Helaman Hall, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
… and the moon comes up as the moon
(All its images are in the dump) and you see
As a man (not like an image of a man),
You see the moon rise in the empty sky.
Wallace Stevens, “The Man on the Dump”
The Bowl: Deep, but not too deep. Copious. But not too big so as to make your cereal seem small in the space provided. White. Artificial colors look so much brighter against pure white.
The Conversation in my Head: “Crunchberries fit into a food group.”
“The lunch ladies in the dorm cafeteria won’t mind. They feed us just like Mom would - roast chicken, meatloaf, broiled fish, green beans, white dinner rolls baked daily. Sunday every day. This is just dessert.”
“Nobody’s mother sends it in care packages, least of all mine.”
The Mise en Place: The dorm rooms are 10- by 16-foot. Two single beds, two small desks, two miniscule closets. Jennifer has her 14-inch television set up in the corner and we sprawl out on the beds with our bowls, sharing. Half Cheerios, half Lucky Charms. Half Count Chocula, half Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. Whole milk. Two-percent. Non-fat. Each, her bowl. Each, her spoon. It is creative work going on here. A gourmet experimentation free-for-all of the highest order.
“They don’t sell the good stuff on campus. We buy it ourselves, with our allowances, with our government-supplied student loan money.”
“Denying the daughters of women who cook every day a kitchen is like denying a priestess her altar. We can’t pray like we should – cookies, brownies, blackberry pie. No ritual offerings, it’s throwing me off.”
We think about it. We talk about it. We shop in packs for it.
We know it is wrong.
The Cereal: Pour the cereal in. Well, pour is the understood term, but clank or clunk, tink or shonk is more accurate. Or shuffle. Cap’n Crunch clanks into the bowl. Rice Krispies and Count Chocula – small puffed things – make a shuffling sound. Lucky Charms have the ‘lucky’ – the hard square bits, the ones that tear apart the roof of your mouth, which clink, almost like glass. But the ‘charms’ – the dried marshmallows in shapes and colors of shamrocks and hearts, are a random thomp. Luck Charms is a waterfall of clink and thomp. Cheerios are a clean, healthy sounding shoosh.
You would never hear Wheaties or God forbid, granola, at this gathering.
In our dorm, Helaman Hall – named after the Mormon prophet and warrior - social life starts at 10 p.m. when the library closes. The girls – Jennifer, Jessica, Leslie and I slam Physical Geography or Great Expectations shut as the theme to Hawaii 5-0 rises from the library loudspeaker. Jocks and thespian jump onto the nearest table and surf – da-da-da-da DAAA DAAA – da- da- da-da DAAAA.
Most girls have care packages to look forward to. Pumped up and starving, we scurry in packs back to our dorms, set up our worlds like dollhouses: Jiffy Pop, Snickers – homemade brownies, homemade fruit leather, homemade zucchini bread.
My Secret: My mother is a good cook and a terrible procrastinator. Which is to say she is an excellent procrastinator. Although she is, from the outside – and in – the picture of a nurturing, relatively organized mother of seven, she stacks bills in unopened piles. For years, she’s said, “When I have time, I’ll sort through those old pictures.” She was often an hour late to pick me up from piano lessons.
She isn’t a care package kind of gal.
And secretly, I’m not so sure she believes in God.
I never understood the draw of late-night life until I went away. Then I discovered a world much like my mother’s. I picture her sitting at the kitchen table at midnight, eating popcorn and reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Louis L’Amour, scratching out crossword puzzles with my brother, a pair of night owls.
Here in my room, with just the grey-green glow of Twin Peaks and my white bowl, I begin to understand her desire for darkness and quiet, for the buzz and focus of addiction to solitude.
I am with my friends, but I am alone.
The Milk: All the girls use nonfat, of course. But I stick with whole, and occasionally bring what I really want – half and half. My father taught me to savor the fatty bits of the stew or steak, and ended each meal with a satisfying slice of homemade wheat bread slathered, slathered, with butter and Adams Old Fashioned Peanut Butter. He taught me about another excellent late-night TV snack, graham crackers crunched into a bowl with half and half.
Late night eating is an act of self-determination.
On Sundays, I go to my Aunt Lazell’s in Springville for supper.
My father’s sister is the female version of him. She’s a big woman with a strawberry blonde beehive. She has large hands and keeps her long, pointy fingernails painted coral or salmon, as close to the color of her hair as she can get. She drives a beige late ‘70s Oldsmobile Cutlass. She’s a retired third grade teacher who never married.
Born LaZalia Alta, her Swedish Mormon father named she and her sister, Maureen Montez after the cigars he smoked. I’d sit alone in her pristine one-story duplex living room, everything monochromatic beige, trying to not touch anything, because she would throw me a look, or tell me to pick something up or wipe my feet or wash my hands.
She cooked dinner in her pristine kitchen, like it was a china shop and I was the bull. Cooking and her kitchen shouldn’t go together. But cook she did, and as she did, she talked. Not to me, but at me:
“Well, I don’t know why your father never comes to visit.”
“That bum uncle of yours just abandoned your mother.”
“Well, those cousins of yours don’t respect their mother.”
She was making a fruit salad, cranking cans open with her fingers sprawled out so as not to break her fingernails, dumping can after can into a huge bowl. A whole container of Cool Whip. The more and faster and louder she talked, the more she dumped and stirred.
“That poor child. How that devil of a doctor could do that to my sister, I’ll never know.”
Chopping a whole head of iceberg lettuce, three large tomatoes.
“He can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.”
A pile of steak, a huge mashed potatoes with sour cream and butter and bacon bits on my plate.
“Grandmother was the first wife,” she said. “And she died first. Her sister was the second wife, and buried Grandmother all the way across the cemetery.”
A massive coffin of torn pale green leaves studded with red. A sea of white peaks covering pineapple chunks. Her coral fingernails blotched with Cool Whip.
“Grandpa spent nine months in prison, you know,” she grumbled. “He made saddles for every mucky muck in Salt Lake City.”
Slamming the bottle of bleu cheese dressing down on the table. Fingers greasy. Beehive perfect.
“Well, aren’t you going to eat?”
My plate clean, she fills it again.
“I spent all day cooking, you know.”
I eat and I nod.
“I’ll be left with all this food.”
I chew and chew.
The Process: At first, the cereal is fruitily, frightfully itself. Terrifyingly, mouth-ripping, eardrum popping crunchy. This, for two bites. The pain that must be endured. Soon, each bit, whether it be square and brickish or marshmallowy and soft, begins to soak in the liquid.
I want to see, no, to have Kyle MacLachlan, the perfect hero in his suit - but still a bit of a bad boy, drinking that coffee. He looks the Mormon missionary, and we all have ours – boys we will make out a dozen times our freshman year, but never more. We’ll send them off to Belgium or Brazil for two years. We’ll write and wait, then marry them when they return. We’ll live down the street from each other and although the others will have at least six children, I’ll have just three. We’ll cook together and bake and feed each other’s broods. Happily, laughingly and without grumbling.
The The: This is when most of the cereal eating should happen, in the sweet spot between crunch and sog. The moment of utter bliss, of the childhood we just left, regained momentarily. Control of self and the world we knew we could not control. The dorm room is dark but we know there’s brightness in our bowls. The first few melancholic measures of the Twin Peaks theme swell, rising in our hearts as we lay on our bellies, bowls in front of us like pets. Each quietly chewing the personal perfection we each have created. The light of the television glowing warmly on our moist, pudgy faces.
by Shannon Borg