School Lunches

School lunches? This was one of the writing assignments I am not sure about for a couple of reasons. Primarily it is because I come from an older generation where there were still hot lunches prepared by ladies who would sneak me a cookie if I came down to the kitchen in the early morning. I would ask. “What is on the menu today?” If I like it then I had school lunch, and it was my job in high school to report back to the other students what we were having. Of course, I would bypass the fact that I got a cookie because that was my personal treat for being friends with the cooks. It wasn’t like a cafeteria style today with loads of processed foods. There were meats, potatoes and veggies and there were in proper serving portions. Everything was homemade, to boot, as was the dessert. The only processed food was the carton of milk. Nope, there were no soft drinks.

That was high school. School was broken up into grades 1-6; after that was junior high were grades 7-9, with high school being 10-12. At least it was that way where I went to public school.

But grade school lunches were the real impact of lunches in my memory. Why? Because my mom in the 1960s was divorced with six children, worked full time, owned a two-story home and a car. Doesn’t really sound that unique in 2014 in the 1960s in America that was a huge deal for a woman to support six kids by herself on a obviously lower income by far than a man. We didn’t get food stamps we got what my mom could afford to feed us. So even more unique is that my mom made sure each and every one of us got a basic lunch five days a week.

We opted for sack lunches or in many cases those crazy metal lunch pails. They were the best! I loved my lunch pail not just for the lunch but on the playground it was the weapon of choice to keep those dang bullies off me.  I would put some rocks in and wham! “Get away from me you creep!” Yup, I was a tomboy 100% and loved it.  The lunchbox offered a basically 1960s sustainable lunch. My mom would line up six lunches in the morning, making six sandwiches, six pieces of fruit and three cookies each. Then in her mass production way she would load in the apple, the cookies and the sandwich came last.

I was next to the youngest so I had the metal lunch pail with my name in black marker on it. As my siblings got older they got the coveted brown paper back lunch with their name on the corner. That was always the last step. Then she would set them back on the counter and turn her attention to making sure we were all off to school, that no one was sick that day or were there notes to sign for various reasons from the teachers. All that mass production was done by a woman in her prime, working a job all day and supporting us hungry fledglings on a meager income.

I have never remembered feeling without food those days when we had school lunches made by her. In fact, I never remember missing breakfast or supper either. We didn’t have a lot treats, never got to go out to eat because it was too expensive but mom provided all that. She worked all day, came home to us, did her domestic goddess scene and put us to bed. I don’t remember her having much if a social life. Well, except she was President of the VFW Women’s Auxiliary.

But those lunches met a lot to me and even now I know those lunches met a lot more than what was in my lunch pail. I get that my mother fought hard to make sure that my sibs and I were provided for. I hear how moms struggle with one or two kids and a husband to boot and wonder how my mom ever did it. It was a real testimony to her inner strength. My mom is gone now and has been gone since I was in my forties. The longer she is gone the more I appreciate her strength.

The other side of me? Well, that is the kid in me that remembers hanging from gym bars, playing tetherball and bashing someone with my lunch pail. The jokester, the silly girl that others see but my mom made that possible. I never did regret the sandwich, apple and cookies. It was dependable and somewhat healthy for the time I grew up. I never thought the kids who bought lunches were better because those homemade lunches were by choice. As we got older the choice of having school lunches bought would be offered. “No mom,” I said, “I like the lunches I already have.” Some of my sibs opted for school lunches that were bought. I never did. And even as an adult in the working world I kept up the homemade lunch tradition. Why? It just felt like home. Still does.

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