Monday, September 17, 2012

bring me the head of euell gibbons

My maternal grandfather, Berry Hester Miles, was a breakfast-eatin' kind of guy.

He liked my granmother's staple breakfast of bacon or Gunnoe's sausage, accompanied by eggs however you'd like them, with a side of toast, the latter buttered and broiled on the top rack of the oven. He also liked her pancake breakfast. My grandmother was a great scratch cook, but for pancakes, she always used Aunt Jemima's mix, and the finished product was eaten with plenty of butter and Karo pancake syrup.

He'd also sometimes whip up his own breakfast. In season, he'd gather the fallen crabapples from the apple tree in our backyard - the apple tree had a fork in the middle that made for easy climbing to a certain height even for a height-averse non-climbing kid like me, and it also served as first or third base during my solo baseball games, depending on whether I was hitting plastic balls toward or away from the house. Anyway, he'd pick up the small, lumpy, green apples right off the ground, discarding the ones that had rotten spots and avoiding the ones that already attracted the attention of bees. Then he'd take them into the house, peel them, and fry them up in a skillet.

He'd go to the Smoky Mountains twice a year, once with the whole family in the summer, and again in the fall during the Crafts Fair, but making the latter trip just with my grandmother. (We thought it was cute that they still liked to be alone together as a couple.) Every time, he'd go to the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge and buy a five-pound bag of buckwheat flour. When he got home, he'd have my grandmother make him buckwheat pancakes for weeks on end. None of the rest of us could stand the taste, but he was all about it.

And he also loved Grape Nuts. This fiber-rich breakfast cereal was the mainstream natural-foods health-conscious breakfast champion of the '70s, before there was Kashi or Colon Blow. Hell, it had been around since 1898.

But in the America of the 1970s, the face of Grape Nuts was Euell Gibbons. I only knew him from the Grape Nuts commercials, but apparently his 1960s books on natural foods happened to hit the best-seller list a minute ahead of the counterculture, and that movement's interest in all things organic and non-processed helped make Gibbons into a minor celebrity, despite him not only being over 30 but over 50. Today, Gibbons would almost certainly host TV shows on both the Food Network and the National Geographic Channel.

"It Gets You Back To Nature" was the most well-known Grape Nuts slogan of the '70s, as seen in this commercial featuring said Euell Gibbons:

Anyway, one fateful morning, my grandfather ate not one, not two, but three bowls of Grape Nuts.

At one sitting. Voluntarily.

This was highly unusual - he loved food but was not a glutton by nature. Plus it's hard work to eat even one bowl of Grape Nuts, much less three.

Afterwards, my granmother asked him, "Berry, why did you eat three bowls?"

His answer: "Because it tasted good."

Anyway, after he ate the three bowls of Grape Nuts, a short time passed. Then we heard him move swiftly into the bathroom, hurriedly close the door, then turn on the bathroom fan.

And he didn't come out of the bathroom for an hour and a half.

When he did finally emerge from his toilet sojourn, he saw us looking at him quizzically.

He said, "Well, that really got me back to nature!"

Then he walked back through the hallway toward his bedroom, chuckling all the way.