Early Morning Reading: A Cereal Serial

At breakfast today, as I ate my cereal, I read the back of Organic Valley’s milk carton. It’s this crazy thing I do every morning.

The text is kind of warm and fuzzy and talks all about their co-op family of farms and how they are saving the small farmer from extinction (and saving people, too, by eliminating pesticides and hormones and all those nasty toxins they feed cows these days.)

My favorite part of the milk carton is the signature at the bottom: George L. Siemon, Organic Valley CEIEIO. How cute is that?

Plus, look how George makes his capital “G.” The old-fashioned way, as we were taught in school. He’s reliable. Steady. Interested in doing what’s right.

I got to thinking about how much, as a kid, I used to enjoy reading the back of the cereal box at breakfast. How the intense colors and pictures and prizes and educational messages would excite my imagination.

These days, things have really changed in that department.

In 2010, the back of one Kellogg’s Honey Nut Cheerios box I recently purchased featured an ad for Pampers. Pampers!

I almost gagged when I saw it. Who wants to think about dirty diapers while eating?

As boxes go, Trader Joe’s Honey Nut O’s box isn’t much better. The back is a replica of the front, a photo of cereal in a bowl and nothing of any interest to read.

Now, here are some examples of the thoroughly engaging boxes that were around when I was a kid:

What mom wouldn’t spring for a circus animal tablecloth made of vinyl plastic? Or act on a tip from Howdy Doody and transform Rice Krispies into a dessert?

Imagine, first thing in the morning, being party to a thrilling Cracker Jack moment: digging into the cereal box and pulling out a prize. This brand of instant gratification cost you not one penny and was very low maintenance.

As compared with those prizes you had to send away for (like the above set of 6 fire engines). Which required begging your mom for 25 cents; and then searching for the roll of Scotch tape so you could adhere the quarter to the box top and then finding an envelope big enough to fit that box top; and then rummaging through the junk drawer for a pencil that actually had a point, after which you’d have to ask your mother how to spell Battle Creek, Michigan as you addressed the envelope. Hardest of all — having to buy a stamp, which required additional money, not to mention a trip to the store.

I was one of those weird kids that liked Nabisco Shredded Wheat — which my mom always said was like eating a mattress.

But Shredded Wheat was responsible for introducing me to the Audubon Society. When I was about 8-ish, I begged my mom until she’d finally relented and given me the dollar or two it had cost to become a member. Once a month, I’d received a packet from Audubon filled with line drawings of birds that I could paint or color, in addition to fascinating text, which I’d devour as hungrily as I did the cereal.

Gaining entry into the Audubon Society, or so it seemed at the time, was as meaningful as, say, being admitted as an adult into The Order of Rosicrucians, whose ads I would pore over  in my dad’s Popular Mechanics magazines — ads that reeked of mysteriously arcane imagery:

However, an image as dark and cabalistic as the one above would have never found its way onto a box of Cheerios. Cheerios, after all, are for kids. Rosicrucians are for auto mechanics.

It goes without saying that anything “shot with sugar” was also for kids — and, quite possibly, for those unfortunate adults with bad teeth or drug habits.

Wild Bill Hickok (on the box, above, and played by Guy Madison) was a favorite show of mine as a kid. So much so that as an adult living California I once found myself tailing a vintage Cadillac convertible through the foothills in my Saturn SL  just because it’s vanity plate said: GuyMadsn.

I fantasized driving by the Caddy and honking and vociferously informing its occupant — who was, conceivably, 90 years old — how much his T.V. show had meant to me as a little girl.

You would think that by affixing that vanity plate to his bumper, with his full name on display, that he was going out of his way to attract the attention of women with a certain predilection for, shall we say, classic T.V.

At any rate, I got hold of myself. Wow, I thought, you’re like one of the lunatic stalkers trawling every corner of L.A.

Thusly, I abandoned that bright idea.

But, as fate would have it, several years later, I found myself driving down Andy Devine Blvd. in Kingman, AZ. Andy Devine, born in Kingman, played “Jingles,” Guy Madison’s sidekick, on the Wild Bill Hickok T.V. show.

Driving down that boulevard, I was stuck by a sudden impulse. I rolled down my window and, at the top of my voice, shouted out Andy’s signature line on the show: “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!”

In conclusion, I’d like to give props to this very fun website: The Imaginary World, from which I gleaned these evocative cereal box images. Thanks for the memories!

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