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A Good Breakfast

by Julia Sneden

There I was, the other morning, walking briskly along Arbor Road, when my mind suddenly sprang off on a tangent:

"Shredded Ralston for your breakfast;" it sang. It bumped and wiggled and hmmm'd a bit in a search for the next few lines, trying hard to call them up from the depths.

"Shredded Ralston for your breakfast," it tried again: Dahdedah dah dah de dite...

Ummm....Again:

"Shredded Ralston for your breakfast," Aha!

"Starts your day off shining bright.
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
With a flavor that's just right!"

And then all of a sudden digging deeper, it burst forth with the grand finale:

"It's delicious and nutritious;
Bite-sized and ready to eat.
Take a tip from Tom"
(Tom Mix, that is, he of cowboy radio fame)
"Go and tell your mom Shredded Ralston can't be beat!"

My mind and I smiled a triumphant smile.

I happen to know that I am not alone in having a brain that now and then simply takes over and replays old radio commercials. My husband, for example, can sing the entire Cream of Wheat ad from the Saturday morning Let's Pretend show:

"Cream of Wheat is so good to eat
That we have it every day.
It makes us strong as we sing this song
And it makes us shout 'HOORAY'!
It's good for growing babies And grownups, too, to eat,
For all the family's breakfast
You can't beat Cream of Wheat.
"

I daresay that just about anyone in my generation can come up with several of those old jingles. Listening to the radio, one had to listen hard, and such trivia locked itself in forever. I knew just about every cereal commercial from just about every kiddie program.

In the house where I grew up, however, breakfast was never anything as simple as a bowl of cereal. Oh, we ate it, all right, but only as a portion of the meal. My ancestors came from New England, where breakfast on a cold morning provided much-needed fuel. My mother remembers visiting relatives in Vermont when she was about four (that would be 1911). The men rose at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and went out to milk the cows, and the women didn't just "fix" breakfast: they produced it. Ham, eggs, bacon, steaks, oatmeal, toast, Johnny cakes, and three kinds of pie were all hot and waiting when the men folks came back from the milking. It seemed a great feast to the little girl from California, especially being allowed to have pie for breakfast.

Thirty years later, when I was a child, our breakfasts were considerably smaller. But compared to the coffee and half a bagel that I grab as I dash out the door today, what my mother and grandmothers put on the table qualifies as ample and then some.

We lived in California, where the moderate weather made it possible to keep a large crate of oranges outside the back door, under the stairs that led to the top floor. Breakfast always began with either fresh orange juice squeezed on the old Hamilton Beech mixer, or oranges "cut the rude way," i.e. in eighth, held in the fingers, and eaten right out of the skin,. We kids loved that "rude way" appellation.

There followed eggs in some form (usually soft-boiled), bacon if my mother had enough ration coupons to get some, and cereal for those who wanted it. We also had toast made from homemade bread, or, on weekends, pancakes or waffles or French toast. Relatives still living in New England sent us 5-pound blocks of maple sugar every Christmas, so wartime rations of white sugar weren't critical for us (although my grandmother complained that maple sugar in the coffee just didn't work). Mother could make real maple syrup from the sugar.

We also had a great uncle who had a small dairy farm in Idaho, and from time to time during cool winter months, he'd send us a five-pound block of butter. In between shipments, we ate "oleo" like everyone else. Mother would beat it in the Hamilton Beech with yellow food coloring, but it fooled no one. The plastic packets with the little pill of food coloring that you popped by squeezing so that you could knead the color into the margarine right in the bag didn't show up until after the war.

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