When I was a kid, Friday night was cereal night. That’s right – Mom took the night off from her God-awful cooking experiments choosing instead to let us have what we really wanted: treaty cereal. We didn’t call it “treaty” back then; that’s what my kids call it today, that is, any cereal loaded with enough sugar and rainbow-colored dyes to bring down a diabetic moose and color it purple to boot. Treaty, as opposed to what might be called “healthy” cereal, or those cereals designed to keep the pipes open and free-flowing.
Friday nights were also special because it was kid’s night for television, where Dad ceded control of the tube allowing us to watch the really good stuff. And what a night it was. It started with The Brady Bunch, followed by Nanny and the Professor, then The Partridge Family (my favorite — hey, I wanted to be Keith), and finally, That Girl. 10:00 o’clock was bedtime, and also time for Dad’s show, Love, American Style, a show we were forbidden to watch.
On Fridays, we were allowed to eat on TV trays and sit in the family room in front of the television. It was glorious. And we could each have as many bowls of cereal as we wanted, up to three. Ok, it wasn’t a total free-for-all. But three was usually enough; more than that and we’d have probably ended up looking like kids today, gorging themselves on sugar sodas and chips and lugging the stuff around their enormous waists.
My favorite was Cap’n Crunch Berries. I had a ritual for eating them that I used every time in an effort to make each bowl last as long as possible. I would start by eating all of the plain pieces of Cap’n Crunch, you know, those little golden nuggets that were simply the tasteless appetizers before the real deal, the crunch berries. Then, and only then, after a final thorough search to ensure that none of the little buggers were hiding on me, I allowed myself the awesome kid-pleasure of finally digging in to those delicious crunchy pseudo-berries. Dear God, it was like tropical fruit in a box, and I couldn’t get enough. Combine the taste sensation of Crunch Berries along with the viewing pleasure of The Partridge Family, and you had the makings of one hell of a great night. I have to hand it to my parents, because whether they meant to or not, they provided me with a memory of childhood that I carry with a smile to this day.
But there is a dark side to this stroll down memory lane, one that proves the old adage, you can’t go home. This past week, I bought a box of Crunch Berries as I was doing the weekly grocery shopping. For whatever reason, I haven’t had a box of them in years. I suppose I normally brush past the Cap’n Crunch section in my search for those so-called healthy cereals. But not that day. I was suddenly gripped by the memory of those Friday nights and the call of the Crunch Berry. Without hesitation, I picked up a box and tossed it into my shopping cart, dashing out of the store eager to relive my childhood in a cereal box featuring a Crunch Berry Beast.
Alas, like so many memories revisited, this one proved a sore disappointment. For starters, the berries were no longer the strawberry red I remembered; instead, they were an odd assortment of greens, greenish-blues, purples, and only a few — a FEW — of those beloved reds. And they are much smaller than I remembered them being back in the glory days of the ‘70s. Things change, I said, consoling myself while pouring the milk. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much. The berries themselves, aside from their gruesome new colors, were neither the sweet, nor the faintly tart, berries that used to kickoff those fantastic Friday nights. Rather than the beautiful strawberry-pink color that the milk used to become, it had now turned a sort of milky-bruise color, almost sickening to look at, let alone drink.
After a few days and a few more bowls, I relinquished sole ownership of my Crunch Berry cereal and handed it over to my kids. But you know what’s funny? My kids went freaking nuts over them, saying it was the best cereal I’d ever bought and begging me to buy it again next week. I stared at them, stunned. Kids, I said, I know Crunch Berries, and these are no Crunch Berries. They looked back with mild indifference as they emptied the box into their bowls. Then, while huddled around the empty box and peering into it’s depths with perplexed looks on their faces, they looked up at me and said, “Where’s the prize?”
At least some things haven’t changed.