No place like home during school lunch
There are some young wisenheimers and whippersnappers who like to tell me that when I was in school, teachers wrote on cave walls instead of blackboards.
(Come to think about it, I might have spent some time in caves if I am using terms such as wisenheimers and whippersnappers.)
Actually, the schools I went to were made of bricks, stones, wood and other construction materials, and were not located in holes in the sides of mountains.
Of course, the schools back then had some daily customs and procedures that would seem strange indeed to those of more recent generations.
To start with, we had lunch. I realize that the students of today have a midday meal, but there is a one major difference in the way kids in my schools ate lunch - the vast majority of them ate it at home.
Even if the students of today - and this is a big if - were willing to walk home during a lunch hour, most of them live miles away from the school. If they went home for lunch, they probably would make it back just in time for the dismissal bell.
Even more importantly, though, if today's students were set free for lunch, quite a few of them probably wouldn't come back at all.
My first school was across the street about a half-block from my house, but even the kids who lived much farther away went home for lunch.
About the only ones who didn't were a group of students from a town five miles away. I always envied them as they were getting their lunches out of brown bags or Beanie and Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent lunch boxes out of the cloak closet.
I coveted the Tasty-Kake cupcakes, pies or other goodies that many of them carried in their lunches. By contrast, my noontime dessert was less exotic. When I finished my soup and sandwich at home, I had to eat the same cookies and cakes that I ate after other meals and for snacks.
When the schools were built, anywhere in our town was within walking distance of the high school and junior high, and there were elementary schools in different ends of town so there was no need to waste school space on cafeterias.
I was in sixth grade before I first sampled the cuisine of a school cafeteria. That was the year when all sixth-graders were sent to a former elementary school in a neighboring town. That school didn't have a caf, but the school that housed seventh and eighth grades did.
Amazingly, we sixth-graders were released on our own to travel the two blocks to the cafeteria in the other school and then return after lunch. If kids were allowed to do that today, they would be accompanied back to the school by an army of attorneys.
Although my fellow alumni from Philander K. Knox Elementary School were new to eating in school cafeterias, we soon mastered the skill that is second nature to students - complaining about the food. To be fair, the cooks in the cafeteria kitchen had to overcome a major obstacle - they had to cook healthy foods. It is an inarguable fact that the foods that are good for us rarely taste good.
Oftentimes, the tastiest part of lunch was a container of chocolate milk. There were only a limited number of these milk containers, so unless you were adept at sprinting two blocks from our school to the school with the cafeteria, you would end up washing down a bland meal with bland, blond milk.
Also, the school lunch preparers were operating under the handicap that most of the desserts had to be nutritious. That meant dishing out sliced peaches from 55-gallon drums.
In seventh and eighth grades, I only had to race down the stairs to get to the caf, but they still ran out of chocolate milk by the time I got there.
Then, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I would carry a small container of Bosco Chocolate Syrup in my back pocket so I could pump some into my bottle of regular milk. The first day I tried this, I couldn't stop smiling as I went through the lunch line knowing that I would be able to wash down whatever they were serving with a pint of chocolate milk. I sat down in triumph. Unfortunately, the container was still in my pocket and the top popped off. As a result, I had plain milk, but a chocolate pocket.
When I returned to my hometown for ninth and 10th grades at the so-called junior high school, I was only two blocks from home. This meant I could bolt down lunch and still have time to do that day's homework for the afternoon classes before returning to school.
The high school, which also did not have a cafeteria, was about six blocks away, but the lunch hour had two drawbacks. I envied the out-of-town students who could just cross the street and dine on a couple soft pretzels and a cherry slush at Howenstine's Store. Even worse, by the time I got home, my brothers and sister had already drunk all the chocolate milk.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes Walt's Way for each Sunday edition.)