Korky, the Lunch Lady


I loved elementary school, I enjoyed almost every part of it: the smells of Crayola crayons and freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, those crumbly pink rubber erasers and especially the smell of the crisp, new Weekly Readers that we read.  That was an exciting day when we delved into them!

Heck, I even loved the smell of rubber cement which we were expressly told not to smell since it would do weird things to your brain.  I think that we can all agree that nothing weird happened to MY brain!  Isn’t it funny how smell can transport us back to an earlier time in our lives?  The smell of many of those things takes me right back to my school days in Ankeny, Iowa.

There is, however, one smell that I can’t get out of my brain and that is the smell of school lunch cooking.  Do you remember the smell of that Salisbury steak and the mashed potatoes and gluey gravy that accompanied it?  I’m still trying to purge that memory from my brain.  My daughter, crowned in a birthday hat and grinning from ear to ear, was asked by the lunch lady if she’d like an extra scoop of mashed potatoes for her birthday.  How does a mother top that birthday “gift” to her child?

Anyway, it’s now great to experience the entire school and school lunch system from my perspective as a mom when I venture there to eat with my kids.  I enjoy the fact that I am no longer forced to eat those nasty institutional peas that never seemed willing to stay in their little section in the melamine tray, but which always jumped out, with help from me, rolling all over the lunch room floor.  I can now open my own milk carton, I don’t have to raise my hand to be able to use the generic ketchup or to ask to be released from the bondage of the lunch room, only to be forced to stand in line along the wall and wait my turn to go to recess.

Elementary school is all about standing in line, isn’t it?  It’s about standing waiting to have your ticket punched or scanned, budging so that you can sit next to your best friend, waiting in line to reach into that big cooler to pull out a carton of milk, and lining up after lunch ready to march out to recess.  Once, standing in the lunch line my friend the teacher heard one of her small boy charges saying to a little girl, “Hey! Have I got a wiener wink for you!”  Yes, if only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that old pick-up line.  It’s all about the lines in school, pick-up or otherwise.

For me a pivotal part of the school lunchroom experience was the lunch ticket.  When I was in school, we had paper tickets made out of card stock that the lunch lady with the hairnet, a juicy mole on the side of her neck, and the beginnings of a beard, would punch.  You could have the pink ticket, which meant that your mother had paid for 20 hot lunches, or you could have the small, single-day, green ticket that meant that your mother didn’t trust you not to lose the 20 punch pink ticket.   Guess which one I had?

This leads me to tell you of a racket that I have heard of that goes on in cafeterias countrywide; well, at least here in Marion, Iowa.  A friend of mine told me that her enterprising youngsters were allowing their friends to use their lunch tickets to buy hot lunch.  Then, the borrowers were repaying my friend’s children in cash.

My friend’s children then took the money in what can best be described as the elementary school version of a Ponzi scheme and bought as many Nestle Crunch bars, Pokemon cards and Bakkugan as they wanted.  They also could take their ill-gotten stash and invest it, depending on the market, on questionable real estate schemes or perhaps use it to play the Iowa Lottery’s Mega Millions (with Megaplier).  You know something is up when you are spending $350 in school lunches per month for three children.  Be suspicious fellow parents!

I love it when I hear the goofy things that my friend’s kids do!!  Send me an email and let me know if you have great stories, your ornery children are awesome!  My children are perfect, so those things never happen here.  Actually, here is the true story of what happened to my daughter when she was in kindergarten.  The part that I love about this story is that the teacher was an experienced teacher; how she fell for this drama I’ll never know:

“Come on in,” Mrs. Andrews said to Mike and me.  “Welcome to our kindergarten classroom.”  “It’s so nice to have you here, let’s sit at the tables and talk about your daughter’s progress.  Let me close the door, I’ll be with you in just a minute.”

We sat down at a small table with our knees lodged under our chins and glanced around the classroom.   I saw cubbies for backpacks and boots, hooks for the kid’s coats; I noticed that area of the classroom used for the kid’s mail station, which is part of their understanding the community unit.   I saw a weather center with an androgynous child wearing a removable raincoat; I observed that there are boots and a winter coat that could be attached depending on the weather of the day.  No wonder my kindergartener loved this classroom so much; I want to dress the androgynous child myself!

While waiting for the teacher one could wander over to the art center where broken crayons and half chewed erasers mate in the bin with short, stubby pencils and lonely scraps of paper.  Here one would find blunt nose scissors, Elmer’s School Glue with dried white crusty remains on pointy orange caps, and piles of mutant construction paper.   The mythical bottles of rubber cement could be found here just as they were nestled in the art center as in days of yore. (I have no exact idea when the days of yore were but I think it was that time period around 1970).

Mrs. Andrews comes back into the classroom and says:

Mrs. Andrews:  Well, first of all, it’s good to have you here; I enjoy it when I get to meet with both parents.

Mike:  Thank you for having us!

Mrs. Andrews:  First of all, I’d like to say that I am sorry about your puppy.

Me:  Huh?

Mrs. Andrews:  Emily told us about your family’s puppy dying and our classroom community was really sorry for your loss.

Mike:  What puppy?

Mrs. Andrews:  Well, your puppy that just died.

Me:  We don’t have a puppy.  Or a dog.  We never have.

Mrs. Andrews: (Tone rising) But Emily told us about your puppy, and how it died and how sad you all were!  We even wrote about the puppy’s death in our weekly classroom newsletter, we constructed a doggy obituary for heaven’s sake!   Didn’t you see it in the newsletter the week of January 11th?

Me:  That’s the only newsletter this year that we haven’t received.  Maybe that explains why Emily told us that you didn’t have an edition that particular week.

Now what I smelled in the classroom was the smell of a rat.  My small child had some serious explaining to do, but for right then it was enough to sit back and enjoy the smell of the scented wildberry and lemon Crayola markers and the sweat rising from my embarrassed husband as the teacher, sputtering and shaken, tried to compose herself.  She had been despondent over the death of the puppy, this is quite apparent.   This recent turn of events had shaken her to her gullible core.

I hope that you never have an experience like that during a conference.  If you do, don’t sniff the rubber cement as a coping mechanism to help you get through the rest of the conference.  It’s tempting I know, but resist the urge.

5 Responses to “Korky, the Lunch Lady”

  1. Lori Bing says:

    Man, I was so deprived, I only got to eat hot lunch something like 2 times in elementary, instead I walked home every day to a lunch prepared by my mom! I do remember that in 6th grade, our teacher taught us how to play poker and everyone was betting the huge cinnamon rolls from their hot lunch. I won something like 12 cinnamon rolls, but gave them away to all my friends as I was walking home for lunch.

  2. Patti Ivance says:

    You brought me right back to the Terrace lunch room circa 1974! I loved the rubber cement too-but the big gray permanent markers were my smell of choice. The nasty little pizza squares were the worst!

  3. Melinda Crabtree Luzbetak says:

    I especially loved the first paragraph, and the lunch ticket racket, and the school conference! I usually took a cold lunch every day, so I hardly remember the lunches, but do remember the yummy cinnamon rolls–if I got a hot lunch, it was usually on cinnamon roll day, even though I hated the chili that usually came with it! Funny stuff! I don’t think I know anyone in the publishing area, unfortunately!

  4. Anne Livingston says:

    Ah, the trusted cinnamon roll! I remember the chili meal also being served with a slice of Velveetaish government block cheese. And what about the teacher’s lounge? Do you remember the mystery surrounding that place? Back in the 1970’s it was a lot different. It was not only forbidden but walking by it you could see the cigarette smoke billowing out from underneath the door. Well my daughter still believes it may be a magical place and asks many questions about the “lounge”. I told her there is usually donuts, a pop machine, and maybe some candy. The look in her eye told me in her mind it was a place very much like Wonkaland. A place where teachers are allowed to roam free with candy flowers and pastries galore. I told her she needed to go to college and get her degree and someday she can go into a teacher’s lounge. Oh, and I remember how important it was to get the color of melamine tray I wanted. Those were the days.

  5. Julie(Julia) Scaben says:

    Kork I don’t know why you insist on dredging(?) up all those old school stories. I don’t remember much but our lunches were not that bad. I especially liked the peanut butter. I am glad to hear Emily was as sneeky & evil as you were. At least we know where she gets it. Very intresting blog, can’t wait to read more.

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