Sunday, August 14, 2011

cereal killers

What was your favorite cereal when you were a child? Do they still make it? Or has it gone the way of nostalgia?

When I was growing up I enjoyed Quake, a sugar-rich cereal that was quite tasty. In a pinch, I would also eat Quisp, which was made by the same company and had a dissimilar look but similar taste. If memory serves, the two cereals appeared on commercials as “rivals.” But those cereals are gone.

Gone, too, are some of the toys of youth. These include the original electric football games, where the running back carrying the split felt football traveled in circles, neither gaining or losing yards. But that was only because the offensive line and the entire defense were also spinning. Yes, those were the days.

One toy that never made it past the days of my youth was a tomahawk with a shuttlecock. A wooden mallet held a feathered shuttlecock with a metal base. Pull out the shuttlecock, put a cap in the indentation of the mallet, put the shuttlecock back on, and then strike the mallet against a hard surface. Boom! The shuttlecock would fly up into the air, ten, twenty, or more feet above the ground. It was a great toy to play with on the 4th of July.

My brother and I used to heartily enjoy this toy. Inevitably, however, our initial joy at creating propulsion and flight would lead to more deranged experimentation. We would try two caps, and then three, and then as many as we could stuff into the mallet. The shuttlecock would go higher and higher and would begin to travel back to earth minus a feather or two, until the object it turned into no longer resembled a shuttlecock at all. Intrepid we were, however, and we persisted in using increasingly explosive force until the shuttlecock would fly a hundred feet into the air, eventually coming to rest on the roof of the school building next door. This activity, always with the same progression of events, occurred each Independence Day for several years, and the school roof continued to collect the shuttlecock remnants.

Sadly, what does a boy do with leftover rolls of caps and no shuttlecock to launch? We would put caps on top of a brick and hit them with the wooden mallet, which, eventually would being to shatter until all that was left was just the handle. But there were always more caps.

We would then begin to use the brick as the hammering force, striking caps on the sidewalk, until one of us would decide that it was time...time to put an entire roll of caps on the sidewalk and strike it with the brick. BOOOM!!!

What happened next was always the same, too. We would excitedly say things to each other about the sonic explosion that we had caused, but we couldn't hear each other over the ringing in our ears. And that outcome continued over the course of several summers as well.

Einstein was credited as having said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Clearly my brother and I were insane.

But whether it is cereal, toys, or the pets that we had when we were children, those memories live on. Many facts have entered our memories and faded away. But do you still remember the name of your first grade teacher? Do you remember a favorite meal or dessert or vacation that you enjoyed as a child? The summers away from school that you hoped would last forever but always went by in a flash?

Thankfully, we have our words. We can capture the stories of our youth and share them with others. We may have photographs but they never captured the moments like our stories can. And the words take us back and trigger visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory, and kinesthetic memories. The smell of the caps after ignition. The ringing in the ears. The primitive satisfaction of turning an ordinary red brick into part of a jet propulsion system. The taste of Quake. Words are magic. They evoke all of our senses. Perhaps your own memories have been stimulated as a result of reading this. If so, thank you for participating in an experiment in magic!