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childhood food nightmares

In my recent post about canned vegetables, I encouraged you to share your own childhood food nightmare stories. After Lori shared her story about hiding Brussels sprouts in her bedroom dresser and Amy shared about having to sit at Girl Scout camp with an ever-growing brick of Shredded Wheat in front of her, while her friends went on a hike, I knew I had to share my ultimate childhood food nightmare with you.

This is the house I grew up in. All my childhood food nightmares happened in this house. The majority of those nightmares occurred in the mornings of the late fall and winter months. Summer, spring and early fall weren’t much better.

Breakfast, which is now one of my favorite and most reliable meals, was the dreaded meal for my younger self. The source of the dread was cereal. I really do not like cereal. I never have and I never will!

On a typical day, our cupboards held only three types of cold cereal; Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. For readers who are far younger than I, let me educate you: this was before Frosted Corn Flakes, before Cocoa Krispies and before Honey-Nut Cheerios. Brands such as Trix, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs were available, just not in our house.

Looking back, and I have to look back because I haven’t had a bowl of cereal since I moved out of my parents’ home! Anyhow, looking back, I think what I hated about cereal was that it got soggy quickly and the milk was never cold enough. The warming milk and disintegrating cereal, especially the Corn Flakes, was beyond disgusting to me. I literally couldn’t stomach it.

My first choice was always Cheerios, I’d put as little in my bowl as allowed, add the milk and try to shove it down as fast as possible before the milk warmed and the Cheerios had a chance to even think of sinking to the bottom of the bowl. My goal was to get to them while they were floating.

Second choice, when the Cheerios were gone, was Rice Krispies. The same deal here, try to shovel them in before they could snap, crackle and pop more than a couple of times.

As grocery shopping day approached, I knew that the only option was going to be the horrid Corn Flakes. There were four of us kids, so the cereal (all food for that matter) went quick. I’d try to get up early and stage a dirty cereal bowl to make it look as though I’d already eaten. I got away with that for a long while, but one time, my mom caught me and the jig was up. There was no way to eat those damned flakes before they got soggy, gooey, gluey and, to my mind, completely inedible. If I couldn’t get through the bowl before it was time to leave for school, it would be put in the refrigerator and waiting for me when I got home. I remember many a day sitting there just staring at the bowl of milk soaked mush. I would not eat it! Hell to the No!

On those sad days, I could not go out and play and there was no dinner, just the bowl of doom while the rest of the family ate. Which was fine with me, I’d rather go to bed hungry, with lunch being the only meal of the day, rather then put that horror in my mouth. Thankfully, it wasn’t waiting for me the next day. The next morning was a clean slate and hopefully shopping day had occurred while I was at school the day before, or it would be like Groundhog Day all over again.

So that was my breakfast routine most of the year. Then winter would hit and the cold cereal was gone, replaced by Quaker Oats Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. I have three words to describe my feelings for these two monstrosities – Hot. Wet. Cement.

My hatred for oatmeal has no bounds! If I had a Food Hit List, oatmeal would be in the number 1, number 2 and number 3 spots. My hatred is so ingrained that I can’t stand the smell or look of it to this day. Dave and Marissa both eat those little instant packs of flavored oatmeal, and I have to leave the room when they are heating and eating it.

So how did I get through the Oatmeal Winters? With pure unadulterated childhood genius, that’s how!

A little history first: Our 3-bedroom, 1,260 square-foot ranch house was built-in 1960. My parents bought it new from the builder. With a swing on the front porch, a black and white TV with rabbit ears, but no dishwasher or garbage disposal. There was a washing machine in the corner of the kitchen, but no clothes dryer. Clean laundry was hung in the backyard on the line to dry.

Around the time I was 10-years-old, my parents added on to our house. My dad and family friends did a lot of the work, including demo of the back of the house to add-on a new dining room, family room and laundry room with a clothes dryer. There was a large brick fireplace dividing the dining and family rooms.  Our little house went from 1,260 sq ft to a luxurious 1,755 sq ft and we loved it! There are the four of us standing in front of the fireplace on Christmas before church.

And here we are, on another Christmas morning. The door on the left went out into the driveway and the one behind us, opened into the laundry room.

During the demo phase, my dad and a friend went to pull the washing machine out from the corner of the kitchen, which was also against the back wall of the house. (You can just make out the washing machine if you look behind my mom, to the right) They could not get the machine to budge. They pulled and yanked at it to no avail. It was as if it was cemented into the corner. Finally, my dad crawled on top to look down the back of the washer and saw a huge mass of something filling the space between the washer and walls. They had no clue what it was, so they grabbed a crowbar, hammers, chisels and other tools and just went at the mass to loosen the washer from the walls.

Once it was loose enough to pull away, they stood examining the cement-like substance. Neither of them could figure out what it was or where it came from.

I wasn’t there to see this spectacle. I was either at school or outside playing in the neighborhood. By the time I came home, the washer was moved out and they were chiseling away at the mass, still not knowing what it was.

Only I knew. I kept it to myself for years. Then, one day when I was in my 20’s – I confessed that I knew what the “cement” between the washer and the wall was and precisely how it gotten there.

Every winter morning, for years upon years, I would dump my uneaten oatmeal and cream of wheat behind the washer before putting my bowl in the sink! Just as I had suspected, those awful substances, that I was expected to eat, were indeed hot wet cement!

One last old family photo, on another Christmas morning. This one was taken before the remodel. That opening of light behind my older brother’s left shoulder is the gate that opened into the back yard. It eventually became the door from the new family room that opened into the driveway, as I described in a previous photo.

If you look closely, you may be able to see in my eyes that I have a secret. A secret about the oatmeal that I, no doubt, dumped behind the washing machine earlier that very Christmas morning.

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10 comments

1 Lori Vento { 03.06.17 at 7:42 AM }

You have told me this story before but it bears repeating for sure. Very ingenious and best part not smelly! I cannot believe it actually acted as cement though. . . . what the heck do they put into that stuff?!? Thanks for sharing-have a great week!

2 barbara fenzl { 03.06.17 at 11:00 AM }

After all these years of knowing you I have never heard that hilarious story! Too, too, funny.
My mom made liver and onions on Halloween and we weren’t allowed to go trick-or-threading until we’d eaten it. Sick power struggles –

3 Sharon { 03.06.17 at 1:58 PM }

My parents were way ahead of their time in stressing the importance of vegetables. I grew up in the 40s and 50s. If my sister and I didn’t finish every bite of vegetable on our plates, we had a choice: Either my father would dump it on our heads (!) or we could sit there until we finished them. My sister often sat at the table late into the night eating one little bite at a time, gagging, until she finished her vegetables. I always chose to have them dumped on my head, thinking that if they were good for my insides they had to also be good for my hair. I now love vegetables and my sister cannot abide them.

4 Kim { 03.06.17 at 6:34 PM }

Cute, cute story. I pretty much liked everything growing up. It was my sisters that hid food all over the place. Stuffed below pillows. In the car. Laundry basket.. glogging toilets .. you get the idea. The one thing my mother would do was put the timer on. If we weren’t finished by the time the bell rang we had to go straight to bed.
Linda , I love the saddle shoes you were wearing in the last photo. Nothing better. New saddle shoes.

5 Linda Hopkins { 03.06.17 at 9:19 PM }

Sharon, Barb and Kim, I loved your stories! The dumping on the head is classic and so funny. The liver & onions on Halloween is just cruel. The timer/off to bed is just good parenting – at least for that day and age, in my opinion. Cut and dry, no power struggle but gets the lesson learned. As for my kids, my only rule was try it and if you don’t like it, fine… eat what else is on the plate, but no dessert. Not that we had dessert that often. And the big caveat to the rule, was that even if that thing you didn’t like was served again a week or even day or two later, you still had to try at least one bite again. New day = Another try. Eventually, they always came around and liked the thing they thought they didn’t.

Oh and Kim, I hated saddle shoes too! That’s probably why I’m standing off to the side in the photo, probably pouting about having to wear saddle shoes. The white go-go boots in the fireplace photo were much more to my liking!

6 Denise { 03.07.17 at 9:21 AM }

Such a cute story, Linda! And I love the pictures. I HATED stuffed f**king peppers and my mom would make me sit there until bedtime but I wouldn’t budge. To this day, I hate green peppers and the smell brings me back…….

7 Linda Hopkins { 03.07.17 at 9:51 AM }

I’m with you on green bell peppers, Denise. Although I love red, orange and yellow, because they have a nice sweetness to them. The green are just to vegetable-ly tasting for me.

8 Sloane { 03.07.17 at 9:52 AM }

I like cereal and oatmeal! Just not liver!

9 Kim { 03.07.17 at 10:23 AM }

My nieces have a ” no thank you bite” rule. You have to try and then you can say ” no thank you ”
Works for me .

10 Peggy { 03.09.17 at 9:35 AM }

I love this story Linda!

When I was growing up my mom just made it known that what was on your plate was what was for dinner. Period. You either ate it or you went hungry. I usually ate it!!
I pretty much did the same with my kids. 🙂

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