Friday, August 26, 2011

Lunchtime Reflections

When I was in Junior High we all spoke longingly of the day we could go "uptown" to eat lunch. I can remember from the time we hit 7th grade we all talked about the day we could go off-campus and partake of whatever unhealthy treats awaited us. Some of us loudly proclaimed we would eat candy for lunch because, let's face it, sometimes 7th graders lack imagination when it comes to dietary rebellion. Some of us said we'd only drink soda because after having no choice but white milk from Kindergarten up really builds up a sense of needing to break free in the beverage department I guess. The really rebellious ones had no desire to eat whatsoever - they only wanted off campus so they could either smoke or make out with whatever flavor or the week they were "going with". Looking back, the ones who said they were going to smoke, probably didn't. The make-outers, though, yeah....they probably did already while on campus. They were just tired of having to work so hard to be sneaky.

Freshman year was the magic year we could leave behind the security of the campus that sheltered us for six hours and 15 minutes a day and be free spirits for that 45 minute lunch break. Some of us found a loophole our 8th grade year and discovered that some kind upperclassmen would gladly take your $2.00 and purchase a $1.50 cheeseburger for you and not bring you back one red cent of change and we were totally okay with their profiting from our stupidity. We were just tired of square pizza slices and fish sticks every Friday. We thought we were cool being all sneaky with our contraband off-campus food and scarfing it down while watching for a rogue teacher to come wandering over between the gyms where we were hanging out.

Shortly after the beginning of 7th grade I quit eating school lunches. Every day the line wound up the two flights of stairs that led from the Junior High hall down to the cafeteria below and spilled out into the hall and sometimes into the lobby. Waiting in that line left absolutely no time for me to socialize and my 12 year old self would not give up social time, nuh uh, no way, no how. When I first started skipping school lunches I would instead buy a Diet Coke from the lobby vending machine and a $1 candybar from the Junior High Pep Club sponsor, Mrs. Reid. For $1.50 I got an afternoon's worth of caffeine and sugar and absolutely no nutrition whatsoever. Not long after that, my best friend, DeLisa, somehow talked her mother into preparing she and I a lunch every single day and that kind woman never asked me once for payment. I guarantee you that I never told my mother this fact because she would have been mortified that RoseMary fed her eldest child every day for nearly two years and was never reimbursed. Mortified, I tell you. In fact, if she reads this she may very well call RoseMary up and offer to write her a check.

My Freshman year finally arrived and even though our family qualified for free lunches through the state program for poor, malnourished kids, I would have considered prostitution on a street corner to get money to eat uptown rather than visit that cafeteria (and that would've been something considering that until October of that year I had never been kissed and frankly, found the whole process of mere kissing to be disgusting). Fortunately, every Monday my mother somehow always managed to send me with lunch money for the week, thus saving me from a life of prostitution. My father was in nursing school, we were living off of her meager income as a legal secretary and the money she made cleaning houses on the weekends, so really I don't know how she found an elastic area of the budget to allow for her self-centered 14 year old to eat junk food every day, but she did. She's amazing like that.

I don't remember eating uptown with the aforementioned BFF, DeLisa, that year and I think it had something to do with athletics. I think basketball girls either got out of gym too late to go uptown or had to be in the gym too early the following hour to allow it. Or maybe the coach demanded they put something halfway healthy into their bodies. I don't remember eating uptown with Stacie much either. But Chloe and I, man, we were the queens of tuna sandwiches from the cooler, a bag of Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles and a bottle of Coke. Every day, the same thing. The chip flavor didn't change. The soda didn't change. Occasionally, the tuna sandwiches would all be gone by the time we got there and we'd instead get a couple of Blow Pops to substitute for the loss of protein. We managed to eat this feast for $1.72.  Of course, I rolled my eyes to hear my mother freak out about how expensive that was because back in her day, she'd get a sandwich or burger, a bag of Fritos and a bottle of Vess for .52. The times, they had definitely a'changed. They've changed even more. It costs my oldest child $3 or more every day now. *sigh*

Eventually C&R Grocery closed - I think during my Sophomore year - and we turned to eating greasy cheeseburgers from a little burger grill (I think simply called "The Cafe") that took advantage of the opportunity and opened up right across from the gymnasium. They were heavy on mustard and onions and grease would just drip out of the waxed paper pocket they came in. If you were dying of starvation because Typing had just been ever so strenuous that day, you would sometimes bite into the greasy goodness before removing the toothpick, thus injuring your palate. I'm pretty sure every kid at Wyandotte High that year gained 15 pounds because of those burgers. To this day, I can still taste them, though. No really. I mean, literally. Sometimes I belch and I'm like, yep, that one tasted like my Sophomore year.

It had to have been the latter half of my Sophomore year - because I'm sure I was driving by then - that I gained about three hours of infamy because of lunch time at school. We had all gotten our Recommended Daily Allowance of grease and mustard from The Cafe and I was finishing up my Diet Coke (oh, the irony) as the bell rang. I tipped the can back as far as it would be and slugged back the last of what was in the can. Suddenly, I felt a strange sensation on my tongue. And the roof of my mouth. And my throat. I coughed. Then I gagged. I coughed some more. It occured to me what had happened. I stopped walking in the midst of the herd of trampling teenagers and loudly screamed, "I JUST SWALLOWED A TRASH BEE!"

What we called "trash bees" are actually yellow jackets. We called them trash bees because they swarmed those outdoor trash cans like crazy. Apparently they liked mustard and hamburger grease as much as we did. The only thing I can figure out is that one of them had wandered inside my soda can while I talked with my friends, languishing in the saccharine-y delights ensconsed within that aluminum can, and when I tipped back the can, it got caught in the deluge and ..... yeah..... I drank it. It fought the good fight, stinging all the way down, but succumbed to the horror of being eaten alive by a 15 year old. My next class was Home Ec, so I ran in, half laughing, half crying, to Mrs. Johnson and told her I was probably going to die soon and could I be excused to call my mom before I expired? She gave me a cup of ice cubes and sent me to the office where I told the secretary and principal the story, all the while my tongue getting larger and larger, my throat getting narrower and more sore. RoseMary called my mom at work who in turn called the family doctor. He advised getting some Benadryl in me ASAP, told her to have me suck on some ice cubes for the swelling and to alert the staff that if I stopped breathing to call an ambulance. Duh. I don't know where the Benadryl came from, but by the time school let out that day at 3:12 my tongue, while still sore and thick feeling, was no longer resembling something out of a sci-fi movie. From then on, I kept my thumb over the opening of my soda can. So did my friends.

By the time I was a Senior, Butterfield's General Store had opened and our menu veritably exploded with variety!  We could choose from a hamburger, chicken strips, Frito chili pie, a bowl of chili with cheese, fries and tater tots. And the fountain drinks were aplenty! The second the bell rang after our 4th hours class, we would stampede our the doors and head uptown and invade that teeny tiny store. Some local adults in town were usually there when we arrived, sitting at the bar stools, but we didn't care. We didn't have time to sit, we grabbed our food and ran.

One day the store was particuarly full. Cyndi and I were toward the back of the crowd waiting our turn to order. Another kid in our class, Keeling, was particularly snarky that day and apparently I was particularly cranky. He mouthed off to me, I snapped back at him. He responded by calling me a b*tch. I hauled back and slapped him across the face as hard as I possibly could. The whole entire store went instantly silent as the pink hand print blossomed across his cheek. He blinked a couple of times. I fumed in anger and turned around to wait my turn in line. Eventually people started talking again and a few of the "regulars" sitting at the counter chuckled and looked back at me.

Little did I know that would be the first time my husband would lay eyes on me. He was a skinny red-headed 28 year old, I was a short, overly-emotional 18 year old. He was employed and living on his own. I was a Senior, angry with the world and angry that I had to grow up. We wouldn't meet for nearly another year and a half and it would be another year or so after that before he'd tell me he was in the store that day, sitting at the counter with his friend, Dean, impressed at the attitude and anger I displayed as I waylaid the kid who called me a name.

I'm guessing he liked it.

1 comment:

Anonyvox said...

Great post! How you tied all of that stuff into one cohesive post, I don't know. But you did!

I can't believe you didn't die from the yellow jacket stings. We call them "meat bees" in Idaho.