A Good Day.

Who says Friday the 13th has to be bad? Most days I brought my lunch to school with me—peanut butter and jelly, sometimes baloney, sometimes tuna fish. First we went into the narrow kitchen, separated from the main dining area. There was a metal box by the door filled with cartons of milk and we each picked up one on as we went by. For lunch it was always regular milk; we’d get a carton of chocolate milk for our afternoon snack. Then I walked along with everyone else, carrying my lunchbox while the kids on either side of me picked up trays of, well, whatever was being served. It didn’t bother me that I was a little different, and no one else brought it up. After I paid ten cents for my carton of milk I filed out with everyone else to the main dining area where we all sat at long tables. At the far end of the dining hall was the stage where once in a blue moon there’d be a school play or some kind of presentation, but mostly it was blocked off by a heavy dark green curtain.

The exception was Fridays when the cafeteria served fish. Or rather the cafeteria served something that they called fish. It was a breaded square, with a slice of melted cheese on top, of something that was definitely white and flaky and probably at one time was once in contact with water. Whether it was really fish or not didn’t matter to me. I loved it anyway. I loved it so much I don’t even remember what else was served with it. Macaroni and cheese, probably, and maybe peas, and probably some kind of dessert. It was the one meal where I didn’t care about the dessert or anything else. I was all about the fish.

When I was in kindergarten we ate lunch early, before the rest of the school, and we were pretty quiet. In later years lunch could get loud with kids yelling at each other, throwing things, blowing up plastic bags and popping them. There was a woman whose job it was to supervise us which had to be the most thankless job ever. Sometimes she’d yell at us to be quiet and say, “I want to be able to hear a pin drop!” I never understood why. Sure, I got why she didn’t want us screaming at each other or popping bags, but shutting down all conversation seemed futile and unnecessary.

In kindergarten we went back to our classroom after lunch to lie down on foam mats for a while. Then we could go out to the playground or, if it was too cold, we could play a game inside. Sometimes the teacher would put on a record and some of us would pick up blocks and pretend we were playing instruments. I had a wool cap with a bobble on top and I’d get it and put it on when I pretended I was playing the guitar.

“I don’t know what it is with him and that hat,” I heard the teacher tell a visiting parent. She never asked me directly about it. If she had I would have told her I was Mike Nesmith. Only shorter.

In my memory that was a Friday, but not just any Friday. We took turns being first in line to go to the cafeteria for lunch. It was a special honor to be first in line and the first time I got to do it was a Friday, the 13th. It felt really good to have so much go right in one day. Maybe that’s why it sticks with me.

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12 Comments

  1. The Huntress

    Hi Christopher, we have the same types of memories of our childhood. I remember being in kindergarten and had the same routine you did. I’d stand in line to get my carton of milk, because I too took my lunch. Although my mom had a restaurant across the street from the school I went to. So I had things for lunch like a club sandwich or a green chili casserole. But on Friday’s we always had chocolate milk. My favorite meal was when Thanksgiving rolled round and we’d have sliced turkey with gravy, herb stuffing and whole berry cranberry sauce. My mom only bought the jellied kind in the can, but I loved that meal so much.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That Thanksgiving meal sounds amazing. Although the lunches you brought sound pretty amazing too. I don’t mean to put down my mother who always made me nice lunches, and I forgot that she sometimes included a thermos with soup in it, but green chili casserole for lunch sounds incredible. I could imagine you being the envy of the other kids. Or being made fun of because the other kids didn’t want to admit they envied your lunch.

      Reply
  2. BarbaraM

    Every surgery I’ve had (4) have been on the 13th in some fashion or another. The first was on a Friday the 13th. What could go wrong? (Something did). The next 2 were on the 13th – different days of the week – and the last one was done on Halloween eve (which was bad enough), but was in …..wait for it….2013! I’m still here so I guess it’s a lucky number for me, but really, freaking out about the date only added to the fear and stress. Wish I had a good childhood memory of that date (tosses a bit of salt over my shoulder).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Well, knock on wood, walk under a ladder, and pet a black cat. Or something. I’ve read stories of people who won’t even get out of bed on the 13th of any month, regardless of what day of the week it is. I’m glad thirteenths have always worked out well for you, though, and I’ve heard there are worse days.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    When I was little, we only had half-day kindergarten so we never got lunch. You sound like the coolest kid in the class–we would have been great friends:-)

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Our kindergarten had shorter days which, now that I think about it, explain why we had lunch early. It would have been fun if both of us had been in the same school in the same class, though. We could have fed off of each other’s dark imaginations.

      Reply
  4. Allison

    That’s funny, I made the Mike Nesmith connection immediately. My favorite elementary school meal was these toasted cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup. My elementary school cafeteria food was awesome. Good homemade stuff.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I should have mentioned that my hat was red, but also I get why my teacher, who was a bit older, was probably not that familiar with The Monkees. The show debuted just four years before I was born and had been off the air about six years before I started kindergarten. Yeah, the more I think about this the less sense it makes to me that my teacher couldn’t figure out I was supposed to be Mike Nesmith.

      Reply
  5. M.L. James

    Christopher,
    Man you took me right back to my elementary cafeteria. Lunch was forty cents: a quarter, a dime and a nickel. Our Friday square of fish always had a dollop of ketchup or more likely catsup (ick) on it. We didn’t get a choice of milk either. It was milk or milk. Whole. In a carton. We, too, weren’t allowed to talk. I ended up on the wall…once. Didn’t even know why I was up on the wall until someone told me later that I wasn’t supposed to talk in the lunchroom. Well, how are you supposed to know these things until someone tells you? The answer, you learn the hard way. rolling my eyes But this would have been first through sixth grade. They didn’t have kindergarten when I was five. That happened a few years later. I’ve always said that bad things happen to me on the 12th or the 14th. My husband’s ex was born on the 13th though. So 13th, apparently, wasn’t a lucky number for David (I guess.) Glad you have fond memories, my friend! Mona

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Mona, wow, you weren’t allowed to talk during lunch? That’s an idea concocted by people who’d never met any children. Funny enough the worst lunch punishment I remember from that time, though, is in third grade when the teacher made us sit boy-girl-boy-girl, instilling the idea that having to sit next to someone of the opposite sex was a terrible thing. Anyway this is how I’ll picture all of your teachers from now on:

      Reply
  6. ANN J KOPLOW

    You and I have a lot in common, Chris, which I think is lucky for me. I brought my lunch to school every day except Friday, also. The reason was different — I kept kosher and Fridays were the only days I could eat the cafeteria food (because of Catholic dietary laws, ironically). And I immediately knew you were channeling Mike Nesmith. Thanks for another very good post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s funny to me how many people so far have picked up that I wanted to be Mike Nesmith. Also I find it very interesting that there’s some overlap between kosher and Catholic dietary laws.

      Reply

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