Today on the tray: Raisins in the sun

raisin in sunApril 30 is National Raisin Day, followed by National Raisin Week from May 1 to 7. So that’s eight days of celebration—it’s as long as Hanukkah. To me that seems a bit excessive, even for “nature’s candy.” Too much dried fruit, warns SF Gate, “may cause you to have gas, abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, or possibly diarrhea. Avoid these negative effects by keeping your dried fruit intake to a small amount each day.”

I was going to do a series of daily posts called Eight Days of Raisins, but that proved too ambitious. However, my previous posts about raisins, raisin bran, and Raisinets should get you through the week.

As we all know, raisins are grapes that are dried out by the sun. But did you know that the sun is sarcastic, and also a bit of a nebbish? At least, that’s how he’s portrayed by character actor Marvin Kaplan in this 1980 Sun Giants Raisins commercial. For some reason The Sun is sitting in a witness box in a trial, being questioned. Why? Who’s on trial? Is The Sun a witness for the prosecution or the defense? Or is he the defendant? They never tell us. In the punchline at the end, The Sun testily threatens an attorney with a third-degree burn. As someone who burns easily, I think that’s really mean.

Sun Giants Raisins commercial (1980)

Henry Beesmeyer on Alice sitcom with Linda Lavin
Marvin Kaplan as Henry Beesmeyer on Alice

You might recognize Marvin Kaplan from his role as Henry Beesmeyer, a perennial patron of Mel’s Diner on the 1970s-1980s sitcom Alice. Henry was a telephone lineman, but unlike Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman, this Phoenix lineman wasn’t a lonely, introspective guy up a pole. No, Henry had lots of friends at the diner, where he was constantly eating, all the while complaining about the food.

When you saw the title of this post, did you think it was going to be about A Raisin in the Sun, the classic play by Lorraine Hansberry (later a 1961 film starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee)? Sorry for the bait and switch, but here’s the trailer from the film:

Movie trailer, A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

If you haven’t seen it, be advised that the play isn’t about literal raisins. The title is inspired by the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes:

Langston Hughes book coverWhat happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Raisins don’t come off very well in this poem. Being a metaphor for dreams crushed by oppression is not a positive image for the poor little raisin.

For National Raisin Day/Week, I’d like to propose an alternative metaphor. Let’s visualize the humble raisin as a dimpled beacon of hope. Another great poet, Maya Angelou, famously urged us all to “be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” In the same spirit, I say, “Be the raisin in someone’s oatmeal raisin cookie!”

And have a happy National Raisin Day and Week!

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