Mark Bofenkamp received a pair of Twinkies for his 23rd birthday, back in 1982.
His 16-year-old sister Jan bought them at the Lakewood Safeway for 38 cents. A student at Charles Wright Academy, she had heard from a visiting nutritionist that Twinkies had a shelf life of 22 years, and she told Mark she expected he would keep the Twinkies until he turned 45 — come 2004.
Eight years later, those uneaten Twinkies have turned hard and brown, and they remain a member of the family. They came out of their sealed plastic container at a Thanksgiving family gathering as news spread that the manufacturer of the child-friendly confection had gone the way of Enron, Nalley’s and Borders Books.
“Originally they were in my parents’ house, upstairs,” Mark said Friday. “They stayed for five or six years. I’d check on them every so often.”
“After a few years, I saw Twinkie sweat,” he said.
Not much changed over the next five years or so, as Mark moved to Federal Way and the Twinkies were relegated to a basement shelf. They stayed in their shoebox nestled inside a cardboard box containing VCR tapes and other memorabilia, and when they were later moved into Mark’s garage, he noticed they had begun to shed crumbs and “fall apart, and there was Twinkie dust.”
Then came his 45th birthday, 22 years after those Twinkies were born.
“We seriously thought about eating them. But we’re silly, not crazy,” he said. “Actually, we didn’t want the fun to end.”
The label on the Twinkies says that the product was manufactured by ITT Continental Baking Company Inc., which made Twinkies under that label in the early 1980s.
The fun faded as a few more years slid by.
“This may sound weird, but I became interested in aged peanut brittle,” Mark said.
Some holiday peanut brittle found its way to the top of his refrigerator. After a year or so, he found it became “soft and oozy. You could mold it like clay.”
After five years, however, “My wife said it was time for it to go. After I was forced to throw it out, I checked the Twinkies. The pores were enlarging. They were going through the next step in their maturity.”
Today, those Twinkies are as hard as plywood and display a dark-brown tinge.
In November came the news that Hostess was folding.
“We pulled them out again,” Mark said. Along with Thanksgiving, the family celebrated Mark’s birthday — and he was given a cake featuring a candle and a current Twinkie.
And he gave his sister a gift: a new Twinkie.
“Now she’s got 22 years,” he said. “I’ll be 75, and these Twinkies will be 75.”
They have become like heirlooms that might have no intrinsic value, but are treasured by those whose hearts they have touched for decades.
“Generations from now, all we’ll be remembered for in the family is for our Twinkies,” said sister Jan Calkins, by phone from her home in Canada.
“As the years go by,” she said, “it becomes more monumental.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535