When you’re a college student living on a budget, you do a lot of things to make ends meet; write papers for others, type papers for others, do just about any work-study job you can get (I worked in theater shop, was a tour guide for the school and answered the college switchboard while overseeing the copy room), steal toilet paper from the arts building, and share a house with a lot of people you may or may not have known before you moved in with them. That’s the life I lived in my final semester in NH at New England College. It was 1979, and we were determined to have fun. We lived on the first floor of an old farmhouse in the south section of Henniker. And believe me, it was NOT in move-in condition when we got there!
Mushrooms in the kitchen
I moved in on a sunny day in September I believe. I was just relocating from an apartment in town so it wasn’t a long trip. I think my parents came up with the van and loaded things up and dropped the boxes off. I’d been living in that apartment for the summer but my roommate and I had a bizarre falling out, and I needed to find a place to for my final semester in NH. I interviewed with the landlord and was approved even though he felt girls were messier than boys. He had agreed to rent to 5 of us, 3 girls, 2 guys. Amazingly enough, when we all arrived on that first day in September, we discovered he’d also decided to rent out our living room to a 3rd guy. Let me tell you, we weren’t thrilled with this information, but Wayne was there with his cocker spaniel and there was little we could do. So we made the best of it and started to unpack and settle into our shared kitchen and our various rooms. We found random dishes and utensils in the cupboards and drawers, but the biggest surprise was the mushrooms growing in the oven!
Cornflakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
One of our roommates, John, started unpacking his groceries…. Boxes and boxes of cornflakes. We laughed at him, but he didn’t seem to find the humor . Seems his budget was built around eating cornflakes at pretty much every meal. We all smiled and agreed that that wouldn’t last long. We even dared him, telling him that we’d glue each box he finished to the kitchen wall. We were so sure that wouldn’t happen. By the end of the semester, we had a unique collection of 3-D art on our kitchen walls, cornflakes boxes randomly placed.
House Rules are a necessity
On that day we also set up rules of the house. For some of us, this was the first time we’d met. As we unpacked, the three of us women laughed at how our moms had made sure we had high necked flannel granny gowns to sleep in. They weren’t thrilled that we were living in a house with guys and sharing a bathroom. The guys were clear that they would not be running around in their boxers (or briefs).
In fact, my roommate was someone I knew from theater classes and plays I’d been in. The other woman who shared the space had to access her bedroom either through the single bathroom we all shared, or through our bedroom. Needless to say, we quickly became well acquainted. We all agreed it would be best to get ‘house rules’ set up while we were all still new to the situation and hadn’t developed any bad habits.
Rule #1 – We’d each take a day to be “Our Day to Buy Milk” Monday through Saturday. Sundays we were on our own. I think my day was Tuesday.
Unfortunately, for one housemate, John, we didn’t determine WHEN that milk had to be bought. On my day, I’d head out early to the center of town to work the school switchboard. Rain, shine, snow or ice, I had to get there on time, and I didn’t have a car. It was a half mile walk to get there for 8 am. I might make it home at some point midday for a quick lunch. Maybe I’d have stopped at the store to get my gallon of milk. Or maybe I’d wait until after a rehearsal in the evening to bring my milk home. But if John was looking for milk for his cereal, I’d hear an earful when I walked in the door. Mainly because he would have had to buy milk for his lunch or dinner because someone had already finished Monday’s milk! Mind you the grocery store we used was about a half-mile away, so carrying a gallon of milk that distance wasn’t a quick jaunt for any of us. But there were evenings when I’d forget the milk altogether, and have to walk back into town to get it before I called it a day.
Rule #2 – We didn’t touch each other’s food in the refrigerator. We actually stuck by this rule pretty well.
Rule #3 – We didn’t have big parties at our house.
Mostly because there just wasn’t room. But we certainly did have family come to visit. I wasn’t at the house much during the day but it seemed none of us listened to a lot of loud music. I did have a record player (believe it or not) and did own some albums, but during the semester we didn’t have a lot of down time. I think only Wayne had a TV. Most of my time was spent working at the theater, doing classwork, listening to a friend play guitar, or sitting at the kitchen table drinking pot after pot of tea, and talking.
Secret Santa requires cooperation and sometimes collaboration
In fact, looking back, it was pretty amazing how well we all got along together. We had fun doing Secret Santa that year, although my Secret Santa didn’t want to buy little gifts and leave notes and other trinkets. So all the other housemates shared the responsibility. I didn’t know the difference, and loved the result. Later they told me, Cornflake John was my unSanta that year. But it was probably a budget thing he just hadn’t planned on. Totally get it. And my housemates made sure I wasn’t left out of the fun.
I did a Google Search for a photo of the house today. Much better looking today than back then. But I still recognize the bay window on the right that looked out from the room Judy and I shared. The barn where Wayne kept his little Triumph looks very much the same as it did then.
So many memories in such a short time
That house holds a lot of memories. I saved a life there. I sat and listened to a Vietnam Vet talk for hours about his nightmare experiences in the war, and the aftereffect of Agent Orange. I helped save a roommate from catching our whole house on fire when she fell asleep with candles burning and they decided to escape their containers. We celebrated birthdays, and Halloween, and played practical jokes that sometimes weren’t all that funny. We tolerated each other’s quirks, and I distinctly remember a final goodbye ceremony with Sue, Judy, Hank, and I, where Hank had purchased silver necklaces for all of us and told us the meaning of each charm he’d added that was uniquely our own.
I miss those days for sure. They seemed difficult at the time but were full of excitement about what life could be. We dreamed of possibilities and talked about the future. Now I’m living in the future and laugh at some of our dreams. But I also made a point with this blog, to customize a recipe that uses cornflakes. Because I think if John had known how, he may have been a bit happier and had a bit more variety and health in his diet if he’d considered expanding his repertoire.
John’s Vegan Cornflake Snacks
- 3 cups of puffed cereal (corn, rice, wheat, or a mixture)
- 1 cup crushed cornflakes
- 4 TB raw chopped peanuts
- 2 TB raw chopped cashews
- 2 TB unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 tsp mustard seed
- 3 green chili peppers split
- 2 TB curry powder
- 1/3 cup dry roasted chick peas
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 TB confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tsp coconut oil
- salt to taste (use honey salt if you can find it!)
- In a non stick pan, over medium heat, roast the puffed cereal, cornflakes, coconut, and nuts until crisp (3 – 4 minutes).
- In a separate pan, heat the oil and add the mustard seed, chilis, curry powder, and chickpeas until the seeds start to crackle, then add the turmeric. and mix well.
- Add the cereal mixture, the sugar and salt, and again, mix well.
- Cool and enjoy or seal in an airtight container for later.
It’s amazing the number of things you can do with cornflakes, from coating baked chicken to using them in muffins or cookies, to making delicious no-bake snack bars, or coating fried ice cream. I guess John was right, it’s the perfect food on a budget.
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