Today is the first day of the Alphabet Writing challenge I’ve set up for myself- where I write about anything that starts with the specific letter of the alphabet. So, letter ‘A,’ let’s go!
“A is for apple J it’s for jacks, cinnamon toasty apple jacks. You need a good breakfast. That’s a fact! Start it out with Apple Jacks.”
Singing that jingle takes me right back to our kitchen table on 99th Street in Miami, Florida. Dad built a table to fit perfectly in this little corner of the kitchen. There were booth seats for me and my three siblings and Dad and Mom sat in chairs. I remember sliding into my spot and the feel of the cold, yellow (yes!) vinyl seat coverings.
The chaos of having four kids getting ready for school every morning led to Mom (occasionally) caving and allowing us the ‘bad sugary’ cereal for breakfast. Apple Jacks were my favorite. My older sister liked Golden Grahams, younger brother and sister- Frankenberry and Count Chocula. Dad usually skipped breakfast and was out the door before we were. But I never saw him eat a bowl of cereal. Eggs were his thing. And Mom never had a chance to eat.
Dinners were a different story. My mom cooked a hot meal Every. Single. Day. (At my best, I’m someone who assembles meals. I still can’t believe my Mom’s dedication to cooking all those years.) Dinner wasn’t served until Dad returned from work. If he had to work late, we’d wait for him because nobody sat down at the dinner table until he walked through that door. And believe me, waiting was tough- especially because we weren’t allowed to snack!
The rules were strict during dinner time. (No fighting between us kids, or else!) We were expected to ‘clean our plates’ and Mom created the menus without input from us. (Unless it was your birthday- then you got to pick!) Some days I lucked out and got my favorite meal, Sloppy Joes. (I know, I don’t eat them anymore, but, oh my golly- they were good back then!) And inevitably, most meals had something I didn’t enjoy, like… ewwww- mushy vegetables. (Side note: I didn’t know vegetables could be crunchy when they were cooked until I went away to college. My Mom was so surprised when I came home and suddenly liked vegetables. I still cringe when I think of all those years of mushy vegetables.) Anyway, bottom line: You ate what was in front of you or you didn’t eat at all. (A concept my boys also don’t understand. Eesh, maybe I have spoiled them?!)
Since Dad worked such long hours, dinner gave him the chance to check in on our school progress. (Read: getting grilled on the subject matter.) But there was also time for conversations about the news, goofy kid’s stuff, and sometimes, about Dad’s work. As a physician and research scientist, that conversation was very heady, which was problematic because I’ve always been more of a feeling person. My siblings seemed much more capable at contributing to those conversations than I was; and honestly, sometimes I just didn’t care too much. I was much more interested in understanding what everyone was feeling.
Although that was challenging, I have many fond memories of sitting at that table- especially when I was little. Dad liked to tell a story about one time when I wasn’t enjoying my dinner. We were having chicken and I guess I wasn’t very hungry. So at the end of the meal, when I handed my Mom a completely bare plate, Dad took note. He looked down to find the dogs enjoying a robust chicken leg. Hey, at least I was solution oriented, right?
So thanks for taking me on this wonderful trip down memory lane, Apple Jacks. Ever since we lost Dad a couple of months ago, I’ve noticed I’m spending more time considering all the gifts he offered our family. His hard work kept him away from us a lot, but it also provided us with the blessing of a home and all the things we needed to stay healthy and safe. And even though communicating with Dad back then was hard, I was eventually able to build a bridge that connected my highly intellectual Dad with my very heart-centered, feeling self. And the memories from those meals are gifts that I treasure.
Every once in a while, I still treat myself to a bowl of Apple Jacks. Yeah, it’s super sweet. But occasionally we all deserve an extra bit of sweetness, don’t we?
After thought: I wouldn’t feel right sharing a story about cereal without a shout out to Cocoa Krispies- a close second to my Apple Jacks. Mmmmm- the image of the rich, beautiful milk going into a big bowl of Cocoa Krispies…there’s nothing like it!