Tracy K. Lorenz ...



It may seem odd, but I was always a little envious of the kids who brought a bag lunch in grade school. They got sandwiches and Twinkies and chips and Fizzies (flavored tablets that you dropped into a glass of water) and some kids even had cool lunch boxes depicting The Monkees or the Banana Splits. Me? I got what the lunch lady gave me.

Lunch at a private Catholic school was very military, instead of drill sergeants we had nuns who were basically drill sergeants without the compassion. We were marched double-file over to the lunch room which was across the street from the school and that’s where our cuisine awaited, the plates were already on the table when we arrived, there were no options, no choices. The walk over was filled with equal amounts of excitement and dread because you never knew what food was waiting.

There wasn’t a lot of “fun” kid food as I recall, no pizza, no Sloppy Joes. We might get macaroni and cheese now and then but the meal I remember most was hamburger and rice, not mixed together, one scoop of hamburger, one scoop of rice, with a side of green beans that weren’t all that green. On a good day we’d get fruit cocktail which was heavy on the white grapes, if you were lucky enough to get a half a cherry it was like Mary had smiled upon you.

The drinks were always the same, a little house-shaped carton of milk that never opened easily; hand one of these babies to today’s juice-box kids and they’d die of thirst. Opening one of those cartons was like solving a Chinese nesting puzzle, but on the plus side if you were able to sneak an empty carton out with you to the playground you could stomp on it and it sounded like a grenade going off. The nuns looooved that. Back then the nuns wore full-length skirts so you couldn’t see their feet when they ran, it looked like they were riding Segways. You’d hear the “POP!” of a milk carton and then see a couple of nuns flying towards the noise and you just KNEW that a dose of Sister Francella justice was about to go

For dessert we usually got a cookie, except on Fridays. On Fridays we got brownies with powdered sugar on top.  What the powdered sugar meant was you could tap a kid on the shoulder, he’d turn around, and you could blow the powdered sugar in his face. Tap tap tap ... POOF! Of course this had to be done at the precise moment a nun turned away because if you got caught you would likely never be seen again. I'm not sure anyone ever ate the powdered sugar off their brownie. I am sure that as we were marched back across the street half the kids looked like they just left a party at Studio 54.

But the most memorable part of our lunch room was the bread lady.  The bread lady was AT LEAST 400 years old and she pushed around a metal cart piled with buttered bread. Her MO was to hold up a piece of bread with one hand while pushing the cart with the other hand while saying “Breeeead ... breeeead” like the Cryptkeeper.

The problem was if you raised your hand for a piece of bread you would get the piece she was holding up which had a hole in it where she shoved her thumb through. Some kid would always have to take one for the team. He’d ask for the piece of thumb-bread and when she stopped to give it to him the kids in the vicinity would grab bread off her cart before she could one-hole-punch the next piece.

Maybe the food wasn’t all that great but at least it was memorable. The other memorable thing was back then lunch wasn’t just lunch, it was more like eating class. You learned manners, you learned how to hold a fork, you learned how to eat quietly, how to say “Please pass the salt,” and “May I be excused?” until it was more than second nature, it was a full on ... habit.

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