During a museum visit when our kids were small, we stopped in a kid-friendly room called Gramma’s Attic, filled with artifacts that were OK to touch. Odd objects so far from our current reality, that they needed to be preserved for future generations to know how hard we had it. I was expecting a butter churn or bear trap. Instead, there was a manual typewriter and an insulated milk box – the kind we had on our back porch growing up. Sheesh, when did my childhood become a museum diorama?
In the grocery my go-to purchases are sometimes marginalized. GrapeNuts are on the highest shelf where no child will ever see them, tucked in between granola and bran; V-8 is a lonely item amidst a sea of sweetened juices; and plain yogurt is the red-headed stepchild of the dairy aisle. I’m afraid that the products I like are slowly disappearing, edged off the shelves by new and improved versions, snapped up by collectors.
One winter, I wanted hot cereal – not oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or grits – I wanted Ralston. When mom would make this tasty wheat cereal, I’d add some milk and sugar, and eat every bite. It was delicious and warmed me all the way through. But where is Ralston now? I went to multiple stores, and asked clerks who gave me a blank stare. I started to wonder if I’d invented this yummy breakfast memory, when I happened to get a catalog in the mail from The Vermont Country Store. No offense, but this catalog looks like it comes from the land that time forgot. Where women wear aprons, 1940’s-looking bathing suits, and full-length flannel night gowns. But seeing the food they sell is a throw-back to my childhood: Necco Wafers, Charles Chips, brown bread in a can, and Ralston! I was thrilled to find Ralston, but it was being sold in an enormous quantity, as if some enterprising person bought up the last ton ever produced, and stored it for decades in an underground cave. I didn’t want to order 20 pounds, so I passed it up.
The things we use everyday evolve or are replaced by newer things, a process usually so seamless, we’re not aware of it, until an older object or memory takes us back to that time. In the movie Somewhere in Time, Christopher Reeve managed to time travel by hypnosis, but the spell was broken during a visit to 1912 when he pulled a penny from his vest pocket dated 1980. Bam! he was sent right back to the present. I feel like the reverse happens when I see something in a store or antique mall that I remember from my childhood: a bottle of Guerlain perfume, a Barbie doll, a pair of saddle shoes, or a Crazy Daisy sticker.
The Vermont Country Store now sells Ralston in normal quantities, so I’ve just placed an order. I’m expecting a transformative, time-traveling life experience, right back to 4th grade.