When the media exploded with the removal of characters long associated with certain products, one was the hot cereal, Cream of Wheat. I had bought some over the winter, when it was on sale, thought fleetingly that the box looked different, before I emptied its contents into a glass canister and broke up the annoyingly thick and well-glued together container.
I remembered, correctly or not, a red box with a large image of a grinning, dark-skinned chef, dress in a white coat and tall hat, holding a tray or a big bowl of hot cereal. Even as a child, with no concept of household staff, a liveried chef delivering cream of wheat seemed a bit over the top.
Well, the box is yellow, so I don’t know what it was all those years ago, but I am certain the smiling black chef was much larger, not the easy to miss guy, still with that high hat, but so much smaller, tucked over the printed name of the product.
I hadn’t had cream of wheat in a long time, and as much as I am a creature of habit, rolled oats and soy milk were quickly replaced by cream of wheat and almond milk. The fruit, a banana, does not change. Perhaps it could be more accurate to say I am a creature of serial habit.
But now it is summer and most mornings I have my summer breakfast, plain yogurt, blueberries and granola. Until I somehow ran out of the berries and went back to the cereal in the big jar and a banana, and the almond milk I do not favor but which lasts longer than the soy.
My dog is a creature of habit and expectation. I put the empty bowl on the floor, and she trotted over, drawn by the familiar sound, only to find minute particles of wheat, none of the swirls of white yogurt she has come to expect of late. She did not deign to give me even a “what is this?” look, instead went back across the room to thump down in her station in the doorway, and give me a glare bordering on scorn, or as much as a golden retriever can manage such a thing.
Yesterday, there was not much traffic on the Neck Road and I stopped, in the lane of travel, no one behind me, to take a picture of the trees at Mitchell Farm, so easily recognizable to anyone who lives down that way or makes trips to the dump or Mansion Beach or chases sunsets with the seasons, as their relationship to the North Light changes.
It seems there used to be another, or perhaps a major branch of one of these trees, felled by a storm, but the stand remains, the first spot of shadow on the way north. We often see cyclists stopped there, over on the narrow shoulder, admiring the iconic barn, perhaps turning back to see the long view and see the start of the gradual climb they might not fully appreciate until they start hurtling down the north side of Bush Lot Hill.
Another car did come along and it wasn’t until I was on Mansion that I could pause once more, looking east at the maples that lean over the road. It was a much more lopsided canopy just a year or two ago when the severe tree trimming freed the wires reminding us of how much the scrub brush had grown. It is only for having been here before The Great Cutting that I know there used to be a tunnel of lush green, a sort of passageway truly separating the worlds on either side of it, a transition from pavement behind to fields and beach and ocean and sky beyond.
Then I make the last turn and am greeted by the gift of a recovered field. The grass grew in the spring, as mindless as it always is of the weather, managing, despite the lingering chill, to turn verdant in early May, fading to a purple haze of seed by the start of June, now, in July, covering the hillsides with those amber waves that are supposed to belong to the vast, grained prairies of the Great Plains whence came my cream of wheat, one hopes.
The upper reaches of some trees of uncertain lineage, cleared of decades of brush and vines punctuate the crest of the hill, as if rising from a sea of grass, the colors of a soft summer afternoon which could be anywhere, but not any season. It happens to be Block Island but it has to be July.