School Lunch: It’s Elementary

Gardner’s white bread in the yellow bag, butter, a leaf of iceberg lettuce, a slice of bologna; a Twinkie, Zinger or HoHo; an apple; 15 cents for a carton of milk.  If we were taking a field trip we could bring a can of pop wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it cool. 

Once when we went to the Outdoor Lab to track squirrels and pick wild mint leaves someone came across a grass snake all curled up and green in the main building where we were to eat.  There would be no going in until the snake came out, but I think we should have lunched right there jowl to jowl with the tired green thing whose world we’d intruded upon.

Instead, a high school boy clomped through the building armed with a broken stick and heaps of bravado, scooped up the snake and emerged victorious, snake curled and perturbed above our heads.

We filed in, paper sacks twisted tightly in our cold, early morning fingers and reformed our social groups in coagulating masses.

Where ever we were, lunch was always a proving ground–who would sit by Suzy, what secret was passed around behind cupped hands, sleep-over invites, weekend spoils, copy-cat jealousy–they all made their play.  Our lunch bags stayed the same.  Until 5th grade.

Homeroom lunch ticket sales on Thursday afternoons didn’t concern me unless I conned Ma into some spare change for a couple weeks worth of pizza tickets.  Every week without fail the lunch lady left her steamy pots and dusty hairnets behind and trundled through the hallways with a plastic cart, tickets and lock box.

Now, I always tried to stay under the radar in school and most of the time did just fine by that, (except when I got conned into taking the fall for the “Vaseline on the window sill” incident, but that’s another story).  As it was, my wallflower tendencies usually kept me out of the lime light even though I always had my ear cocked for the slightest sign of recognition. 

That recognition came just before 3 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.  The lunch lady called me out into the hall.  I weird-walked, (people say I have a weird walk, I don’t know) out of the room with my usual “somebody said my name” crimson face on and approached the ticket cart.

She glanced at me, pulled five tickets off the roll and handed them over with a sealed envelope.  “This is for your mom,” she said and moved on to the other kids.

I didn’t know what was up at the time, but was mildly excited for the prospect of tater-tots and hot dogs everyday.  As it turns out, I would be eating hot lunch for the rest of my tenure at Monroe Elementary.

See, when I turned 11 Ma and I moved into an apartment building.  This would be the beginning of the “only-child years” as I like to think of them, all my siblings off and living their lives, Ma and me left to our own devices.  The apartment was in good shape, 2 bedrooms, upstairs with a balcony.  It was also low income housing which led the way to all sorts of marvels, namely free lunches, government cheese and crocks of cheap peanut butter.

Lucky for me my friends didn’t cotton to any pretensions involving hot lunch.  They may have even been a little jealous that pizza day was always on my agenda, while bologna on white bread got permanently scratched off.

But like that cozy snake in the middle of the woods the natural order of things was upset, because standing in line for a country-fried steak assures your place at the table is already filled.

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About E. Victoria Flynn

E. Victoria Flynn is a mother and a writer living in Southern Wisconsin. Published in a variety of venues, Victoria is currently writing the first in a series of three fantasy novels based on Cornish folklore. When not taking part in a shrieking dance party or engrossed in her own little fictions, Victoria is keen on art, the natural world and people unafraid to explore their own brilliance.
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5 Responses to School Lunch: It’s Elementary

  1. twinsmom says:

    I'll never forget when I qualified for reduced lunch in high school. I hated everything about hot lunch. All I wanted was chocolate milk and a Ho-Ho. My friend Ray wanted hot lunch badly, very badly. Yet his mother ignored his pleas, packing him a sandwich each day and giving him 85 cents for extras, just enough for chocolate milk and a Ho-Ho. No pretensions for us. Just practicalities. A deal was made. Ho-Hos and chocolate milk for me. Hot lunch for my buddy Ray.

  2. Tiffany G says:

    I was just talking about the fabulous concoction that was government cheese, in the big bricks inside a gray box.

  3. evf says:

    Twinsmom,What a great deal. You won hands down. I couldn't stomach milk unless it was chocolate. Tiffany,Something about it wasn't fabulous for me. But it's better than no cheese, yeah?

  4. no mincing of words, love the tight turns and all you cover…just the mention of tater tots and sleepovers gives me the gradeschool creeps…and now I'll be back, of course, to read about the vaseline on the window incident…

  5. evf says:

    Tania,You are always so kind. I'll have to write that one up soon, I was such a good girl…most of the time. 🙂

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