rice krispies

Posted: August 24, 2021 in julia zarankin
Tags: , , , ,


The Rice Krispies disappeared from my life shortly after we met Norma. I’d been diagnosed with asthma when I was 10, and when the inhaler my doctor prescribed made me a little too giddy for my parents’ taste, they resorted to alternative medicine. This was the mid-80s, and my parents had already embraced bee pollen, bran and wheat germ, but were just making their foray into the world of health gurus who did house calls. And in walked Norma, a robust woman whose physique resembled Gertrude Stein’s and who traveled in the company of her lithe, long-haired companion, who rarely uttered a word. In her long formless robe and sporting a toothless grin, Norma looked like she’d emerged from a different dimension. But she called herself a healer—a nutritionist and psychic rolled into one—and promised she would cure me of my asthma. Her chief diagnostic tool consisted of a grey plastic bath plug on a long chain that she swung in a concentric motion above my abdomen, and she did this with her eyes closed, exhaling deeply through her mouth. After lying under the rotating axis of a bath plug for five minutes, I received an encouraging diagnosis: she proclaimed I could easily be treated with lobelia extract, with a new diet excluding wheat, dairy and sugar.

My asthma attacks decreased in frequency and after a couple years, we stopped seeing Norma altogether. To this day, I have no idea whether it was the magic of her bath plug, the lobelia extract, the diet, or just body changes that come with puberty. But she’d exiled Rice Krispies from our pantry definitively and I missed them.

I still think of Rice Krispies wistfully, even 35 years later. Not for their taste, which barely registers above insipid on the flavour barometer, but because I ate the cereal every morning for five years—until Norma confiscated them. A bowl of Rice Krispies and half a grapefruit was my father’s breakfast culinary masterpiece. He peeled the grapefruit like an orange, which I couldn’t stand, but he believed eating it with a serrated spoon smacked of bourgeoisie and wasted the precious fruit. The reward for grapefruit consumption was an overflowing bowl of Rice Krispies. We ate them in our first Canadian apartment, in Edmonton, furnished with castoffs from our relatives. The same apartment where I learned English, sang along to Sharon, Lois and Bram, fell asleep to the sound of my parents teaching piano. 

I don’t remember the address of that Rice Krispies apartment. But I remember that across the street lived my auntie Frida who washed my hair with special Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo that didn’t sting my eyes; and next door to her lived my auntie Rose who introduced me to love and rage by seating me in front of her TV for a daily dose of the Young and the Restless; and several blocks away lived Luba, who let me sprinkle my hair and face in baby powder, and prance around her apartment in her high heeled shoes, hoping life would be like this for ever.  

Julia Zarankin is the author of the bestselling memoir Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder.  Her writing has appeared in Audubon, En Route, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Geographic, The Walrus, PRISM, The New Quarterly, ON Nature, and Maisonneuve. She was recently a finalist for the CBC Short Story prize and has been awarded residencies at MacDowell, the Banff Centre, and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. Julia can be found at www.juliazarankin.com.



  1. elizabeth says:

    love the story – loved it the first time I read it and more the second time.
    Elizabeth in appreciation


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