What could be more stressful than walking into a new school on the first day? Lucky me was about to find out.
If I could time-travel, I’d warn my younger self ‘Don’t go, stay home sick’.
I was a picky eater and didn’t like sandwiches of any kind, well maybe raspberry jelly if there’s tons of jelly.
Mom’s constant refrain was, “Mary Barbara, don’t be so pickyoon.”
A school lunch cost a mere quarter, but I should have dragged along a yucky sandwich lunch instead. And I should have moved back to the middle of the lunch line. But I didn’t know about the ‘should haves’ until it was too late.I began my first day of fifth grade at Hartford Central; a school one-fourth the size of my previous small school. I wore my new blue and purple floral dress with a white lace peter-pan collar. My black patent leather shoes were polished, ankle socks clean, and I slept in pin-curls the night before. My stomach churned with nerves and excitement.
Dad ferried David and me from Great-Aunt Mary’s to Hartford.
My teacher, Mrs. Bennett was ancient; I’m talking grandmotherly old. She hadn’t been a spring chicken when (twenty-three years earlier) she taught my father. Mine became her last class.
As the new kid, Mrs. Bennett gave me the place of honor at the front of our lunch line. Very thoughtful of her, except I didn’t know where to go.
None of the food the lunch lady scooped onto my plate looked appetizing. Since I was first to get served I wasn’t sure where to sit. I carried my tray to the far end of a long wooden table. The library doubled as our lunch room, so we ate surrounded by books.
Two boys sat down across from me and nudged each other. I flushed with pleasure, assuming they thought I was cute. Why else would they choose to sit near me? Hartford looked mighty promising.
The seat beside me remained empty. I stole a peek down the length of my table. All the remaining chairs contained boys; no girls. I turned to the adjacent table on my left. It was filled with girls from my class.
I was sitting at the boy’s table.
Too embarrassed to get up and find a seat at the girl’s table, I moved the food around my plate until the bell rang. I stood in line to return my tray.
“Hi, my name’s Mary,” I said to the girl in front of me.
“I’m Sharon,” she answered.
“You and my cousin Annie look almost identical. You could be twins.”
It was true. The only difference was Annie’s sultry voice that I wished I had.
Sharon stared at me a few seconds and replied, “How nice” before turning away.
A lunch lady gave me a few dish towels. I handed one to Sharon. She wiped the milk spots off her shoes, silently handed the towel back, and moved ahead. I cleaned myself and the floor while the line snaked around me. I did not look at anyone’s face, just their milk-free feet.
It would have been better to get in trouble for not eating my lunch. It would have been better to eat a squished sandwich from home. It would have been better to finish the warm milk in my carton.
I cried over spilled milk.
Lessons learned: If you’re first in line and don’t know where to sit, walk slow and stall for time. If you still wind up at the boy’s table, don’t be afraid to get up and move. And by all means, finish your food and drink your milk.
* I changed the name of the real Sharon. She moved to another school a few years later and is probably a much nicer person by now.
Now it’s your turn: Did you have a bad lunch experience?
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