Tuesday, January 13, 2009


January 13, 1973 was a Saturday.  I was seven.  I know that because it was the first of what is now the 36th Annual Sweet Cereal Day tradition.  Sweet Cereal Day in the Kamhi (and now Beeny) household is serious business - celebrated with every bit as much energy as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. O.k., we don't exchange cards, but that just because Hallmark is not on board yet.  But, what we don't do in exchanging cards, we more than make up for in the pomp and circumstance surrounding cereal selection.

First some background.  My parents are healthy eaters.  Parenthetically let me say... it works for them.  They are both in their 80's and between the two of them, don't take a single pill.  My dad's foods of choice... yogurt, broccoli, wheat germ, nuts (soy), yogurt and broccoli combined, and have I mentioned... yogurt?  Just in case you're thinking yogurt, as in Dannon....  No!  My dad dedicates an evening every two weeks to make it from scratch.  No sugar.  No flavoring.  Just sour milk cultures... straight up!  As for my mom... cottage cheese, grilled vegetables, fruit, and when she is being really self indulgent... a smoothie made from frozen bananas, my dad's sour yogurt, and some fresh berries.

Naturally, you can imagine the idea of sweet cereal in our house was out of the question.  Shredded Wheat - no sugar - was our morning drug of choice.  My sister, Ellen, and I used to sit on our bunk beds and dream about all the junk food we would buy when we were adults.  "Devil Dogs, cookies, and ice cream," she would say.  "Soda, chips, and Fruit Loops," I would reply.  On and on we we would go for what seemed like hours.  Our dream world was a world where the streets were paved with chocolate and life's speed bumps were Tootsie Rolls and Snow Caps. 

Bohaks was the local grocery store in 1973.  Located in Great Neck - the next town over - it was often a family outing on Saturday mornings.  We loaded in the car and together made our way up and down the isles shopping for next week's food.  Behave and we'd earn an occasional ice cream cone at the neighboring Friendly's Ice Cream Store.  The sales pitch my sister's and I would launch, somewhere around the canned soup and vegetable isle, became as predictable as our weekly trips themselves.  "Come on, all our friends get sweet cereal."  "If you get it for us, we'll do whatever you want."  "It says 'corn and oats' on the box."  Try and try again, we did, to make our case, but to no avail.  It was decided... the closest we would ever get to sweet cereal was Raisin Bran, with sweetened raisins or Cream of Wheat with maple syrup.

Then came that fateful day in January.  Saturday, January 13, 1973.  We launched the same old sales pitch, but on this day... IT WORKED!  "Ok," my dad said.  "Once a year, on this day, you may have sweet cereal."  We couldn't believe it.  There was lots of cheering and dancing in the aisles.  Then came the serious business of deciding which cereal we would buy.  Count Chocula, Trix, Apple Jacks (nope, the word "apple" is in the title), Froot Loops, Lucky Charms....  We could have spent the day there deciding.  Ultimately, our decision was based purely on which box of cereal came in the biggest box.  Captain Crunch, it was.

I won't drag this out.  Most of you are probably already a little surprised at how something as mundane as cereal could be stretched out over six paragraphs.  I'd love to tell you about all the Breakfasts of Champions I've hosted over the years with various friends, students, and colleagues.  Or, I could tell you about the super-sized bowls reserved specifically for this day and the friends from all over the country who call to send well wishes - or better yet, who have decided to join in my fun.  None of that seems essential.  What seems essential is cautioning you about how much damage can be done to the roof of your mouth by eating a third of a box of Captain Crunch in a single day.  Shred it.  That's what it'll do.  The the coarseness of the cereal is a little like sand paper on cantaloupe (how's that for a visual?).

So today, after much ado in the cereal isle yesterday afternoon, my boys and I will enjoy our Annual Box of Sweet Cereal.  We'll eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, since as tradition would have it, whatever isn't eaten gets thrown away.

You and I could spend the day sharing which poison we would pick if standing in the sweet cereal isle.  But, yesterday chips and today sweet cereal... I'm worried you'll get the wrong impression.  Instead, I have an idea that is healthier and far more creative...

So, what random personal holiday do you have in the making?  For me, a simple trip to the grocery store has led to 36 years of celebration and memory making.  How about you?  Do you have a weekly errand, a life chore, or a quirky ritual you can declare a holiday and share with others?  Tell us what you've got and maybe we can create our own HLA new and improved calendar.  

It's 5:00 a.m. and a second bowl of Captain Crunch is calling my name.

Signing off until tomorrow...


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