I’m still waiting for the prizes I claimed with these box tops. Photo: Mitch Teich
August 13, 2022 —
If I were to trace my love for reading back to its earliest days, I probably wouldn’t credit the picture books I read as a child. I loved Place for the ducklings, but it probably had more influence on my love for ducks than for literature. If I really wanted to give credit to a body of work, it would go to the wordsmiths at Kellogg’s and General Mills.
Growing up, I was an avid cereal box reader. I was probably five years old when I learned that RDA stood for “Recommended Daily Allowance”, although 48 years later I still have no idea how much riboflavin I need some day. But I skimmed through the text on Cheerios, Wheaties and – let’s face it – Froot Loops boxes not because I was particularly interested in the nuances of the food pyramid, but because I was studying the Limited time offers! on the back of the box.
It may have been a balsa wood glider. Maybe it was a Toucan Sam comic, or a set of “Encounters of the Third Kind” Trading Cards. Whatever the prize would be all mine – provided I collect the required number of box tops and wait six to eight weeks for delivery.
And that was probably the hardest part. I would have been happy to eat Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and dinner for days on end to collect the boxes. But waiting eight or even six weeks was a harder task than making my bed, even though I had never tried to make my bed.
At the risk of degenerating into a “These kids today…” diatribe, young people today don’t understand what it was like to expect something in the mail in the 1970s and 1980s. have NOT received an email confirming receipt of your order. You did NOT receive a shipping confirmation email with tracking number, an email notifying you of an estimated delivery date, or an option for additional tracking details. You sent in your box tops and believed that one day the postman would come with a package with your name on it, postmarked from Battle Creek, Michigan. And between those two points, you asked your parents about 85,000 times if the mail had been delivered.
Today, however, children place orders online and then discover that the modern delivery time of 1-2 weeks might as well be eight weeks, because it takes a long time for things to reach the North Country. When my family moved into our house in Potsdam in the winter of 2020, my aunt from Massachusetts ordered us a delivery of chocolate covered strawberries. Even with February temperatures in the north of the country, they arrived in various states of decay and mold. We called the company they were ordered from, and when the customer service person finally found us on the card, they informed us that there was no way to guarantee that a new delivery wouldn’t would not also be moldy.
In recent years, the US Postal Service has instituted something they call “Informed Deliveryan online portal that displays images of the mail I’m due to receive, so I know in advance how many credit card offers I’m going to run when my postman arrives. It also contains a list of packages that are due to arrive – one day. Currently I’m expecting two packages, both described by the Postal Service as “Moving Through System” and “Delivery Date Unknown”, which – if you think about it – is exactly the information I knew before I signed on.
So I will be pleasantly surprised when the packages show up and find out what they are. In the meantime, I’ll have another bowl of Cheerios. I feel low in riboflavin.