“Yes, lunch lady/ma’am, sir!”
For the past week, I’ve found myself tripping down memory lane. Most of these memories involve elementary school, and the absolute strangest times I have had in my entire life.
Shall I continue? Are you sure you WANT me to continue? Okay . . .
Today’s post will center on the lunchtime rituals. But first, let me give everyone a little background information about this school. Small. Small. Small.
Okay, now that I got this out of the way. What? Oh, all right. The town I grew up in was very, um, small. Rural. Population: 600. Since there’s no way that population would consist of strictly preteens (not without having the school become torched), the attendance roster was a short one. Since this was the case, the building itself was not very accommodating.
The structural plans consisted of all the classrooms on the outer perimeter with a big open space at the center having the stage. This space was used as the auditorium, the gymnasium, and the cafeteria. This meant the district had to plan classes carefully for the K-6 students or they would end up having basketballs in plates of spaghetti while off-key singing came from the chorus on stage.
It worked out quite well for the cafeteria staff, since they could actually blame the funk from the mystery meat on the smelly sock aroma from the previous gym class. They stylized the lunch period to that of a military camp, yet worse. Even in the military, the soldiers could relax and enjoy their meals. The 5 - 12 year olds were not so lucky.
Ten neat rows of tables stretched through the room. We filed in and immediately took our seats. Those who needed to buy their lunches had to wait until the lunch lady came to each table and allowed them to go to the lunch line - in a single file. Those who had bag lunches had to wait for the others to get their lunch trays and sit. Before being allowed to eat, the lunch lady would go down the list of students making sure we sat in our assigned seats.
Yes, you heard right. We had assigned seating: alphabetical order by last names. I had the fortune of having boys surround me on all sides. I never said this was good or bad fortune.
Once everyone had a meal in front of them, we could eat - quietly. Talking was not permitted. The lunch ladies had complained to the office that the noise level gave them headaches and this would require raises to their paychecks to cover medical visits. Since the district didn’t have that kind of funding just lying around, they gave the women ultimate authority during lunchtime.
They pushed this authority to the extremes. The women walked up and down the aisles, watching us eat. They scolded us. They threw glares. They barked orders.
“Bobby, don’t slurp from your juice box.”
“Greg, pretzels are not nostril cleaners.”
“Michelle, eat your sandwich. Michelle, I said for you to eat your sandwich. MICHELLE! DON’T YOU DARE THROW THAT SANDWICH IN THE TRASH. YOU EAT IT RIGHT NOW!”
Yes, the “Michelle” in question was yours truly. Often they told me to eat my meal, which I wouldn’t normally have a problem with except that evil space monsters had infiltrated the brown bag and spewed a foul substance all over the underside of the bread. MAYO!
Ugh! Ugh! Hack! Hack!
I hate mayonnaise. To this day, it turns my stomach. If I had a choice of eating a 1 inch square piece of bread with the lightest swipe of mayo on top or eating a whole honking slab of stinky rotten carrion topped with slug slime and sprinkled with bird droppings, I would say, “Pass me the bib and a clothespin for my nose because I’m picking the carrion!”
Anyway, I had that oh-so-special hate/hate relationship with those women when it came to eating my mayo sandwich - since that was all there was left between the bread because the mayo came alive and ate the ham and cheese. The first few times, I threw it away. They caught me and gave that same lecture, “people are starving in [third world country] who would love to have the food you are throwing away.” Then they would send me to the principal’s office.
After this, I learned of the trade system and would simply give the sandwich away to the highest bidder. The dreaded lunch ladies were not pleased and they instituted a school-wide ban on all barter operations (Serious- the gall those women had). They left me no other option but to hide the sandwich before school. I took it out the bag and tossed it into the pine trees before getting on the bus. When debarking after school, I retrieved the sandwich and fed it to the many animals on my property: pigs, dogs, cats. It was great living on a farm!
Oh! Let me mention what happened during the food fights! We had one at least once a month. We never planned them because no one would know which student’s mind would crack under the pressure. Someone would show a dazed gleam in their eyes, a smile would slip on their lips, and their arms would convulse to send foodstuffs airborne. When the mayhem died down, the lunch ladies made us pick up the food while screaming. Then the women began a prison lock-down for the next few months.
The women would choose one table of students to eat their lunch first within a specified amount of time. Once the stopwatch clicked down, the kids closed lunch boxes or deposited their empty trays on the stage. Then the kids had to cross arms and place their heads down with faces staring at the table. Yikes!
Cruel and unusual punishment, thy name was elementary school during lunch time!