My parents weren’t home much – neither pulled into the driveway until 6 PM at the earliest. For a few precious hours after school, then, I could do whatever I wanted. My real dad during such proceedings was a combination of Hollywood screenwriters and slick actor, my mom the heavily processed output of a dozen dim factories across the country, packaged with bright colors and enticing descriptions. I was a child of the system, plopped in front of a television with a TV dinner. I was a typical American kid, and one day my generation was going to rule the world.
No, I don’t have any fond memories of grandma’s mystery meatloaf of mom’s pea soup. What I do remember is cracking an egg over Jiffy corn muffin mix, pouring a dash of milk in and stirring, licking up a spoonful of batter and then microwaving the mixture on high. Out came cornbread a few minutes later, gold and fluffy, and I dug in with my fingers, stuffing clumps of sweet, moist bread into my mouth. I can still hear my lips smacking. Probably Boy Meets World or Cartoon Network was on in the background, blaring from the living room.
That, for me, is nostalgia.
Jiffy is a classic brand from Chelsea Milling Company in Chelsea, Michigan, dating back to the 1930s. It revolutionized the kitchen right alongside products like Ragu, Kool-Aid, and Pop-Tarts. Suddenly, cooking was easy. Freed from the drudgery of lengthy meal preparations and other menial chores, housewives the nation over found themselves questioning their role in society. One mother, quoted by Betty Friedan in her landmark book The Feminine Mystique, summed up the zeitgeist well:
“I’ve tried everything women are supposed to do – hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my neighbors, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it doesn’t leave you anything to think about – any feeling of who you are. I never had any career ambitions. All I wanted was to get married and have four children. I love the kids and Bob and my home. There’s no problem you can even put a name to. But I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?”
Who am I? It’s a question that defines modern existence. So perhaps it’s ironic that in Chelsea Jiffy is a symbol of stability, the blue and white cardboard boxes as iconic as a Campbell’s Soup can, so ubiquitous and recognizable the parent company stopped advertising it altogether. The box, after all, says it all. From historic Main Street, the grain silos are ever-present over the brick buildings, pumping out the dozens of different mixes (from blueberry muffins to pizza crust) that company owner Mabel White Holmes once quipped are “so simple, even a man can do it.”
Luckily for Chelsea, sales are good, and Chelsea Milling Company has continuously reinvested its profits back into the city, refusing to go public so it can stick to its guns. In fact, Chelsea Milling Company’s claws are so deep in the city that Chelsea’s official seal includes the company’s famous silos in outline, right next to the city’s beloved clock tower. Tours of the plant are undoubtedly a core part of any local elementary curriculum, in a town where the average income far exceeds the national median.
In the hard hit rust belt, it’s nice to see industry thriving somewhere.