As I look out the window while I type, it’s 6 degrees Fahrenheit and the world is wrapped in snow’s pillowy embrace…Wait, did I just say pillowy embrace?! Oh Sweet Jesus in satin pants, this must mean another one of Pav’s childhood stories… OK, so The Cat isn’t digging it, he is leaving for a skating party with friends….hopefully you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Every winter, after the excitement of the holiday feasts have faded. I get nostalgic for a more simple breakfast. Something that used to terrify me as a child, somehow brings comfort and warmth as an adult…cereal. Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Wheatena, Cornmeal, Maypo and Grapenuts. This was the dreaded “winter” cereal lineup of my youth. What’s that?! No, I meant Cornmeal as they weren’t considered grits in New Hampshire. My mom made them something exotic, “Cornmeal Mush…the Indians used to eat it.” These six cereals were there to greet my brother and I every single morning when we arrived at the breakfast table. As mom believed and stated often that “you should have something warm in your belly on a cold morning.” As mom was from a family of fifteen kids, I’m sure there were mornings in northern Vermont where she grew up, they may have done without this luxury on a morning or two. Mom would change the order around so you never ate the same one on consecutive mornings. As my brother and I got older she would ask which one we wanted. As Bryan was not an early riser and I was, I usually got to make the call, often not the right one judging my my brothers disgust (secretly it’s sometimes why I chose the one I did…sorry Bry). I didn’t really have a favorite as they had been the same cereals I had been eating every school morning since I could remember.
Mom would often add different things to these cereals to add to the variety. Raisins, walnuts, banana, cranberries and the like. In all fairness raisins were the go to, followed by banana as walnuts and cranberries were usually only around for baking Christmas goodies. Mom was not much of a baker otherwise, save for the much loved pineapple upside down cake. But the two things that always accompanied the cereal were milk and sugar. The sugar once in a great while was replaced with maple syrup or brown sugar, but ninety percent of the time it was of the granulated white variety. The milk was almost always whole milk, except when the milk ran low and somebody forgot to get more, then there was evaporate milk mixed with water…this was never a happy morning.
We always ate the cereals and headed out into the cold to the bus stop which was 20 miles through knee deep snow uphill both ways….ok, it was about a quarter mile… but it did get cold, sometimes as much as minus thirty, and on occasion a goodly amount of snow… I recall nine inches of fresh snow on the ground once with snow still falling and thinking to myself….who’s leg to we gotta hump to get the day off here?! OK, I probably didn’t think exactly that. School cancellations were a much loved day for my brother and I as it meant two things, More sleep for my perpetually tired brother, and no hot cereal for me. My father would have the radio on in the living room at about 5 am, and lying in bed I could hear them read through the names praying to hear my schools name. Sometimes we won, which meant my father would turn off the radio and make the walk to his and mom’s bedroom to tell her she could rest for a while longer…Sometimes we lost which meant my father kept the radio on to make sure the call wasn’t made later. This of course was the only way to know as there were no automated callings, no internet access, and my town didn’t even show up on our state’s one news station’s map!
My Junior year in High School, Bryan got paroled from cereal jail as he left for the Air Force, and I was left alone to face the onslaught of winter cereals alone. Nobody to argue with, nobody to annoy or be annoyed by, I was left alone with nothing but a long stare at hot cereal…this was a lonely, desperate place. I tried explaining to my mom about then, that maybe I could just have some toast, or perhaps I’d have eggs, bacon and toast…”I’ll even make it”… Which I’m sure was code for “YOU can make it”. I was an early riser, but the thought of waking up and making a full on breakfast seemed pretty daunting…at least for this fifteen year old. My mother declined with the counter offer, and you can do the dishes. As my parents only dishwasher went from two boys to one…I quickly bowed out.
I had to do something to stop the madness, so I devised a plan. My mother went out every morning to scrape the car and warm it up before leaving for work. This gave me a five or so minute window to bring my bowl of cereal to the bathroom, dump it, return to the kitchen and be washing my bowl by the time my mother came back in. This in fact worked swimmingly for a week or two until one day it had snowed. I felt I had plenty of time and continued my newly devised plan not taking into account that my father had shoveled the driveway when he got home, which meant he had just barely gotten to bed and wasn’t asleep. The bathroom being just outside my parents bedroom, I’m sure offered an excellent listening position for my now tired and yet sleepless six foot two inch 270 pound father who wasn’t particularly jaunty this time of morning. I got back to the kitchen feeling good about my success when mother came back inside.
Dad made a surprise visit to the kitchen, I thought to get something to drink. Mom asked how my cereal was and with a smile and a wink I offered “It was great!” in a way I thought Tony the Tiger might say. My father not being amused, offered instead “Yeah?!…If it was so good, why did you dump it down the toilet?!” UH….looking to Mom’s face and knowing the gig was up I was speechless. Waiting for mom’s reply to see her go from sadness to anger I winced and expected either a smack upside the back of my head from dad, or a tounge lashing of incredible proportions from my mother…..But what I got instead was “Fine, well I won’t be making you cereal anymore” With a look of confidence on her face as though she had just solved a quantum physics problem. My father just looked stunned….”That’s what he wanted in the first place!” My mother went to say something to him and her face went blank, then she started to laugh….my father shook his head and started for the bedroom. Mom looked at me and said, “You should have just told me, instead of wasting food.” To which I felt awful about, knowing mom just wanted what she thought best for me, preparing a meal for me, a meal made with love… and I threw it away. Preparing food for someone has meant so much more thanks to that morning.
I never did get another bowl of hot cereal for the rest of my high school days, and at the time I was thankful. I never really touched it again for more than a decade after that and then in my late twenties, and going through some tough times both personally and financially, mom and dad came for a visit. She was always bringing some sort of care package, heck, even now when I go to visit, she tries to load me up with food stuffs. But I’ll never forget that visit because she brought with her, aside from some canned goods, pasta and the like…hot cereal. She asked if I’d like to go out and eatwith her and dad, and I declined. Instead I asked her if she could make some cereal…It was just what I needed…a simple meal. Made with love and care, when that was what I needed most.
Mom and I laugh about the “cereal incident of 85” to this day. When I go over to her house I even make some for her on occasion…so here it is, cold and snowy and it’s time for breakfast…I think I’ll have a bowl of oatmeal and give mom a call.
Have a great Sunday!