The Challenge: Set a countdown timer for 10 minutes and just start writing.  Write what you remember. Then, once your post has had a chance to sit for a day or two, revise it and shape it as you see fit. Cut the dross. Trim the fat.

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Every day at noon, I walked home from public school.  My lunch was on the kitchen table ~ peanut butter on white bread. Near it, a used envelope scarred with familiar handwriting, slouched against a glass of warm milk.

“Went to the store. Mom”

The house is quiet except for hordes of wasps in the attic boring through the rafters with communal gusto.

When I hear Mom come in, I begin to whine my way through the dismal interlude I face each day.

“Hi, Mom.  Boy, am I glad you’re here.  Today was the worst day ever!”

“Now, let’s not spoil a perfectly nice day with silly complaints.  You’re one lucky girl, don’t you know!”

“But, Mom, I’m drenched. It started to pour and I had to run up the hill.  The lightening made me jump and the bang of thunder was so loud.  I was running, and then I fell in a puddle.  I have a cut on my knee that’s still bleeding.”

“Well, next time be prepared for rain,” she says, glancing at the clock and hurrying to turn on her favorite soap. I can hear Stu and Marge consoling Joanne whose husband was killed in a car crash.

“Do you know what happened on the way home for lunch yesterday?  That big kid on Eno Avenue chased me, called me names and pushed me into the sewer drain.  There isn’t anyone for me to walk with, all my friends eat lunch at school.”

Mom’s voice rose above the others on Search for Tomorrow.

“Well, you can’t eat at school.  We live too close. You’ll just have to manage. Adversity makes a person strong.”

As my list of grievances grew, Mom’s retorts came less frequently until she finally relented and let me enroll in the Catholic school across town, wear the gray uniform and carry the briefcase that identified me as a St. Peter School student. I rode the bus to and from school, bouncing on the black vinyl bench seat. Instead of bullies and bad weather, my companions were friendly kids who played string games and sang repeated refrains.  This was all I had hoped for. This and hot lunch.

Now I came home late in the afternoon, happy.

“Mom, guess what?  We go across the street to the church hall for lunch.  You should see the long tables!  It’s like being inside a tent at the fair.  You know, how everyone sits on metal folding chairs? Elbow to elbow? And the food! Today we had chicken stew with biscuits.”

She sends her voice down the hall, along with Queen for a Day audience cheers. “Well, just make sure you eat.  Hot lunch doesn’t come cheap.”

“Oh! Do I ever! Mrs. Marcantonio gave me a huge bowl of stew and then when she saw I was done, she rolled her cart right up to my chair and filled my bowl again.  She always says, You make me feel like a million bucks, the way you eat my cooking. Then she bangs the pot with her ladle and hollers, Yeah!

“The lunch lady sounds OK.”  I hear worry in Mom’s voice. She turns up the TV. A weepy contestant pleads for a refrigerator.  I imagine Jack Bailey consoling her, offering her a clean white handkerchief.

“Better than OK!  Mrs. Marcantonio calls me honey and sweetie. She smiles all the time and she says Here, sweetie, take a little more now, we gotta put some meat on them bones.

“Oh and during lunch, we tell jokes and riddles.  We sure laugh a lot.  Then we clean up and get in line to wait for Sister Lucy. The lunch ladies hug us and give us a cookie to eat on the way back to the school.”

I wait. No reply from Mom. Just the sound of the applause meter and Jack Bailey signing off, This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day!

The move to the catholic school was a good one.  If I hear a funny knock-knock joke, I’m back on the metal folding chair, eating chicken stew. I don’t recall missing my neighborhood school or the hour at home in the middle of the day.  All I remember is that lunch in the church hall nurtured me.

Toni 8/11/13

Read more WP memories here.

2 thoughts on “Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember

  1. Lunch ladies nurtured you; big Russ was the bus driver who stopped to take us to junior high–and always had a kind word for each of us. Small joys make a lasting impression. Pay them forward and remember! M.

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