Friday, March 26, 2010

The Quaker and us

The past couple of weeks I've showed you some ads from an 1899 issue of the short story magazine, BLACK CAT. Some of the ads are aimed at vanity, and some are quackery, and for the most part if you spent your money on the products you'd be throwing it away.

That's not true with this 1899 Quaker Oats ad, which promotes a great product, still around, still doing good. I like the advice at the bottom of the ad: "Eat more Quaker Oats, less meat." Still true.

When I was growing up my father was a salesman for the Quaker Oats Company. Their products included, besides Quaker Oats: Mother's Oats (same product, different package), Puffed Wheat, Puffed Rice, and Muffets, which was like Nabisco's shredded wheat, only compressed into a shape that I remember looked like a hockey puck.

For a while Quaker Oats had some promotional products I liked. Muffets, which came several to a box (maybe a dozen), two to a layer, were separated by 3D pictures. Do you know what those were? They were a black and white photograph, usually scenery, duplicated twice on a card. You'd place the card into the holder of a viewer, and then when the viewer was placed in front of your eyes the pictures had a 3D effect. Even in the early 1950s these stereo pictures were old hat. The stereo slide viewer was a product that was popular in a more genteel era, before television or even radio. People would get together and look at 3D photos. Wow. Big night at the Smiths tonight! They have some new pictures of Niagara Falls!

I don't know where we got the viewer. They had probably offered one as a premium: Two box tops and 50¢ or $1.00 gets you a viewer. The closest thing we have today is a Viewmaster, which puts the 3D pictures on a disk.

Some of the other premiums I remember were little Bugs Bunny comic books; they were printed in a format about 1/3 the size of a normal comic book, with one row of panels per page. We had hundreds of those laying around our house, which all got thrown out. Nowadays they're collectible. Who knew? This stuff was just disposible junk in those days.

Mornings I had a choice of cereals, all of which I hated. Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice, for those of you who have never had the opportunity to taste them, tasted like packing material to me. I had to load a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a half cup of milk just to give them any taste at all. Muffets weren't much better. (Dad called Muffets "Stuff 'em": "Muffets spelled backwards, sorta," he once said in reaction to my quizzical look.)

Quaker Oats itself I didn't get that often, because it meant my mother had to fix it on the stove, and since she usually ran late, meant she didn't have time to prepare it before taking us to school.

Dad traveled every other week; he'd go to adjacent states, stay in motels; the life of a traveling salesman! When he was out of town I'd bug my mom until she bought us Cheerios, or Sugar Corn Pops, which had really cool premiums I wanted. Mom would hide those boxes in the pantry and occasionally Dad would find one of them, because we couldn't eat a whole box of Cheerios in the five days he was on the road. "What the hell is this box of Cheerios doing here? We have a whole house full of perfectly good cereal!" OK, Dad, define "good."

Now, almost 60 years later, most mornings I have a bowl of Quaker Oats. It's the instant kind; I fix it in the microwave oven because I can't be bothered to fix it the old fashioned way. I don't even have the excuse my mom had by being late. Mom used to say, "It sticks to your ribs," which was some old cornball saying meaning it was substantial, and you felt full after eating it. To me, my little imagination clicking away, had thoughts of human ribs with oatmeal adhering to them, dripping off in spots.

Eating a bowl of Quaker Oats every morning will keep you cleaned out. Usually about 45 minutes after eating my morning bowl I'm in the bathroom. Quaker Oats makes me a regular feller, that's for sure.

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