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  • Writer's pictureJ. Griffin Hughes

(Excerpt) From Wouldn't Be Fittin', Chapter Five: "The Bottom of their Pockets"

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Ben got a job with General Foods. General Foods had just come out with instant coffee and sugar-coated cereals. Ben loved selling instant coffee. There were not that many big chain grocery stores then. Piggly Wiggly I guess was the biggest. The whole idea was that he would go into these little country grocery stores, and they usually had a kettle of water on their pot-bellied stove, so he’d say, “Get a cup, and I’ll show you.” And he’d stir them up a cup of instant Maxwell House coffee, which was the first instant that came along. And they would be so impressed that they would buy lots of instant coffee from him.

The other thing, though, that they wanted him to sell were these sugar-coated cereals. Krinkles, I believe they were called. They had test-marketed these up North, and they had been just hugely popular. So General Foods thought, well, this would be good to sell in the South and all over the country, and Ben had made such good relations because of all of that instant coffee that he sold more sugar-coated cereal than anybody else in the Southeast, cases and cases of it, hundreds of cases of it.

This would have been probably in the wintertime, in January or so, because Joel would not have been walking yet. But as the warmer weather came along, Ben began to have grocery men who were complaining because the boxes of cereal were solid now. This was before air-conditioning. The sugar had melted in the heat and that had solidified these boxes.

So, Ben asked his boss at General Foods, what to do about this, and his boss called headquarters, and headquarters said, “Well, if you just take the boxes and hit them on your knee, they’ll break up. Show all the grocery men how to do this.”

Well, he went around to all these little grocery stores and told them how to break up the cereal boxes by hitting them. Within a week, of course, all of those had re-solidified, and the grocery men were getting testy about spending most of their time breaking boxes of cereal over their knees.

Again the word went out to the head office, “What do we do?”

And the head office said, “I guess it’s back to the old drawing board. If you would just refund the money that all these grocery men have spent with General Foods and then cut off the tops of the boxes and send us the tops of the boxes, we will refund you.”

So, Ben would bring these cases home, a few at a time. I can remember it got to the point that the little room Joel had for a bedroom, which just had his crib in there, was stacked to the ceiling with cases of sugar-coated cereal. Every day, while Ben was out selling coffee and picking up more boxes, I spent the day sitting out on the front porch, with Joel on a little blanket in the yard, and I would cut the tops off of these boxes to try to get money back for them.

Well, then we had to get rid of hundreds and thousands of boxes of cereal that were now bricks. I found a woman who worked in some of the houses around the neighborhood there who lived on a farm down the road. She said her husband raised hogs, and they’d take that cereal and feed it to the hogs. They did, until the vet told them that the hogs’ kidneys were failing because they had gotten too much sugar in their diet.

Finally, we just had to build up a big bonfire out behind the house. We kept adding boxes to the fire every day as I cut the box tops off, so it burned, as I recall, for about three days, emitting great plumes of sugar-smelling smoke into the neighborhood...

Wouldn't Be Fittin' by Douglas Haas-Bennet and J. Griffin Hughes

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