon, and I aimed it at the teacher.

Honestly, I don’t think I could have made a more perfect shot. The paper hit her right in the forehead and stuck to her. Sure enough, I was in the principal’s office, and I still feel bad about it to this day. But that’s just one of the many things from the 90s I feel guilty about.

Squeezeit

Most of the time, my mother made me lunch, and I brought it to school in a brown bag with other things from the 90s. Inside, there was usually a sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil. Sometimes there was rye bread, sometimes marble rye bread, and stuffed in the middle, there was either roast beef, turkey, tuna fish, or, the wild card, imitation crab salad. And there was always a surprise drink.

The drinks ranged from Hi-C to soda to Fruitopia. (I was tempted to write about the Hi-C Ecto Cooler with Slimer from Ghostbusters on the cover, but there just isn’t enough words to cover it all.) Most of the time, however, I was just hoping to find a Squeezit in my lunch.

Honestly, I haven’t thought about Squeezit in years. But once I saw the image of Squeezit’s plastic bottles during my Google image search and remembered the shapes of the characters, such as Chucklin Cherry pictured above, images came flying back into my conscious as if it was a boomerang that I had thrown many years ago and was just returning today.

Squeezits came in all colors and characters. Honestly, the packaging made the drink. If you put me in a blind taste test and asked me to guess which was Squeezit, Dimetap, or Robtussin, then I would have probably failed every single time.

There was also an odd satisfaction in removing the top of the bottle.

When I think about those bottle tops, another memory from childhood comes roaring back. I can’t help but think of the helicopter seeds from maple trees, which are called samaras.

My dad had a couple maple trees in our yard. It was before my parents got divorced and before we moved away from my childhood home. I remember the leaves being red, and they would gently fall from the branches like helicopters, and they would rain down on us as we played football in my backyard.

Barnum’s Animal Crackers

Animal Crackers were crackers that were shaped into animals like lions, gorillas, and elephants. They were more of a wafer than a cracker, and they dissolved in the mouth instead of crumbling or breaking. They had a plain yet delicious flavor, but I imagine kids loved it more for the packaging than anything else.

They came in these boxes that were supposed to mimic the traveling caravans of the circus, and they were bright red. Opening the box was an experience almost as dramatic as unpacking a new Apple product.

When I think back on eating the animal crackers, all I can think about is standing in line at St. John’s Church in Clinton, Massachusetts, after my First Communion and tasting the eucharist for the first time.

Necco Wafers

When I was getting ready for my First Communion, my grandmother always wanted to practice. Thinking back, I’m wondering what we were actually practicing. I kind of remember her trying to teach me to do the sign of the cross and cupping my hands in the exact proper way to receive the eucharist, but I honestly can’t understand what we spent so much time practicing.

Perhaps the practicing was just an excuse to give me candy, because every time I did the sign of the cross, my grandmother (Mimi) would plop a Necco Wafer down into my palms.

String Thing

Before I wrote this post, I asked Twitter to let me know what their favorite snacks were as a kid, and I received some great responses about things from the 90s that I hadn’t even thought about it. But the most common responses I received were Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot. Those are great suggestions.

And yet, when I think of the best fruit snack that was rolled or stretched or could turn into something else, I think of String Thing. Honestly, it was the weirdest product. String Thing came plastered onto a piece of white cardboard, and it was often in the shape of a maze. I would pull off the string, and then shove it in my mouth.

String Thing was a maze, and it was mesmerizing

I used to actually work in a maze in high school called Davis’ Mega Maze. It still exists, and it’s a huge hit. People come from all over to walk through a maze built from corn and find their way out. I would actually help build the maze in the summer time, and it’s something I try and write about a lot in my fiction and essays. Learning to build the maze teaches a person a lot about the importance of being lost.

Now, going through all these snacks and memories, I do feel like I’m in a maze. Every object is associated to not just one memory but many memories, and the further back I go, the farther lost I am in the mind. It has been fun writing this post, but I need to find my way back to the here and now for a bit.

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