“But Mummy, he got to take the submarine out last time. It’s my turn now!”
“No! It’s my turn! He’s not telling you the truth! It’s my turn now!”
My poor mother had acquired a new role. She was now the Admiral in charge of dispatching submarines— the one whose word was final— the one who determined who would get to command the new submarine that would imminently be lifted from the deep… from the dark recesses of the Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Box.
Gone were the days when marauding pillagers could rise at the first ray of morning light, charge into the kitchen, rip open the box flaps, and tear open the wax paper bag to root around for the toy. After walking across one too many Rice Krispy strewn floors in her bare feet, our mom put an end to the Snap! Crackle! Pop! equivalent of walking on hot coals one early morning.
“No more digging around in the cereal boxes! From now on I’ll open all the new boxes… and just when we need one. I’ll turn the bag upside down in the box for you so that the prize is on top. Then I’ll open it with the scissors. No more biting things open with your teeth, or jabbing at it with a knife! You’ll take turns being the one who gets to take out the prize. No more fighting! No more messes!”
We knew this was never going to work. By the time a couple of us took a turn, then some other thing would be the prize, and it might not be nearly so cool. It might be really stupid even— like a silly badge or something like that. It was all General Mills fault! He should have been getting the submarines out there too, but instead he was doing goofy things like printing cardboard cut outs for a “ Torpedo Firing Atomic Submarine and Exploding Aircraft Carrier” on his Cheerios boxes.
How were we supposed to cut out, and fold, and shape those into anything great? We could hardly make the dumb baby scissors we were allowed to use cut anything at all without ripping it. If we used the big scissors we would probably end up cutting off some of the tabs we were going to need to fold— or maybe even our baby finger, which would be even worse!
And everybody knows that cardboard never explodes, it just swells up when it gets wet— like the empty toilet paper rolls the little guys were always throwing into the toilet bowl and flushing just to watch them spin. How could we ever take something made of cardboard into the tub with us? Imagine how mad our dad would get if we clogged up the bathtub drain too!
Good submarines were scarce. Every time we got one it was lost. Maybe they got away behind that big silver circle that was just under the tub tap, where all the extra water went out when too many kids got into the tub at the same time.
Why couldn’t the people at the factory put more than one plastic submarine into the cereal box anyway? So many of the kids we knew had big families too. A lot of them, like the Verheys, and the Derbyshires, the Howes, and the Pullens might have been having the very same arguments as us! Maybe a couple sisters or a couple brothers had to share their tubs just like we had to at our house, to keep from using too much water and making their dads mad. Maybe they had fights over who got to play with the submarines too.
It was really hard not having a sub of your own when somebody else in the tub had one. It was right about then that you’d get mad because you couldn’t even stretch out and lay right down under the bath water— even if you wanted to. Your sister’s bum was always in the way! Even if she was out and drying off already, by then maybe you just didn’t want to lay underneath the water anymore. Your own dirt just seemed a lot less dirty floating around in the water than somebody else’s was… especially if you weren’t sure they had been running around barefoot in the chicken yard earlier.
So the submarine wars just kept on happening— or rather the wars about the submarines that we couldn’t have. First we fought about the kind that would go up and down if you put baking powder in them (But not baking soda! That’s not the same thing!) and then later we fought over the little wind-up ones with the elastic bands…
Then the wars stopped altogether because there just wasn’t enough money to buy any cereal with submarine prizes in it at all, I guess. Daddy brought home two gigantic bags of new cereal we had never had before. One was a bag of puffed rice as big as a pillow and the other was a bag of puffed wheat, the exact same size. There were no prizes, there were no surprises, and it was just one or the other until we got used to their boring soggy tastes. But you know what? Even with boring yucky breakfast cereal we were all a whole lot happier. Probably because we didn’t have to fight anymore.