Just the Other Day: Cheerios

I filled June’s container with delicious Iams Mini-Chunks dog food and set it by my bag at the front door. Next, I paced my grocery tote. I took the half loaf of bread, but taking the only box of Cheerios from the cabinet would have been rude. Besides, I was going to stop at a store along my way to Seattle, Washington. I put the lid on my tote, loaded the car and we were on our way.


We pulled into the Walmart on Highway 34 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I pushed my empty cart to the cereal aisle. A fairly short lady was standing to one side with a heavily loaded grocery cart. Her four children were scattered about looking at things on the shelves. I waited politely. When she noticed me, the lady spoke in Spanish, calling her children, then in English, she said to me, “I’m sorry.”


“No need to be sorry. They weren’t in my way.” I said. Nodding toward her basket, I added, “I was waiting to get your attention to see if you wanted to race that thing.” She blushed and said she did not. She grunted a little as she started to push the heavy cart to go about her way.


I stood in front of the selection of Cheerios – totally dumbfounded. “When did they come out with these? Frosted Cheerios, because we’re not getting enough sugar in our diets?” I was having a hard time finding just plain Cheerios.


I remember when they first came out with Honey Nut Cheerios, but now they have all these new flavors: Blueberry, Peach, Maple and Chocolate Cheerios. I picked up a box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. “They already have these – they’re called Apple Jacks.” I said to no one, while picking up another box, “Fruity Cheerios? They already have these too. They’re called Fruit Loops.” Putting the boxes back on the shelf, I shook my head, grumbling, “There are too many kinds of cereal. Can’t I just get some plain old Cheerios?”


I finally found them – $3.98 for a medium size box. I questioned, “Why is cereal so expensive?” Then, I noticed the Toasted Oat Rings nearby, that were $1.29. I picked up a box of each. Comparing them, I started to reason aloud. “They’re in the same size box, the packaging is the same basic yellow background and the picture looks the same. They must be just as good. They’re probably even made by General Mills and just packaged in a different box.”


Contemplating what to do, I imagined I would soon hear over the loud speaker, “Security, we’ve got a crazy man talking to himself, complaining about cereal selection and pricing. He’s scaring off women and small children. Code three to aisle nine.” I put the box of cheap cereal in my cart and made a run for it.


Rounding the corner into the aisle by the tuna fish, I met the same lady with the big cart. I taunted her, “You sure you don’t want to race?” She shook her head no, called her children to come close and moved on. I grabbed some pink salmon and headed for the crackers to put the fish on. Guess who was in the aisle with chips and crackers? Yep, the same lady. “Are you SURE you don’t want to race?” I asked her again.


She gave me a real serious look and said, “I might beat you!” She cracked a smile then, started laughing, which caused me and her four kids to also laugh. She grunted again as she put the heavy cart into motion.


I grabbed a small package of Keebler Club Crackers, not a very healthy choice, but oh, so good. I pushed my cart through the grocery section to pick up a couple more items, then looked at several other things on the general merchandise side of the store. I decided I didn’t need them and headed for the checkout lanes.


As usual, the lanes were backed up. I wasn’t going to use the self-checkout because I had bananas and I always mess up when I have to “look up” an item. While I waited in line, I looked at all the junk they place close to the register – impulse buys people will make while checking out. I wasn’t going to fall for their marketing strategy.  Of course, the candy is there and the Snickers bars were calling my name, but I was strong and resisted. I felt something bump my hand and instinctively pulled my hand closer to my side. Then, something tugged my hand. That got my attention!


I looked down and a little boy, maybe four or five years old at best, was standing next to me. In a very soft voice, he said something to me, but I couldn’t understand him. I assumed he wanted me to reach some candy from the top shelf. He repeated himself but I still didn’t hear what he said. I leaned down toward him and he repeated it again. “Mama said to tell you she won.” I had no idea what that was supposed to mean until I stood up, confused.


Two carts ahead of me was the lady with the very full cart. She stood behind the cart while her daughters kept unloading groceries, placing them on the conveyor belt as fast as the checker could scan them. With a huge smile, she held both hands up, with fists clinched, shaking them in the air like someone who’s name just got called to “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on the Price is Right.”  She laughed and declared, “I won!” Indeed, she did.


I shared in her victorious joy, returning a smile and giving her two thumbs-up. When the cashier told her the total of her groceries was $248 and some odd change, I silently gave thanks that we weren’t racing for grocery bills.


The next morning, I fed June, then opened the box of Toasted Oat Rings. I poured some milk over them and took my first bite. They were crispy but there was no flavor at all.  I picked the box up and looked again. They were Toasted Oat Rings and they looked like Cheerios, but they didn’t taste like them. They didn’t taste like anything.


I asked June if she wanted to trade her mini-chunks for a bowl of delicious Cheerios? “No thanks, Dad.” She said, “Those aren’t real Cheerios and I can tell by the look on your face, they aren’t very good. Besides, they’re probably already soggy.” She was right.


I ate another spoonful of the soggy oat rings. Completely tasteless, I pitched the paper bowl with the rest of the mushy oat rings in the trash can. I should have spent the $3.98 and got the good stuff. Real Cheerios.