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Family Food

Welcome back, my old breakfast pal

Three years ago, I had one of the toughest break-ups of my life. And it’s never easy to break up with your oatmeal, especially when you’ve been together for more than 30 years.

You see, for most of my life, I have eaten Quaker Instant Oatmeal (maple and brown sugar flavor only) for breakfast. Sure, we do the occasional weekend bacon and eggs or waffle breakfasts, but the instant oatmeal was my go-to staple. But then, something changed. As I wrote back in 2011:

One morning, I took a bite of … something different. On your website, you boast that you’ve added “bigger oats for a heartier texture.” You even tell us, “We’re making our oatmeal better, starting with some of your favorite flavors, so you can be amazing.” You know what was amazing? Thirty years of eating the same breakfast and looking forward to it every day. If I will consume around 10,000 bowls of something, here’s a thought – maybe it doesn’t need to be better. Maybe it was already pretty darn good. (Full article is here: https://mikeslife.us/2011/01/20/farewell-oatmeal/)

Alas, I received no response from Quaker. No condolences. No leftover boxes of the original stuff that had treated me so well over the years. Nothing.

So for the last three years, I have had a sad slog through breakfast, trying to find a suitable substitute. I’ve tried every generic brand of oatmeal. I’ve tried high-end brands of oatmeal. Cereal. Sausage biscuits. Breakfast casseroles. But nothing brought the same comfort that my old friend did. Breakfast just wasn’t the same.

Then last week my wife and daughter came home from the grocery store. My daughter was excited. “DAD – GUESS WHAT!?!?!?” she said as she ran into the kitchen, her hand digging into a grocery sack.

“R.E.M. is getting back together!?!?!?!” I said excitedly.

She stared for a moment. Then back to the excitement. She pulled a box of instant oatmeal from the back and held it high. “Look what it says!” She pointed to the top left corner of the box. “Classic recipe! It’s your old oatmeal!”

I took the box and stared at it. My wife and daughter sat smiling, waiting to see my reaction. “I’ve got something in my eye,” I assured them, wiping the corner with the back of my hand.

My oatmeal was back. After a three-year absence, it was back. Surely we could both let bygones be bygones and get back to what breakfast was supposed to be – my oatmeal and me.

And then doubt crept in. What if this wasn’t the same? What if they slapped the “Classic” label on there for some marketing pizzazz, hoping to draw in those nostalgic for the old taste, or others just searching for a new morning experience? And what is more desirable than something classic? (OK, not the best marketing hook, I’ll admit, but let’s not assume every marketer is P.T. Barnum.)

The morning would tell. When I awoke, the usual morning routine went into effect, which involves my wife and daughter getting ready upstairs while my son and I have breakfast and watch Sportscenter. (Yes, we mirror our mornings after family sitcom stereotypes.)

I fixed my son his oatmeal (his staple is the “Dinosaur Eggs” version of maple and brown and sugar), and then fixed a bowl of my “Classic recipe” oatmeal. Three years. Three years without the perfect taste and texture of my morning routine. Had it returned? Or was I going to be duped, sending myself into a spiral of despair that can only be caused by oatmeal trickery.

I took a bite. I closed my eyes and processed the moment. It was … perfect. A rush of emotion and memories flooded me. I remembered my oatmeal as a little boy, my mom handing it across the table to me. I remembered sitting in a fraternity house room, rushing through my breakfast before class. I remembered balancing my oatmeal on one knee, a baby on the other. For three decades, this oatmeal – this very oatmeal I was eating at this moment – had been a cornerstone of my mornings. And it was back. My morning was complete again.

When my daughter came downstairs, I informed her that this was the best breakfast I had had in three years. She beamed with pride.

So I feel as if a void has been filled, and I applaud Quaker for bringing back my breakfast. But please don’t take it away again. I can’t endure another break-up…

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at scmgibbons@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

 

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