When I was a kid, I always enjoyed Cracker Jack, the caramel coated popcorn that came in boxes, and it sometimes came with cool prizes. Those prizes included plastic cases with steel balls inside that you had to roll around and get into holes, magnifying glasses, and temporary tattoos. The Center of Science and Industry museum in Columbus, Ohio even has a section devoted to the various toys from boxes of Cracker Jack. You can check that out here.
Cracker Jack, as I knew it, also came in a waxy paper covered cardboard box, usually in sets of three. More on that later.
My father often joked that he found my mother’s engagement ring in a box of Cracker Jack in his usual teasing manner -- implying it wasn’t worth much. As I considered getting engaged, I remembered this story. My wife and I had looked at rings and a ring she liked the most she saw in my hometown several hundred miles away. I arranged for my sister, who had experience working as a jeweler, to work with them to buy it, get it sized, and have it shipped to me. I’d never paid so much for something and had it shipped -- it made for a nervous couple of days. So how to actually propose? I picked up some Cracker Jack and used some of my architecture model-making tools to carefully cut open the wax paper, then the box, and then the paper prize, and slip the ring inside. Then I had to reseal all the parts and make it look like it had never been opened. I wasn’t actually an architect yet, just an intern. I was getting ready to take the big architecture licencing test which was offered once a year, for a week long in a town about two hours drive from my home. We decided it made sense for me to stay at a hotel that week. We thought it would be nice to take a weekend to scope out the town and find a hotel for me and explore the town. I said we could have a picnic and packed a basket complete with Cracker Jack for dessert. Unfortunately, it rained like cats and dogs on our trip, so we skipped the picnic. We returned home and I suggested we have the picnic with a fire in our living room. So after the picnic, during dessert when she opened her dessert and the prize she found the ring and I formally proposed. She of course accepted. Having heard the same stories from my dad she wasn’t really all that surprised to find the ring, and after all she was kind of expecting it having helped pick out the ring.
I still love Cracker Jack -- though the prizes have been reduced a sticker, or worse yet a code that works with a phone app.
They are the highlight of going to a baseball game and as we just attended one, sharing some Cracker Jack, brought back fond memories of a picnic over 20 years ago.
Special thanks to my editor Eric Buscemi