I’ll never forget the morning I woke up and decided I wanted Cream of Wheat for breakfast.
The kitchen in the home place was cramped. This meant we actually used our China cupboard. There were three drawers and two cabinets in the base. One cupboard had our breakfast cereals. The other one had bowls that we could reach ourselves. Mom skillfully managed to create an environment where even cereal helped create a world that made the drag of Sunday with its church services special. We had everyday cereal, and we had Sunday Cereal. We didn’t know you could add sugar to cereal so the Lucky Charms or other sweet cereal were a big treat on Sunday morning.
Then there were “other” cereal boxes. Grape Nuts, meh. And a small box with a smiling black man on it. We never ate that cereal. Looking at it, the man must be like the smiling black lady on the pancake box. Pancakes come with syrup.
I told mom I wanted “that.” She disagreed.
You won’t like it. Just make a bowl of cereal.
I want it.
You have to eat what you say you want.
I have only had one bigger disappointment in my life, and that was a few years later at Daniel and Elva Martin’s house when I skipped cake and peaches to save room for a fantastic swirled bowl of chocolate and vanilla pudding. One huge spoonful and discovered that a useless, counterfeit pudding called custard exists.
So mom placed a steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat in front of me. Looking back I almost believe the steam swirled in front of my face just like the illustration showed it in front of the smiling black man. I took a bite. It had less flavor than the wood on the windowsill I’d chew on while watching traffic (taking a nap). It was a bland grainy pile of yuck. Maypoo.
Mom never cooked oatmeal because she associated it with poverty and, like heathen bologna, something to protect us from so we’d have a better life than she did. We loved Maypo much to her disgust.
I’m not class conscious when it comes to breakfast. I can eat a butter crousant with instant Folgers and not even look around for ironic approval. So when I visited mom’s best friend Gladys Graybill recently she asked what I wanted for breakfast I went as poor folk as you can get and asked for Scrapple. She readily agreed and set about to make it from scratch. I’d never seen this part of the process. She took pork and chicken scraps ground fine, broth, and grease – mixed it with corn meal and a little flour and poured the mixture into cake pans to congeal. Yes, a special order dish with congeal in the recipe.
Gladys was my moms best friend. She’s a good, Christian and kind lady. She and her husband Wilbur make a strong pair. Mom always admired her calm demeanor and I would still look at Wilbur and Gladys as the least reactionary people I’ve ever known. Visits to their house when I was young included more fun than there are stories to describe, and Saturday morning Wilbur took the time to make as many pancakes as could be needed. This Saturday he fried up the scrapple which had congealed perfectly so it could be sliced and fried. There were runny eggs to perfectly compliment the scrapple. I was delighted.
I got what I wanted for breakfast. It took me back at least 36 years to the steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat that congealed into a chilled grainy paste. I couldn’t eat it. I wasn’t allowed to get any decent cereal. The offensive bowl was packed up to go to Wilbur’s with us. We were going there for the day. The green Tupperware bowl with a lid that supposedly burps to keep food fresh and sealed.
Allen has to eat this before he gets anything else.
At lunch time I learned a lesson that has stuck with me for life. One I’m sure mom wanted me to learn but probably not the one she had intended. I sat at Gladys’ kitchen table and braced for the impossible task ahead. While everyone else got lunch I was going to either eat the congealed Cream of Wheat or somehow hide it and take the spanking for deception when discovered but at least have it gone.
But that day was different. In a miraculous demonstration of Grace, Gladys dumped the bowl of Cream of Wheat in the garbage container and served me the same lunch as everyone else.
Grace happens when we are faced with an insurmountable act of obedience, like eating cold Cream of Wheat. I got lunch as if I had done my part, yet I know that a kind authority had completed it for me. Grace isn’t a sign of my failure as much as it’s a sign of a loving God who wants to take away the obstacles to a blessing.
Wilbur and Gladys really blessed me with their instant hospitality. I called to see if they were home. They invited me and my friend for supper then extended their hospitality for the night and for the Breakfast. I got a lot of joy visiting with a lady who loved my mother and who knew me since I was born. Many people knew the public Anita Jean and have stories to tell.Gladys knew her completely and loved her completely, I believe. Our visit didn’t need the stories of Anita, but instead we shared a visit with mom as a link, like sharing the view of a beautiful landscape.
I’m glad I got that experience.