Fine Stationery From Shredded Wheat

THE residual voice of Gary Merrill, that ol' rascal, returns by times to urge me pleasantly to taste corn flakes again for the first time. (Gary lived sort-of neighbor to us for a while.)

Since corn flakes have never been absent from our pantry cupboard, I bought a package of shredded wheat. I hope the cereal people appreciate this and donate substantially to some fund dedicated to Gary's memory. Making a profit on a competitor's advertising budget isn't an everyday marvel. What happened here is merely a recollection from early childhood - we ate corn flakes when we didn't get boiled oatmeal, and we had shredded wheat only when Aunt Anna-Belle MacLeod came to visit.

Auntie Bella was my mother's maiden aunt, and I'm sure she took advantage of my mother in the manner of uninvited hospitality. When Auntie Bella decided a change of scenery would delight her, she'd just write to say she was coming. On one occasion about the time I was 10, Mother opened the letter to say, "Auntie Bella is coming Tuesday."

My father said, "Good! I'm fresh out of note paper." Come, come, now! That makes sense.

At some point, Auntie Bella had discovered that oatmeal porridge was not the sine qua non of matutinal sustenance. Like every MacLeod who ever thrilled to the doodlesack, she had her porridge every morning, laced with molasses and dipped by the spoonful into her cup of cream, and she wondered what poor people ate.

But Auntie Bella had prospered, and by her 30s was an executive housekeeper for a spendthrift trust family in Brookline, of which Boston is one of several suburbs. Later, in well-planned retirement, she "visited around," and her room at our house was kept ready. My father would say that she "had expensive habits." What he meant was that she never spent a cent if she could avoid it, and she always wanted shredded wheat when she came to stay with us.

It is not so today, and the cereal people brag of the convenient little pouches in which shredded wheats snuggle while awaiting human approach. In Auntie Bella's day, the separate little biscuits sat in order with only pasteboard between them. We used this paper in household communications as long as Auntie Bella was about and until our family returned to corn flakes and oatmeal porridge.

Our kitchen had a family utility mirror with a small wall shelf and drawer below, and it was the custom to leave notes of family importance thrust into the crack between the glass and the frame. Everybody took note.

If I saw a note that said, "Pratt 1 pt cr" it meant I was to take a pint of cream down to the Pratt house. Only when Auntie Bella was with us, and we had a supply of shredded-wheat cards, were we spared the hunt for a bit of paper for leaving a note. Mother would carefully husband every slip-sheet and stick them all behind the mirror in easy reach.

I was notoriously late for school. Since my dad worked erratic hours, I became man of the house when he wasn't, and as we had gardens and animals and hens and a woodbox, I was often tardy, getting to school during morning exercises and being obliged to wait in the corridor until "America" got sung and the principal finished the announcements. For each late arrival, I needed an excuse.

Mother loved the shredded-wheat slip-sheets, and while Auntie Bella was with us she would write a flock of excuses and put them behind the mirror. Each would say, "Please excuse J - he's late again."

All I had to do was grab one and run. And my mother's most notable excuse note was written in exasperation. In spite of her repeated explanations that my tardiness couldn't be helped, the principal had sent her a note asking if there weren't some way I could be prompt.

Mother's shredded-wheat note took care of him: "Don't start until he gets there."

So Dad got some note paper when Auntie Bella came, and I have just had shredded wheat for the first time in a long time. It tastes as I recall from way back - but the box has provided me nothing to write on.

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