Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meditations on the divided tray...

(And misc. memories about school lunches.)

You know how people always complain about airplane and hospital food? I know I'm revealing how weird I am when I admit it, but, really, I love the stuff. "Why on earth?" you may ask. There's a short answer and a long answer.
Short answer: Because it has the exotic distinction of being made in some kitchen other than my own. This is not because I don't get out enough nowadays (I actually just went out to dinner at Ruby Tuesday just last night with my husband, thanks to a dear son who offered to babysit, bless his heart). No, my unusually strong preference for eat-out food goes way back.
Which leads to the long answer (if you have a couple minutes).
See this is the way it was ~ my brothers and sisters and I never got to buy hot lunches at the Holy Trinity School cafeteria. Ever. Back when four of us were in grade school, Mom dutifully packed our lunch the night before, assembly-line style:
1) apple butter, pb&j, or pimiento cheese on Wonder bread, Wonder bread,Wonder bread, Wonder bread
2) one banana or apple, apple, apple, apple

3) a fold-over plastic baggie containing two
cookies, cookies, cookies, cookies,

4) .15 for a little carton of white milk, milk, milk, milk,

Nobody ever asked us for a trade.

We chewed on our white bread sandwiches, ate our two cookies, threw away our apple, and tried not to look too obviously jealous of the hot lunch crowd. But there was no talking our mother into hot lunches. Please don't misunderstand; I'm not complaining or blaming my mother for a tragedy in my life. Her reasoning was perfectly understandable:
.75 X 4 children, 5 days a week added up to way more than my frugal mom wanted to spend.
But, there was some small consolation. We did have that .15 a day to work with. If we went without milk one day, we could add that .15 to our daily budget and upgrade to the .20 carton of chocolate milk. When I was in second grade, I thought I was pretty smart to work that out.
By the time I was in fourth grade, I decided to move beyond chocolate milk and divised a plan to save up my milk money until I had enough for my own hot lunch. Now I knew I was moving into genius realm. Except there was one hitch: my big brother (and nemesis at the time), Stephen.
When I was in fourth grade, he was in fifth, and our two grades shared the 11:45 lunch time. If Steve saw me in the hot lunch line, he'd rat on me and I'd be in big trouble. There was no question in my mind that my mother would not appreciate my going behind her back to sneak a hot lunch. And my brother would have scored one against me. Couldn't have that. No, there was only one way I might make it work; I'd have to wait to get my hot lunch when my brother stayed home for a sick day. (Dang.) Which meant I'd have to go without milk for a whole week, then squirrel my money away somewhere at school to have it ready for when Steve came down sick.
And I did that. I drank only water from the water fountain with my lunch for a whole week., hid my .75 and waited. And waited. And waited.
Steve was a very healthy child.
Spring came. Still no hot lunch for Lisa. Easter came and went. Not much hope of hot lunch; Steve was as robust as ever. But, then, things changed for the better. Lo and behold! After Easter vacation, our school opened up an ice cream counter at the back of the cafeteria. Great cries of happiness were heard throughout the land! We were actually allowed to buy ice cream and eat it out on the playground after lunch! Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, those little plastic tubs with the wooden paddle spoons! Was this heaven, or what?
So, the .75 that had been folded up in paper and hidden in the bottom of my pencil case since October would have a purpose after all! I still had to slip past my brother's usual seat at the back table to buy the icecream, then eat it without him noticing, but there were worse obstacles I might have had to overcome.
This was doable.
I worked out a plan with my friend, Norma McGinnis (whose mother, incidentally, was divorced and out of guilt, we both thought, gave her money for both a hot lunch and icecream every single day). I would give her my money and Norma would buy my icecream for me ~ a Dreamsicle (be still my heart!) ~ and meet me around the corner of the garden gate at the far end of the playground where the hedge was really bushy. We could sit, unseen, inside the crevice of the gate, and eat our popsicles together. Steve always hung around with the boys by the tether balls, so would be on the opposite side of the blacktop and none the wiser. It just might work.
And so, the day came. When the lunch bell rang, I put my .20 (the cost of the Dreamsicles) in my little blue sweater pocket. Purposefully not looking even in the direction of my brother's table, I ate my lunch as nonchalantly as I could. I choked down my pimiento cheese sandwich, gave my cookies to the girl across from me, and ate my apple ~ out of guilt.
When she had eaten her hot lunch and put away her tray, Norma swung by me and whispered, "Here I go. You want a Dreamsicle, right? I'm getting an ice cream sandwich. I'll see you in a minute. You go out now." So, I got up, keeping my eyes averted from both my brother and Norma, threw away my trash, and stiffly walked past Steve's table, past the icecream counter, and out the cafeteria door. Then I hightailed it across the playground to our secret meeting spot, and skid to a stop in my black maryjanes when I saw that there, leaning against the gate with a fudgesicle in his mouth...

was my brother, Steve.
He didn't say anything, and neither did I. He had the wide-eyed, frantic look of a kid whose hand has just been caught in the cookie jar. Oh, happy day, that I was the reason for that twitch in his eye! He had just opened his mouth to say something (undoubtedly snide), when Norma edged up with the Dreamsicle behind her back. I could see the alarm on her face when she saw Steve, but then she looked down at the Fudgesicle in his hand, and with instant decision, smiled at Steve and handed me my Dreamsicle. I would have liked to prolong my brother's moment of agony a bit longer, if I had had the choice... But, ah well.
Norma and I tore off our popsicle wrappers, and stuffed the wrappers in our pockets as we turned our backs and walked back out into the open space of the playground, where, at every lunch recess for the rest of the school year we ate our popsicles in peace and freedom.

(And I drank water with my lunch)
And, so, Mom, now you know.
The cat's outta the bag, Steve.
And, Norma McGinnis, wherever you are ~ I still love orange Dreamsicles.


Anne P said...

Lisa, OPC baby! Other People's Cookin! It's the best!

Marie said...

I have to admit the hospital in my area serves great food. I came home after having a meatloaf from the hospital(which was delicious) I then tried to make it myself to a complete disaster!

Now to let you know what type of cook I am...I often find that measuring things are so time consuming! So I cut corners...I remember trying to make tuna patties but I kept putting more flour in it cos it looked too well er mushy...So once I felt it was solid I then fried them.

When I served them up we all found to our amazement they were so bouncy we could have played TENNIS with em!...Want me to cook dinner for you? LOL!

With love and laughs

Marie xooxoxoxo

MightyMom said...


oh my goodness how fun!!

will have to send this to my hubby, who makes our preschoolers PB&J, 2 (homemade) chocolate chip cookies, cheezits (hot and spicy--yes, they're weird kids.) and water for lunch.....every day day day day.

maybe we'll have to let them order a hot lunch IF they're good on special occasions....once they're in grammar school!


Laura said...

That is a great story. Send it in to Reader's Digest or a family magazine. I love it.

Kim H. said...


Now that my dear, is a great story. You had me smiling the whole time. I'm totally doing a lunch post now, cause do I have some stories.

Love the choclate milk upgrade - hilarious.

And the whole Norma and Steve story is priceless. I love it!

Thanks for popping by my blog. I can't wait to poke around yours more. I'm sure I could learn a thing or two from a wonderful, seasoned wife and mom like yourself.


Delena said...

LOVE the story. You have a gift at telling stories! Thank you for the smiles!

Lisa said...

Great story! No one wanted to switch with my lunches, either. I had "weird" food - V-8 juice and creamed cheese and jelly sandwiches.

I ate Hohos and chocolate milk every single day in eighth grade. My mom was horrified when I admitted that as an adult.

SuzyQ said...

I loved this! And yes I get exactly what you're saying with the hospital/airline food thing :0)
Just the idea that somebody else had cooked it!!!
When i was in hospital having the girls the food trolley was a real perk!

Lisa said...

Anne ~ LOL! That's exactly it! I'd rather sidle up to Wimpy at the counter than make my own hamboiger, anyday!

Marie ~ You are so funny! Oh my goodness ~ i could tell some tales, too... I'm a very impatient cook, too. For the record, I would have eaten your tuna patties and complimented you on them. And, I just know there would have been a good laugh with the meal, which seasons everything perfectly. &:o)

MM, Laura, Kim, Delena, Lisa & Suzy ~ I'm so glad you had fun with this one. I did, too. &:o) My sister e-mailed me after she read it and questioned my details. -gg- I told her that I have the genetic right of an Irish Mutt storyteller to make liberty with the details. Though I really didn't embellish much at all, really. (Just a little...)

Cathy Adamkiewicz said...

What a great story! I want a dreamsicle RIGHT NOW!!!