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Sep 27 2012

My Little Town 20120926: School Lunch

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

Back when I was going to grade school, lunch was always a welcome break from the humdrum of class, where most of the students did not care at all to learn and teachers who for a large part were not qualified to teach.  Lunch allowed you to talk with your friends and, if you got finished soon enough, take the rest of the period for recess.

In addition to lunch there were morning and afternoon milk breaks.  My friend Rex and I usually were the ones to carry the milk to the different classes because we were good students and could make up anything that we missed (and it is unlikely that we missed anything, because most of the teachers just read out of the book).

I am guessing that there were around 400 or 500 students in all 12 grades at Hackett School.  As I recall, there were three cooks and several students that used the lunch duty as a study hall, to get their lunch free since they were poor.

At our school there was little choice as to what you got.  You got what the cooks cooked, except the high school students had the option of a hamburger and French fries rather than the standard fare.

Here are some typical menus that we were offered.

Pinto beans with ham or bacon

Cornbread (too sweet cornbread)

Spinach or other greens

Butter for the cornbread

Some sort of dessert, like cake or fruit

Peanut butter balls

Cheese wedges

Salad with French dressing

Roll or slice of bread

Some sort of dessert, like cake or fruit

Beef stew

Salad

Roll

Butter

Some sort of dessert, like cake or fruit

School baked something that sort of looked like pizza

Salad

Some sort of dessert, like cake or fruit

I also remember having lots of canned green beans, canned whole kernel corn, cornbread, dill pickle slices, cheese wedges, and the like.  In retrospect, I now know the reason for that.

Except for perishables and a few other items, most of the food was provided to the school at low cost by the USDA.  Many people with low incomes got what were then called “commodity food” in those days before WIC and food stamps.  My great aunt qualified, and I remember some of the things in the box that she would get every month or so.

It contained corn meal, flour, powdered milk, butter, American cheese (everyone liked the “them gubmit cheeses), smooth peanut butter, lots of times dried fruit like prunes or apples, and various other items that USDA had more than it needed in its warehouses.  Many of those same things went to schools in large quantities.

I do not know if frozen ground beef was in the program, but I know that we had a lot of ground beef dishes at school.  The stew was made with ground beef, the “pizza” was, and several other things were.  Oh, even the gradeshcoolers got hamburgers now and then!

The kitchen crew would spend the morning cooking and preparing, and they entire student body was fed in two periods.  There was a ritual.

The first grade and the second grade (there was only one class, like all of the other grades through 12) went first, at 11:00 or so.  They would march to the cafetorium (combination cafeteria and auditorium), go through the line, and get their food.  Most kids would pay a quarter going through the line, but some kids had a pass that their parents would buy that was good for a week for $1.20.  Actually, this was a tremendous value because the food, although not up to par by 2012 standards, was pretty good, very filling, and relatively healthy.  You got what they served, and half pint of milk (whole, buttermilk, or chocolate).

I do not know how the poor kids got their lunches except for the ones that worked kitchen duty.  That was before the real push to provide free or highly subsidized lunches that came years later.  My thought is that the faculty and staff sort of looked the other way and fed the kids that could not afford the quarter.  I would be surprised if it were otherwise.

Anyway, about 20 minutes after the first two grades went, the next two went.  There was enough room in the cafetorium for four grades, but after 20 minutes most of the kids in the first and second grades were done.  We would take our trays to the window and the student aide would take them and begin cleaning them.  Then the fifth and sixth grades would come in 20 minutes later, and so on until the seniors had been fed.  The teachers generally ate with their classes.

The perk was that the lunch period was an hour.  The sooner you finished eating, the more recess you had!  And then there was the snack shack.

It was run by some of the high school students as a fundraiser for various projects.  You could buy candy, soda, chips, and other snacks, and the shack was just outside the cafetorium exit.  You had to get one of the high school kids to take the cap off of your soda because aluminum cans had not penetrated the market at the time.  A soda was a dime plus two cents for the bottle deposit, and you got your two cents back when you returned the bottle.

The two favorite candies for me from the shack at the time were Sour Bites (sort of like Sweetarts) and Hot Bites, a cinnamon flavored counterpart.  Kids who had some pocket change could ruin their teeth for the rest of the lunch period!  The downside was that you did not get much recess if you were in the fifth and sixth grades (and the 11th and 12th) because you were the last of the groups for either the first or second lunch periods, so the sixth graders envied the seventh graders because the seventh graders got 40 minutes or so of recess.

I liked the stew and the beans a lot, even if the cornbread with the beans was too sweet.  Dishes like that just get better when they are made in large quantities, and I strongly suspect that the cooks would start the previous afternoon on them.  Both of those dishes are better the second day, after the flavors have melded.  Even today, when I cook beans or stew I generally wait until they have been refrigerated overnight to call them a meal.  However, I do not put the potatoes in the stew until reheat time since they go to mush if overcooked very much.

Every morning about halfway to lunch period and every afternoon about half way before school was out the gradeschoolers had milk break.  Two sixthgraders would go to the cafetorium and get one of the old, metal wire milk totes and fill it with the three different kinds of milk that the school used and carry it to the different classrooms and playgrounds.  Kids could buy a half pint of milk for three cents.  When I was in sixth grade my friend Rex and I usually had this task, and when we went to the cooler (a big, walk in affair) we would gorge on cheese wedges, pickles, and anything else that looked good as we filled the tote.

Then we made our rounds.  We had a little box for the coins that the students would give us for the milk, and generally we had enough change to be able to handle making change for a five cent piece or even a dime.  Quarters were often a challenge, and sometimes we would have to come back to that student after we had gotten enough change to break their quarter.  I mush confess a major crime that I committed back then.

Once there was a girl, also in the sixth grade, whom I thought was pretty.  She wanted a half pint of milk but had not the three cents that it cost.  In return for a kiss on the cheek, I gave her half a pint of milk.  At that moment I became an embezzler (the milk which was not mine that I gave her) and a john, and she became a “working girl”, giving favors for material gain.  See how subtly things start?  Oh, there was conspiracy as well, because Rex was privy to the sordid affair and he did not rat on me.

I felt sort of guilty about doing that, and I guess that I still do or I would not have remembered such a trivial incident.  It taught me a lesson, though, because I never did anything like that again.  Not that I have in my years been affected by feelings for women, but since that time any gifts given were out of my own pocket, not out of someone else’s.  That was a good lesson learnt.

Such were the halcyon days of not having to care about much of anything!  The sixth grade was my last at Hackett, going to Saint Anne’s High School in Fort Smith the next year.  Saint Anne’s used the old eight/four system, so I went from the sixth to the eight grade and excelled there.  The teachers were highly educated, mostly nuns either from the Sisters of Mercy chapter or from the nearby Benedictine convent.  There lunch came from vending machines or you brought your own!

That about does it for My Little Town tonight.  I am unsure at present (5:22 PM Eastern) whether or not I will be available for comments until late.  The Woman have planned some quality visiting time tonight (The Little Girl is staying at her aunt’s house tonight), making some chocolate syrup and maybe her giving me a haircut if things work out well.  Otherwise, I will be back after her conkout time.

Please add what ever stories about growing up that you would like in the comments.  I know that I enjoy reading them, and so do the other readers.  You do not to be from a little town for that.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and

firefly-dreaming

1 comment

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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