I recognized the red dress with its prim white collar right away. I’d seen her on the Bisquick box a hundred times. I was five when I spotted Betty Crocker in the snack bar on an Army base in Germany.
The memory of that day is vivid. I left my mother absentmindedly turning a blue graham cracker box in her hands, and sidled toward the table where Betty Crocker sat, reading a magazine.
“I know who you are,” I said. “You’re Betty Crocker.”
She looked up. Her face melted into a dazzling smile that I knew was just for me. She nodded and went back to reading her magazine. I could not believe my luck. I could hardly stand it! I ran back to my mother’s side and tried not to point, “It’s Betty Crocker!” I whispered.
My mother smiled. “Oh, yes. It IS Betty Crocker. Isn’t that nice?”
How could a day be any better?
Years later, when my siblings and I were grown and married, we were sitting around my parents’ dining room table for a family dinner. We were talking about the interesting people we’d met through the years.
“I’ll never forget meeting Betty Crocker,” I said.
“Annie’s idyllic childhood…” said my brother. “Where were we?”
“Who introduced you?” asked my sister. “Mrs. Butterworth?”
“Maybe Uncle Ben,” answered my other brother.
My dad laughed, “Annie, you can sure think ’em up.”
“Mom was there, she knows. Weren’t you, Mom?” I implored.
“Annie, Betty Crocker isn’t real.”
“Mom, we met her in the snack bar in Germany. You know we did.”
“Oh yes, I remember that woman… she was chosen to dress up and promote Betty Crocker products for General Mills. You know, if you look at the portraits of Betty Crocker over time, you’ll see they change with time, but they never age.”
My mother went on to tell us how she would never forget meeting Elsie, the Borden Cow, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. It turns out the Borden Cow was real.
Betty Crocker may have had her picture on the Bisquick Box, but she wasn’t the one that mixed Bisquick into Sunday morning magic as my father’s sound track of The Music Man played in the background. She wasn’t the one who let me stand on the stool next to her and stir as we sang 76 Trombones. She wasn’t the one who let me lick the spoon.
It turns out I didn’t meet Betty Crocker in a snack bar on an Army base in Germany, after all. I met her in my mother’s kitchen.