I guess it should be embarrassing to admit, as well as a little hypocritical since I constantly complain about how coddled my students are, that from the time I was in first grade until the time I was in high school, my dad packed my lunch every day. Every day, I took a brown bag with a sandwich, a drink, and some sort of snack. The sandwich and snack changed over the years, but the drink was always the same: Yoo-Hoo.
A chocolate drink of mysterious origin that you had to shake before you enjoyed, Yoo-Hoo was vitamin-fortified high-fructose corn syrup that had a tangy sweetness. It wasn’t as viscous as chocolate milk and way more shelf stable. In fact, my dad would buy it in three-packs that he would then keep in the freezer. Then, he would put the box at the bottom of my brown paper bag with the sandwich and snack on top. Theoretically, it would keep everything cool while it sat in my locker all morning; in reality, it was a frozen chocolate brick that as it thawed wet the bag through condensation, usually falling through the bottom of the bag, and depending on how late I had lunch that day would either be cold or warm by the time I had to drink it.
Now, as excellent as Yoo-Hoo is when it’s cold, it is absolutely disgusting when it’s warm. Warm Yoo-Hoo is the kid drink equivalent of that last slug of warm beer at the bottom of a bottle. I’d say it’s kind of like drinking garbage water but considering that I don’t know what garbage water tastes like, I’ll stick with that analogy.
Anyway, I would peel the wet brown paper of the bag away from the Yoo-Hoo box and shake it up because that made it taste great (or so the box said). The box never really lasted as long as my food did, but I did cut through whatever I was eating, whether it be turkey and muenster on a semolina roll with mayo, a meat loaf sandwich, or turkey breast with butter, which I loved to eat in junior high for some reason. That’s probably what made Yoo-Hoo such a lunchroom staple, one show presence was taken for granted. Sure, there was Juicy Juice and Adam & Eve and Hi-C, but if you got the wrong flavor combination, your lunch would taste off. Sometiems you’d wind up with a sour taste and the consistency of mucous.
But unless it was warm, Yoo-Hoo never disappointed. It was all-purpose cafeteria table wine, the kind that even the pretentious CapriSun types (of which I never was because I could never figure out how to get the straw through the front of the bag) approved of. And although it essentially was an HFCS bomb, the commercial told all of us that we were getting our vitamins—and enough energy for recess or the last few periods of the day.
So, the other afternoon, when I was in Harris Teeter with my son, I spied a bottle of Yoo-Hoo in the drink aisle. The packaging hadn’t changed, and neither had the fact that the bottle was made of glass and not one of the many plastic bottles that seemed wall-to-wall (I didn’t look to see if Harris Teeter had any boxes). I put it in my cart and to the tune of $1.29 and kept it in my thermal lunch bag next to a blue ice pack and in the fridge at work.
“My how times have changed,” would probably be the appropriate thought here considering I wasn’t carrying a paper bag and a turkey with butter sandwich, but that didn’t wind up being true. I shook the bottle, cracked the seal, and with the first sip I was reminded of every single lunch I had as a kid. I could even smell the cafeteria’s distinct odor of hot dogs and mop water (then again, my classroom is next to the caf, so that’s probably what I was smelling), and I could see my name written in permanent marker on a brown paper bag.