Old Folks' Cereal

Becoming an “old folk” with Shredded Wheat
by Sam Johnson 

     It was a startling discovery.
One of those self-realizations that suddenly hits you from out of the blue and puts a new perspective on your life.
But there was no denying it. It’s just that I had never really thought about it before.

I have become an “old person.”
How did I know?

I caught myself eating “old folks’ cereal!”
You know the cereals I’m talking about – Grape-Nuts, All-Bran, Shredded Wheat.

But the thing is, I was eating them all mixed up together – my own special blend!
What really got me thinking about this, was the fact that I’d been eating this concoction regularly for some time now, and actually enjoying it!

You see, when I was growing up, the only people who ate these “adult cereals” that looked and tasted like cattle fodder were the “old folks.” And as far as we knew, the only reason they ate those mini-hay stacks and rabbit pellets was to help them . . . . well, you know, because of all the fiber and roughage.
There was no way we kids would ever eat that stuff, and we always tried to steer Mom and the shopping cart clear of that end of the cereal aisle lest she get some strange notion in her head that such cereals would be good for us.

     We know the kinds of cereal to get and the kinds to avoid, just by the way they were neatly separated and stocked in the cereal section of the grocery store. All the cereals were divided into three groups.

 The Old Folk’s Cereal

     On one end of the breakfast food aisle, all the “old folks’ cereals” were grouped: Grape-Nuts, All-Bran, Shredded Wheat, Fiber-One, Special-K, and all the Chexs Cereals. (Having watched TV as youngsters, we know that Checkerboard Square was synonymous with dog food – no surprise to us!).
Often mixed in with these “old folks cereals” were the “hot cereals” such as Ralston (to our young minds another dog food connection), Cream of Wheat, Quakers Oat Meal (perfect for Quakers but not us kids!), Whetena – why the names alone struck terror in our hearts and made our mouths go dry!
We knew that when winter came around, we would be served some of this hot gruel like it or not, (a friend once remarked that eating Ralston “The Whole Wheat Cereal” was like “brushing your teeth with a bushel of wheat”), so we tried to get Mom to buy us the hot cereals that were at least somewhat palatable and less likely to stick in our craw, (never mind the ribs). You know, smoother, porridge-like hot cereals such as Coco Wheats, Maypo, Malto-Meal, and Zoom.

 The Bland Generic Cereals

     In the middle of the cereal aisle sat the bland, middle-of-the-road breakfast foods that we could eat if we had to, but preferred not to – corn flakes, Post Toasties, Wheaties, Rice Kristpies, Raisen Bran, Kix, Cheerios, and the dreaded puffed rice and wheat.
Dad liked to buy the puffed rice and wheat cereals in bulk – 10 pound bags at least – because it was so cheap and he felt he got his money’s worth.
But trying to eat that stuff was like trying to eat beads of Styrofoam – you couldn’t keep them under the milk.
     Of all these cereals, the puffed ones we hated most.

 OUR Cereals!

     Finally, at the other end of the cereal aisle were our favorite cereals with their familiar characters beckoning us to buy them: Cocoa Puffs with the chocolate cuckoo bird (“cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”), Tony-the-Tiger and Sugar Frosted Flakes (“They’re GRRRREAT!), the Lucky Charms leprechaun, Sugar Bear and his Sugar Crisps, Count Chocula, Crispy Critters, Frankenberries, Cap’n Crunch, Cocoa Krispies, Sugar Pops, Honeycomb, Trix (“are for kids!), Marshmallow Krispies, and all sorts of sugar-coated, great-tasting cereals, many with special prizes inside!
However, we weren’t allowed total freedom in the cereal food aisle.
Even then, in the days before the great Consumer Reports, and healthy food pyramid, Mom knew the dangers of these over-sugared temptations.

She would allow us to pick only ONE box of our favorites, and she would pick a box for us, unusually from the bland section.
We couldn’t buy another box of cereal until both had been eaten, so we learned right away that it was smart to switch off between the two rather than eat all the good stuff up first.

The problem was, Dad noticed his puffed rice was going nowhere. (In fact, now that  think about it, I can’t recall ever seeing Dad eat the stuff either!).
Anyway, it bothered him to such an extent, that in order to encourage us to eat it, he would mix the puffed cereal in with whatever good cereal was left, and totally ruin it for us.

We literally spent many mornings picking the puffed rice out of our cereal bowls (once Dad left for work), so we could get to the good stuff. (I usually did this by filling my bowl with milk, then blew off the rice puffs from the top).
Well, somewhere along the way I quit eating the sugar-coated cereals – I think it was in junior high school when all my friends switched to Wheaties “The Breakfast of Champions” because that’s what all the athletes ate -- and the box cover proved it!

And now, much to my chagrin, I find myself eating “old folks’ cereal” for breakfast and actually enjoying it.
But what has me worried most is the fact that I’m mixing my cereals together!

Oh my goodness, I’ve become my Dad!
Could puffed rice be next?