Cereal the meal of choice in Battle Creek

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Roger VanHaren

At a recent Alumni Weekend at Wayland Academy where I taught for 24 years, I talked to a former student whose hometown was Battle Creek, Michigan. When you think of Battle Creek, what comes to mind? Kellogg’s cereals, right?

Yeah, well, me, too. But Battle Creek conjures up a much bigger picture than just breakfast cereal. For me, it causes me to recollect a camping trip which our family took when our kids were little – ages approximately 7 to 2, I suppose.

In those days, on a young teacher’s salary, we had very little in the way of discretionary funds to spend on nonessential things, so Marilyn and I decided we’d take a camping trip around Lake Michigan – basically all it would cost would be gas and food. So we hooked up our two-wheeled trailer, which I had customized into an ingenious combination kitchen, pantry, and camping equipment storage unit, complete with electrical outlets that could be plugged into power sources in campgrounds so we could use a coffee maker, electric frying pan, etc. Oh, it was masterpiece of engineering!

We loaded the station wagon with comic books, pillows, games, and snacks for the kids, whose sight-seeing attention spans were relatively short. When you’ve seen 10 miles of trees in Upper Michigan, you don’t need to see the next 100 miles of trees, right?

So we took off, planning to stop mid-afternoon every day to set up our tents and have time to stretch and relax, have dinner, sit around the campfire, make s’mores and pudgy-pie treats, and get a good night’s rest before breaking camp and loading up for the next day’s journey. The kids were little, but they all played a part in our setting-up and taking-down.

When we got to Sault Ste. Marie, we crossed the International Bridge into Canada, just so we could say we’d been to Canada, and then we headed for the Mackinac Bridge and crossed into Lower Michigan. By this time, the “work” of camping – the setting-up and taking-down – was beginning to become a little tiresome for everybody. But we were committed, right?

When we got to Holland, Michigan, and got our campsite set up, we heard reports of a possible tornado coming through the area. We didn’t want to take the risk of having to ride out a twister in a tent, so we tied our tents to a tree and got in the car and drove away from the path of the storm. After it had passed, we went back to the campground expecting to see our stuff scattered across the county. But when we got there, our tents were still standing and our supplies were intact. Miraculous!

There are lots of sand dunes around Holland, and the city of Holland had some attraction for me. (VanHaren is Dutch, you know.) So we decided to spend the day in the area and another night in the campground. We spent part of the day in town, checking out the windmills and the souvenir shops where there are lots of wooden shoes and other Dutch-related items.

In the afternoon, we decided to splurge and take a dune buggy ride in the neighboring dunes. It was really fun, but I felt the pain in my wallet. We were only about halfway in our trip, and we were running low on cash.

By the time we got to Battle Creek, we were basically broke. We had to be sure we had enough money for gas to finish the trip and for campsite fees. Our food supply in the trailer was running pretty low, too. When we saw a sign that said there were free tours of the Kellogg company manufacturing plant, we decided to do that.

That turned out to be a “lifesaver” for us. Not only was the tour fun, but also when we finished the tour of the plant, they gave everybody variety packs of cereal. So we had 42 individual servings of some of the kids’ favorite cereals – enough for us to make it the rest of the way home without having to buy any more food!

Our kids still remember having breakfast (cereal) in Michigan, lunch (cereal) in Indiana, dinner (cereal) in Illinois, and bedtime snack (cereal!) at home in Beaver Dam.

It doesn’t take much to set my mind whirling back to some of those “good ol’ days” when the kids were growing up. Yup, Battle Creek, Michigan.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.