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Breakfast Cereal and Nostalgia
Despite my deep affection for sugary cereal, I do not normally eat the chocolate-themed ones. This is probably because, during my formative years, when a chocolate cereal was in the house, it was devoured by my sister who loved the stuff. That does not mean that I do not have fond memories of chocolate cereals. Seeing a box of Count Chocula will set me grinning from ear to ear, and if you give me a box, I will go coo-coo for Coco-Puffs.
But one chocolate cereal really stands out as memorable to me, and that is General Mills’ “Rocky Road”. This cereal, which premiered in the eighties, and was around all too briefly, brought together the traditional components of Rocky Road Ice Cream (Chocolate, Marshmallow, and Nuts) in breakfast cereal form and from bowl one I was hooked. Sadly, though, my love of the cereal was short but intense.
I remember seeing a commercial for the cereal and putting it on my family’s shopping list, in what I now refer to as the wish list section. This was the area at the bottom of the list where we would scrawl the things we wanted and not the stuff we needed. The only hope for getting something from that part of the list was a sale combined with a coupon. This needed to coincide with my Mother being in the type of mood where she could throw caution to the wind with the grocery budget. That’s exactly what happened with “Rocky Road”. It was a remarkable moment of synchronicity, we got coupons AND it happened to be on sale that week. So not only did I get the cereal, but I managed to finagle TWO boxes of it.
I was elated just to put in the cart, and when I got home and cracked it open, I was on cloud 9. This stuff was just the type of sugar bomb to get me through the sleepiest of Saturday morning cartoon fests. Not wanting to share an ounce of the stuff, I hid the boxes in my room. Which were a huge “no-no” in my house and I remember in detail the scolding I got and the dread I felt putting the boxes back in the cereal cabinet.
To my surprise, neither of my sisters liked the cereal (even the chocoholic). So my sneakiness was unwarranted and for the next couple of weeks (maybe just days), I enjoyed bowl after bowl of Rocky Road.
Coupons for the stuff never surfaced again and sadly sales on “Rocky Road” were uncommon. So, despite my yearning for the stuff every shopping trip, we probably only bought one or two more boxes. I would move on to other cereal, and “Rocky Road” would go the way of so many other fine cereals. Sometimes when I am eating other cereals that feature chocolate, which is not that common nowadays, I can almost taste “Rocky Road”. That phantom taste sends me into a nostalgia tailspin, which usually puts me online looking for packaging and this commercial that started it all.
I have seen other cereals since “Rocky Road” with components somewhat similar, but they just aren’t the same, and they probably never will be. This is okay because the experience around the cereal, not just the flavor, is what made it special. It is these nebulous “others” that are difficult to relate to other people, and I think a big reason why people are so willing to dismiss yearnings for things from the past as simple “nostalgia”.
I know this is “JUST” a sugar cereal, with a brief shelf life and a great commercial, but it’s important because positive memories about so many things have crystallized around it. It shows was it was like to live in my house growing up. How generous my Mother could be. The idiosyncrasies of my sisters, and so much more.
Serving you a bowl of the stuff would not allow you to travel back with me to those days, but I can assure you they were pretty great. I hope by relating this story and others like it, I can give you a snapshot of why this stuff is so critical to me. The amazing thing about nostalgia is that you can always be generating it. You just need the right experiences, and you need to be present in those experiences. So enjoy your life and chase nostalgia if you must, but also try being focused and “in the moment” for new stuff.
Lay off the multitasking and just try to take it all in.
It might not seem like a big deal now, but every component of every experience is being cataloged in your brain to some extent and decades later, with the right trigger, you can be brought right back to the moment again. It isn’t time traveling, but until Doc Brown finally gets that flux capacitor working, it is the closest thing we have to it.
So my unsolicited advice is to keep living in the now while enjoying the past, my fellow retroists. Because you never know when the next Rocky Road Cereal is going to fall into your life.