Hot or Cold? | Mark’s Remarks

The old days of school lunches are long gone. My students file through the lunch line and type in a code number. I no longer collect money or wait for their “Hot or cold!” declaration each morning. I’m thankful for lunch account paperwork being in my career past.

I can still remember my first day eating a hot lunch at school.  I was in Miss Smysor’s first grade class. Back in 1973, kindergarten students only went to school half a day, so first grade was our first experience with a tray, a lunch line, a milk carton and what have you.

Maxine Felty was the leader of a kindly group of ladies who ran the cafeteria. I remember them all dressed in their white uniforms. They came out and met us as we filed in to the cafeteria. I don’t remember what was said to us, but we quickly learned how to wait quietly in line and how to get our tray; we learned how to go sit at our table and clean our plate.

Probably the biggest stressor at that point was how to open a milk carton. My memory has always been pretty solid, and none of my classmates remember what I’m about to tell you: on that first day, we had a different type of milk carton that was never seen again.  I swear it.

The carton was shaped a bit like a pyramid. It was not a traditional milk carton at all. At the top of the pyramid was a tiny little paper flap. When peeled off, the flap revealed a little hole for placing your straw.

I remember the cafeteria aides walking around helping us tear off the little flaps and helping us poke in that straw. I swear to you, all of this happened. Maybe someone in my age group, or better yet, one of my classmates, will recall this.  After that, those first-day milk cartons disappeared. I’m sure they weren’t conducive to a bunch of cafeteria “newbies.”

The memory, for me anyway, remains.

Back in those days, we could go to the window up front and get seconds. I remember things like peanut butter cake, fruit cocktail and cookies. Sometimes, the cooks would pass out the extras. One thing I can tell you is this: salt, pepper and all kinds of things were used in our food back then. And it all tasted pretty good.

I wasn’t real keen on milk back then and still have that issue. I learned to drink chocolate milk, but I envied those people who had notes from their doctors that said they could drink water.

I’m not sure if those people were lactose intolerant. They probably were. All I know is that they would get this cool, clear plastic cup as they walked through the lunch line. The glass would have chipped ice in it. They would walk up to the water dispenser, push the cup against the lever, and get a lovely cup of ice water. I was envious, as I said.

Having had the opportunity to be around several older folks, I’ve heard great stories of lunch time in the old days. They tell of the days when there were no cafeterias with everyone bringing a lunch and eating on the bleachers or outside or even in their classroom.

I’ve heard stories of kids who had time to walk home for lunch! My favorite story was about the boys who would get a boiled potato every morning with a small packet of salt.  They would carry the piping hot potato in their gloved hands as they walked to school, keeping their hands extra warm. At school, they’d peel the potato, give it a dash of salt, and have a cold potato for breakfast.

I always seem to get a hankering for cold potatoes when I hear that story. Weird, huh?

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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