all of the selves we Have ever been
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It is National Oreo Cookie Day.
If ever a cookie deserved its own holiday, it is the Oreo. I don’t even mind if the government halts mail delivery.
Oreo is the signature product of the National Biscuit Company, the food manufacturing giant better known as Nabisco. The cream-filled cookie also made Hoboken, New Jersey famous for something other than its view of Manhattan. A grocer in Hoboken was the first to sell the treats in cans for twenty-five cents a pound. No one knows where the name Oreo came from; perhaps it is O for the O-shaped cookie, or O for the “Ohs!” uttered by the tasters in Nabisco’s test kitchens.
I once thought the Hydrox cookie was a sad wannabee, the second born, a disappointing substitute, but it turns out Hydrox was the first chocolate sandwich cookie of that type on the market. Hydrox made its debut in 1908, four years before Oreo’s introduction in 1912. The Oreo has been the best-selling cookie ever since. Sorry, Hydrox, nice try, and a good idea…but the name Hydrox sounds more like an antiseptic, and the taste, compared to an Oreo, well…a lot like the taste following oral surgery.
The Oreo has stayed strong through two world wars, a great depression, and a bazillion weight loss trends. The beloved cookie now comes in double-stuffed, thins, minis, Neapolitan, and Mega Stuff. As of 2019,
450 billion Oreos were sold worldwide. Add the consumption during the COVID pandemic year, and I am sure sales have easily climbed to 1.9 trillion.
The National Biscuit Company was granted a trademark for the Oreo on March 14, 1912. National Oreo Cookie Day is celebrated on March 6th because that is the day Nabisco made its application for the trademark. That makes two miracles for the Oreo—the greatest cookie of all time and the fastest turnaround by a government office in history.
The product’s tag line is “Milk’s favorite cookie.” Sure, there are a lot of dunkers out there, but there are many ways to eat an Oreo. The best known strategy is for “a kid to eat the middle of an Oreo first and save the chocolate cookie outside for last.” The process is important. Lifting or prying the cookie apart is much less effective than the gentle twist that leaves the creamy layer intact to be scraped off by the eater’s two front teeth.
Oreo fanatics have expanded the brand. Oreos are now a staple like flour or sugar. Oreos appear in recipes for pie crusts, pies, cakes, ice cream, milkshakes, candy bars, and are even coated and deep fried at county fairs. Oreos are a snack, a dessert, a special treat, and paired with milk, they are practically a health food.
The standard package notes that a serving size is three cookies with twelve servings in a pack. Really? Who can eat just three? I suspect that an entire row is more typical. Three Oreos? That just wets the appetite because Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. They are the preferred party drug of the tea party crowd.
Decades ago, I experienced an Oreo overdose. My mother had gone to the hospital to deliver a baby—my brother or sister? I can’t remember because the real event was the Oreo tea party authorized by our father to keep my older sister and me out of his hair. Mary and I each consumed far more than the suggested serving of three Oreos. For dessert, we topped off our tea party meal with the Oreo’s favorite cousin, a bag of M&Ms. When it was time to retire for the night, my sister and I climbed into our bunk beds that were covered with matching white chenille Sleeping Beauty bedspreads. Initially, our stomachs gurgled just a bit, but before we could fall asleep, our guts erupted like Mount Vesuvius. Eventually, we slept well. The nightmare came for our mother who returned home with a new baby and plenty of laundry to do. The entire episode was easily forgotten by me and my sister. It may have contributed to our parents' later divorce, but Mary and I never fell out of love with Oreo cookies or tea parties.
Oreos have been around a long time. Even their current design has remained unchanged since 1952, longer than I’ve been alive. I like things that stand up to the test of time and remain sweet no matter how many times we encounter them.
I feel a tea party coming on. Hold the M&Ms.
They called each other “Brother.”
I loved that about them. Brother was not a mere casual greeting;
clearly, it meant something.
I called each of them “Uncle.”
They were different from one another in so many ways. Uncle T was taller than Uncle John. Each had a different build and a different carriage. Their voices were distinct and unmistakable, and each had a unique temperament. One had seen the horrors of war, the other the ravages of polio.
But both married their young sweethearts, and they stayed married until death did them part. Both had large families to whom they were devoted. They started a business together and worked side-by-side for a lifetime.
Uncle John was the back door uncle. Every evening at 5:00 PM, the door slammed shut at the family grocery store next door. Soon the jingle of his impressively full key chain could be heard as Uncle John walked the short path between the store and my grandmother’s house. Next, the top of his hat would appear just above the kitchen windowsill, and then there he stood inside the kitchen door. Uncle John would scan the counter top for samples of the delicious food that could often be found there. He would sample just a pinch—what he could scoop up between his thumb and index finger. Uncle John would chat for a few moments then slap his thigh with the rolled-up newspaper he carried with him from the store. This motion signaled his impending departure. He was heading out the door to his own home.
Uncle T was the front door uncle. Every night about 11:00 PM, the door to the long front porch would squeak. Uncle T’s footsteps fell heavy against the old wooden floorboards as he made his way to the front door. Uncle T would check in and say goodnight and then return to his own home a block away.
Every evening and every night, as long as our grandmother’s house stood occupied, there they were. We lived surrounded by and secure in their love for us. It was like the sun coming up and going down. We counted on it, and took it for granted.
During the week, they were never too busy to take a restless brood of children swimming on a hot summer day or for an evening ride to the custard stand. As we got older, they slipped twenty dollar bills into our palms whenever we reached out to hug them farewell. Sitting in church they might slide into the pew next to one of us and slip a silver bracelet into our pocket. They appeared at all of the important events in our lives and carried the weight of every disaster. They took separate flights when traveling long distances-just in case--one of them would be there to take care of things, of us. They made the tough decisions when the time came to close the family grocery store, to tear it down, to sell our grandmother’s house…They were the bookends that supported the stories that became our lives.
Through the years the brothers spoke on the phone each night. Uncle T would call Uncle John, to say, “Goodnight, Brother.” My cousin, Marcia, had moved back to her family home to care for her parents. She became familiar with this nighttime ritual and had fallen into step. She told me of that first night when the phone did not ring. It was like a silent air raid siren screaming over the house. There was the waiting. The checking of the clock. The feelings of unreality. The call never came. The unspoken words, “Goodnight, brother,” swirled around in the dark night air like a lost, confused bird with no place to land. Alzheimer’s disease had blocked the call. If only they had known that the night before would be the last “Goodnight, brother”…
It had all been so certain when we were young. We never imagined the time would come when their steps would no longer cross the porch, when the phone would cease to ring. The magnitude of small acts is not always apparent, especially to children.
They made it seem so easy, the way they loved us and each other. It was not a mushy kind of love. It was solid, stable, and real. That’s the way it was for men of that generation-the Greatest Generation. Love was an action word, and trust was the fuel.
I don’t think that I ever thanked them enough. And to my aunts and cousins, thank you for sharing. I now understand that everything the uncles gave to us was a gift from their wives and children, too.
Perhaps uncles should always come in pairs, one for the front door and one for the back.