What I remember about 3rd grade could make up volumes. And every book starts with a first page, so here we go. [The only thing about this that is Mormon centric is that I am one and so were most of the players.]
You have to know, first of all, that my parents were both employed. My mother worked in the office of a steel fabrication business, my dad worked for a railroad, and they were gone during the day. You have to understand that, or none of this makes much sense. They were also of the opinion that you should be part of the system and make your way through it, without a lot of outside help. Also, this is a true story. It happened before the “progressive” lunch programs my kids experienced.
My primary school (or elementary school as you prefer) was roughly 1/2 mile from my home. Not a big walk, and I took it every morning, Monday through Friday, except for those blessed holidays! My 3rd grade teacher was a spinster who I always supposed was 85. I’m sure she was 50, but she seemed 85 to me. A mean 85. In order to protect the descendants of her cousins, I’ll call her by the pseudonym, Miss Ruler. Ruler* took no crap.
In our school, there was a rule about lunch. Everybody ate school lunch (except as noted below), produced in a mysterious kitchen in a lower level, and served in a darkened cavern that at the time seemed like an extension of Carlsbad to me. It was huge. Long tables with bench seats occupied the lunch room. If you brought your own lunch, you still ate in the lunch room. To me, it now seems Dickensian. The menu for lunch was a rotating one. They had hamburgers occasionally, or hotdogs with this thick skin that gave me the creeps. But mostly it was different kinds of soups or variations of soups poured onto something else, like potatoes or sometimes rice I think. There was this stuff known among the students as “rag soup.” I won’t go into that.
One day, after surviving Miss Ruler for 3 hours, we went down to the lunch room. Being a loner, I didn’t get to sit by those who radiated goodness and popularity. I sat by myself mostly, though I was not alone, really. Lunch was served by strange looking people in stained white aprons. That day, the fare was some kind of stew. The meat was gristley stuff, not sure which animal it originated with, but I’m sure it was assigned the name “beef.”
The lunch room rule was you ate everything. Even if you had to miss a bit of class after lunch, you stayed until you downed it. Because of the previous week’s rations I had reached a kind of psychological crisis. I snapped. Got up from the table and strode out of the lunch dungeon and out the front door, like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t think anyone noticed me and that was usually true.
Out the door, around the back of the school yard, and down the street. I walked slowly, wandering the streets, heading inexorably to my house. After an hour or so, I made it home. My parents did not trust me to bear a key to the palace, and rightly so I suppose. I was a peripatetic 9-year-old. My father would be home in a few hours. In the meantime, I sat on, not the front porch, but the concrete pad at a side entrance, bored stiff. I figured I’d be in some trouble for cutting school, but I just couldn’t take the food anymore. I was a picky eater, as my mother characterized it, and I had reached the breaking point of my nature.
What happened next has always puzzled me. I was staring into the neighbor’s backyard jungle, when without warning I was struck in the head with a stick. I turned to see the two class bullies standing right next to me. “Come on **** you’re going back to school!” The irony of this situation only hit me years later. These two dopes spent half their lives in truancy. And they were grabbing me by the arms to haul me back to school. Odd. Resistance was futile in my present state of mind. I meekly allowed myself (hoping, successfully, to avoid the stick in the mouth) to be dragged back to school, up the front stairs to the second story classroom of Miss Ruler.
The class was quietly sitting there, doing some sort of copying from the chalk board. Miss Ruler took possession of me and marched me back to rear of the classroom. To my horror, sitting on one of the long low tables in the rear was my uneaten lunch. Great Scott! I knew what was coming next. A chair was provided, and I was instructed to eat. Of course the stuff was stiffer than a 12 hour corpse. Cold. Gristley. Gross. The class was twittering [no, not that]. The girl who lived across the street, with whom I had a kind love-hate thing going, laughed so hard she got sphincter betrayal. The one bright spot in a scary afternoon. I sat, and slowly began the gagging process of eating the dreaded lunchroom stew. Miss Ruler sat next to me, and took the spoon, dipped it into the brown slush and pushed it into my reluctant craw. I was at it 2 hours until the dismissal bell rang. Miss Ruler was not waiting around so the rest was disposed of and I was sent home with a note.
I never ate school lunch again. Thanks mom. My love of baloney was born.
*I give her this moniker as a reference to her practice of whacking the tops of your out-stretched hands with a ruler, for any number of classroom solecisms. The kid who sat behind me got it once a week or so. You deserved it, Brian.