When I spied a box of Wheatena in our local supermarket, placed on a top shelf where it really wasn't very noticeable nor very handy, I was very surprised. Wheatena was my favorite hot breakfast cereal when I was growing up -- and believe me, that was a long time ago. I knew that Quaker Oatmeal was still around, but I felt that Oatmeal was as much for the making of cookies and the feeding of sick people as for a simple breakfast choice. But Wheatena! Now that was different.
But so was breakfast in my early days. And we're talking maybe from 1945 to 1955. During those years (when I was from age 10 to 20) my family was comprised of my dad, my mother, my uncle, my sister and me -- and after 1949 my little brother. Now talking specifically about the school year, we had a family breakfast each morning. My dad was up first. His jobs, in this order, were first to turn the floor furnace on, next he prepared the coffee for brewing in an old top-of-the-stove percolator and got it started, and then put the bacon in the frying pan to cook. No matter what else we had for breakfast, coffee and bacon were always on the menu. By this time my uncle was up, and his first duty was to knock on each of the bedroom doors and announce, with his own sense of humor and in a loud voice that we could hear as he walked down the hall....."SADDLE BLANKETS!" I'm not sure any of us could figure out the significance of what he said, but we sure knew what it meant. My sis and I were expected to roll out of bed and go to the inner hallway that my uncle had by now vacated and stand over the floor furnace. Mother, who by this time had a cup of coffee in her hand (she always said she was useless in the morning until she got her coffee) helped us get dressed -- mostly just seeing that we stayed on schedule and didn't fight over who got to stand over the floor furnace!
While we finished dressing, mother took over the kitchen duties, Dad and Unc got dressed for work, and shortly we all migrated to the kitchen where we sat down to see what, besides the bacon and coffee, mother had prepared for us. We did not choose what we were to eat. We ate what had been prepared. Mother rotated between hot cereal, cold cereal, and scrambled eggs with toast. There was always a bowl of canned fruit next to our plates -- again, no choice; we ate what she put there. The one concession made for me, because I didn't like milk at all, was that I didn't have to drink any. My sis and I were allowed, however, to have a cup of what we called "Coffee-milk" - which was an extremely milk-heavy cup of coffee. We ate timely, with Dad and Unc reading the newspaper and mother watching the time.
Breakfast over, we girls headed to the bathroom to brush our teeth and get our coats on while Dad backed the car out of the garage to take us to school. Unc jumped in the company truck he drove and headed to work, and mother began the breakfast cleanup.
The only variation of this scene was that we girls were allowed to "sleep in" during the summers when school was out, and on weekends.
Now how does Wheatena figure into this scenario? Only that when I recently saw it on the shelf (at an exorbitant price, I might add), I was flooded with good memories of my childhood breakfasts. And I had to buy that box of Wheatena. It tastes just as good now as it did then. The big difference is that somewhere during my adult life I discovered that cream is a lot better than milk, and half-and half is a great thing to use on ANYTHING. On Wheatena it turns what I always thought of as a very textured mouthful of tasty glop into a delicious morning ambrosia.....well, I think maybe I'm overstating the case, but it really does make for a yummy breakfast.
And while I am eating it, I can take a walk down memory lane; my dad, mom, uncle and sister are now gone, and I doubt very much whether my little brother ever ate it, since during his youth the day of the family eating together disappeared. But lots of things play through my mind as I eat that bowl of steaming hot Wheatena, and I can replay those innocent years of remembering family habits and traditions from my long-ago and cherished childhood,