In case you weren't aware, last week was officially "Say Thank You to Your Lunch Lady Week."
I learned about it on a signboard near school; but it was more fun when one of the sixth graders to whom I serve breakfast most mornings told me, "Thanks for making me my lunch." He really pretty much mumbled it, but I appreciated the sentiment just the same. It's not always easy to visit with your lunch lady, you know, even briefly, which is what this young man did. Most middle school students don't even attempt it.
All this got me to thinking about the lunch ladies I had while I was growing up. Like most farm kids, I stayed in the same school district from kindergarten through graduation, and I was in the same building through my freshman year. So of course the same lunch ladies prepared and served me my lunch every school day.
Mabel Long and her crew of three were masters at what they did then, long before there were as many school regulations in place for school nutrition as we have now. These days, students have choices when they get their hot lunch-an alternate to the main dish, a salad bar, fresh fruit options, a frozen yogurt shake if you wish, and at my school three types of milk every day.
When I was in school, the only option we had in the lunch line was "yes" or "no," and there were very few opportunities for "no." It seems to me that we always had plenty of real mashed potatoes with Mabel, seconds if you asked, and there was always a huge wicker basket full of bread-and-butter sandwiches at the end of the line from which we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted.
Mabel wasn't good at what she did because of her wonderful facility, believe me. Since hot lunch programs were put in place long after these old brick school buildings were erected, the kitchens and lunch rooms usually were tucked in to whatever space was available. It wasn't unusual that was in the basement of the building, which was the case in Stanhope.
It was a long walk down the hall between the kitchen and the cafeteria, which I believe was originally a coal room that had been painted and brightened up. Once you had finished your lunch and your teacher said it was OK, you could go back and ask Mabel for seconds, and generally she'd pony up.
As I consider it, I'm not sure I ever really thanked Mabel and the other cooks for what they did for us all every day. Did you?