Haunted by corndogs, snowballs and soggy Wheaties

I recently ate a corn dog and I can’t believe it.

For a quarter of a century, I wasn’t able to eat one, look at one, smell one, or even think about one without a bout of nausea that could kill an elephant.

Oh, I used to love those long pieces of convoluted meat, dipped in batter and soaked in grease. But then again, I used to love Snow Balls, too, those big balls of marshmallow covered in coconut and sprinkled with different colors of sugar. And Wheaties — that great cereal that comes in a box you can read while looking at a picture of Mary Lou Retton, the gymnast with the big teeth when I was a kid.

But no longer can I enjoy (or did I think I could) those culinary delights — simply because I’m haunted by them.

We all have those things we simply can’t eat or think of eating, just because of that “one incident” that ruined it for us forever.

It was an extremely hot day, back when I was 13 in 1980 or so, and the van was packed for the State Fair. None of us had ever been there before — but I had to compete in a 4-H speech contest “in the big city,” and my mother was willing to pack all the kids into the big brown vehicle to venture off. Three hours or so — that’s how long it took to get there, one way.

So off we went — to the land of cotton candy, lemon ice cream, funnel cakes and corn dogs. It was a stressful day, with so many kids in tow and me having to give a talk about the benefits of dairy products. But there was the promise that if we were good, my mother would treat us to all those wonderful culinary delights.

But where to start? As far as the eye can see, when at the State Fair, are all those wonderful, unique things — things you can’t just get anywhere else. So, we had a little bit of everything. I, along with sisters, Nancy and Maria, indulged on giant corn dogs and this lemon-flavored ice cream that tasted like it was made in heaven.

When everyone was way too full and couldn’t take the heat a second longer, we decided it was time to make the trek back home to Antelope County. It was somewhere around York that I started to feel sick.

“Mom, I’ve got a stomach ache,” the younger ones said from the back.

“It’s just from being hot, and you probably ate too much,” she said. “Just close your eyes and try to go to sleep.”

Try as I could, the gurgling and churning wouldn’t stop. All I could taste was lemon and deep fried unidentified meat. With every burp came a bead of sweat. My mom had just cleaned out the van, from top to bottom, for the “big trip,” and the last thing I wanted to do was discharge any of that state fair fare on her clean captain chairs.

“Mom,” Nancy whined in the seat behind me. “I think Maria’s spitting something up. And I think I’m going to puke.”

“Again, just close your eyes and go to sleep, we’re almost home, you’ll be fine,” our tired mother said.

It was dark out, but I saw the sign for Genoa and knew we were about half way home. So I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on something else. Anything else. But the poisonous gases being omitted indicated that something bad was about to happen.

They say good things come to those who wait — well, bad things also come to those who wait for the inevitable. Just as we turned the corner to head to St. Ed from Genoa, my mother’s own nightmare version of the “Exorcist” began. First with me, then the sisters, then one of our friends who wasn’t actually sick — just grossed out. From Genoa to Albion, the nightmare continued — by the time we got to Elgin, the diaper bag was empty from all the cleaning, a liter of 7-Up was spilled on the floor as we tried to pass it around, no one could cry any longer, and there was a terrible smell that would haunt us all forever.

I can eat a corn dog now – but I have to go slow and just have a bite.

Of course, I can never bring myself to eat those Snow Ball things — I remember a holiday in which my cousins just had bags and bags of them (one of their other relatives had a grocery store, or a Hostess bread outlet, or something), and they had a great over-abundance of those marshmallow killers.

So we ate and ate and ate . . . these were the pinks ones that looked all fuzzy and were all sugary. The first two were fine — but when the moms went to can tomatoes in the kitchen, we decided marshmallow intoxication was on the agenda for that day.

We had round after round of snowballs — all in their playroom, because we could hide the bag inside our buildings made of Lincoln Logs. I remember Round Number Four, but the rest remains a blur. My sugar level must have made me temporarily black out, because I don’t remember much — just the fact I had to share a toilet with my cousin while our mothers ran tomatoes through colanders and yelled at us through the door.

No more marshmallow treats . . . of any kind. No Peeps at Easter, no fudge at Christmas, and don’t even get me started about Rocky Road ice cream.

But maybe one of the worst things anyone could ever force me to consume is a bowl of Wheaties. I used to love to sit at the kitchen table, eating Wheaties on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons and looking at the faces of the famous athletes of the day. Until an infamous morning at Grandma Onie’s house.

Onie had already cut the daily grapefruit in half and said we would be eating Wheaties. We were thrilled — at least we didn’t have to eat runny eggs and oatmeal, with a hard piece of stale kuchen under a dirty dishcloth, like she served Grandpa Andy every single morning.

So she poured the cereal in the bowl . . . good. Put a little sugar on top . . . good. Then, she went into the SEWING ROOM and brought out a jar of something.

“What is that?” my brother, Steve asked.

“Milk, what do you think it is?” she said.

We looked at each other.

There it was — a quart jar with an old silver lid on it. It was milk . . . well, maybe once it was.

There are a few things to remember here — we lived on a dairy farm. And it was summertime. So that means several important issues are at hand — first, raw milk (not yet pasteurized) at that time of year had a light tint of green because the cows spent the whole day in the pasture. Also, raw milk that had not been properly processed was extremely whole —meaning it was very rich and the cream had to be skimmed off the top.

And there’s the whole other issue with the fact that Onie believed the sewing room was cool enough to keep food products safe. It didn’t seem to affect her or Andy . . . maybe their stomachs were used to it. And if you’d complain because the food wasn’t coming from the refrigerator, she’d tell us to “Buck up, we didn’t have refrigerators when I was a kid, and we were fine. Kids today are so spoiled.”

And that happened again, as we questioned her food preservation tactics.

Just by looking at it, we knew this couldn’t be done. This jar was half full of whitish green liquid, with the top filled to the brim with what looked like a giant chunk of butter.

With eyes wide, we watched her unscrew the top and try to pour the stuff onto the Wheaties. Nothing would come out. Then with one swift movement, Onie reached for a knife on the table and punched a hole through the cheesy cork. And then she poured the watery, warm stuff on our poor Wheaties, with flicks of the hard stuff falling off along the way, into our bowls.

Andy never looked up from his eggs and oatmeal, never said a word. As much as the two of them fought, it was safer to stay quiet until he got his food down.

The tears started, and we tried to tell her that we didn’t want to eat it.

“No one is going to leave this table until all this cereal is gone,” she said. “You’re lucky you’ve got food, when I was a kid we had to fight over the little bit we had and were happy about it.”

And then came the lecture about “the starving kids in Africa” that were on our Rice Bowl from church every Lent — and how they would do anything to have those bowls of cereal and chunky white stuff.

My brother, Terry, was never one for nonsense. Still isn’t. He decided to take the “bowl by the horns,” and in one daring move, raised the entire thing to his lips and downed it. He was free.

Out the door he went — he said he never got sick. I still don’t know the truth.

Little Brother Stevie, sitting there with tears welled up in his eyes, stared at me, silently asking me to do something. It was like being hostage.

I tried to reason with her, but to no avail. I tried to make a deal — “I’m not Monte Hall,” she said.

So, I too, had to make the Terry move and get it over with. I also ran through the door to the yard, but for another reason.

Stevie, however, remained at that table until 11:45 in the morning — nearly time for dinner. No one was getting anything (like we wanted it at that point anyway) until my brother got rid of that cereal — that big pile of soggy mush in a mixture of butter and lukewarm milk.

Then, like a knight in shining armor, I saw through the big picture window my father drive into the yard with the hay cage and I knew he was going to want to move pipe. He’d see that we were missing and some of the chores hadn’t been done yet.

When he rescued us from that kitchen, we didn’t say anything about the Wheaties. We were just thankful to leave behind that bowl of yuck, even if it meant going out to pick up irrigation pipe.

Haunted to this day, certain foodstuffs cannot be consumed by this person. Yes, maybe a corndog here and there.

But when it comes to a bowl of Wheaties (or really any kind of cereal and milk) . . . I think I’ll pass. Especially if it has marshmallows in it.


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