Lunch Time

You asked me to describe my school lunches.  What did I eat for lunch?  This I do remember.

Queen Elizabeth School was a mere three blocks from the first home that I lived in.  My mother believed in “hot” lunches and children “home” for lunch.  It was the 60s, a decade of social and cultural change.  JFK, sexism and racism, people were breaking free.  I hardly recall a child that stayed at school, on a regular basis, for lunch. There was stability in the west side neighbourhood.  Picture this, manicured front lawns, solid, tall oak trees, their boughs reaching out, protecting and canopying the children that played on the boulevards beneath, moms inside, domesticating the home. Occasionally, I would lunch at school.  On those days my mother prepared my lunch, carefully packing my new silver thermos into the plaid, tin lunchbox. “Now, be careful with the thermos, Grace!  One drop and it will shatter.” The thermos intrigued me with its fat, torpedo shape, gleaming silver shell, catching the rays of sunlight. The lid tightly turned, protecting and chilling the liquid milk inside. It appeared solid, indestructible.

Those days, “lunch children” would be sent to the school’s cafeteria, located in the basement of the school.  Nervously, I would join the short line and as silent as mice, we would tip toe to the cafeteria, behind our beautiful teacher, Miss MacVicker.  Cardigan sets, pencil skirts, kitten heels, she was a fashion icon.  I would sit next to my neighbor, Bruce, a scientific, little fellow. I imagine him as a research professor now, searching for another galaxy or discovering a cure for autoimmune disease.  Bruce loved dinosaurs and could recite any and all details of their existence!  He read encyclopedias. In his basement, Bruce had every model of dinosaur, from ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex to the smallest of raptors and he could tell you every fact about each type along with every detail of the Jurassic or Triassic period.[1]  However, the best thing about Bruce was his chameleon! [2]  Imagine living next door to someone who owned a lizard that changed colours! We spent hours experimenting, trying to force changes, the chameleon flicking its long, pink tongue in disgust.  Once, I actually thought I saw the reptile-changing colour; its feet turning from green to blue, as Bruce held it captive, wrapped in my mother’s turquoise scarf.  “It’s getting angry,” Bruce would declare.  Bruce was fascinating, smart and curious, traits I admired.  Besides, he had a chameleon!

We were children of the Wonder Bread era.  Lunch children sat in rows ordered chronologically; youngest students to eldest, tin lunch boxes or brown paper bags, placed in front of our little crossed legs. Napkins placed upon our laps.  Quietly, unfolding our wax paper wrapped, Wonder Bread sandwiches, silently acknowledging the day’s fare.  “Oh no. Egg salad, again,” would be the lament.  Then the sniffing, as we raised the item first to our noses, then to the light, inspecting it with our sharp eyes, looking for bits to toss or avoid.  Trades were encouraged.   “I’ll trade you a peanut butter for a plain jam.”  Buttered bread with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top was a coveted delicacy among the young lunch crowd!  Tapioca pudding, oh no!  “Ugh!  Grace eats frog’s eggs!” I would flush with embarrassment. “Fish!” The disgust was audible. We little ones quickly learned that fish was definitely frowned upon.  Homemade cookies and a thermos of milk rounded out the meal. Carefully, I unwound the lid and poured the white liquid into the small silver thermos lid.  Sipping carefully. Quietly watching the other children.

One afternoon, running home from school, my lunch kit came unfastened.  The silver thermos rolled out and hit the ground.  “Test it,” Bruce declared.  “Shake it and listen.”   When I picked it up, I knew. When I shook the thermos, I heard the chinking sound of shattered glass tinkling inside the base of the thermos. My mother’s words, “Be more careful!  I just bought you that one.  Now, you’ll have to do without.” My thermos shattered!  The solid, strong, steel like exterior, a false front, so easily broken.  Insides made of glass, broken and fragile. Shattered.

I preferred to walk home to a hot lunch.  It was a reprieve, an escape from the classroom. I took comfort in knowing that I had a house a ‘waiting my return, like a familiar blanket held close to the body, the house wrapped its walls around me, protecting me. Even then, I would imagine returning and the house would have vanished.  The panic welling up inside as I pondered my next move.

Entering the kitchen, my lunch would be placed onto the table.  Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Chicken Noodle, Alphabet, Saltines, grilled cheese, simple fare, repeated throughout the week. Delicious!  Sometimes Playbox biscuits! “Howdy Doody” [3] would be on the radio and I would listen with delight when Princess would sing my favourite song, “High Hopes.” [4]  I could picture that little ant pushing that big rubber plant, as I’d sing along with Princess Summer, Fall, Winter.  That show was responsible for nightmares for years to follow.  The thought of Howdy, Uncle Bob, and Princess actually seeing me through the radio was disconcerting to say the least.  Bruce thought that they were probably lying to the children about the seeing part.

You asked me to describe what I ate for lunch. It really doesn’t matter.  My mother made my lunch. I had a home, my mom, a little sister, and a friend.  This much, I do remember.

Beautiful

Ornamental Cherry Tree In Full Bloom, Washingt...
Ornamental Cherry Tree In Full Bloom, Washington State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is no stranger under the cherry tree.”- Issa

There is a tree I love.  The circumference of the trunk thick and wide, so broad, that I cannot circle my arms around it anymore.  Knotty, the bark rough to my cheek’s soft touch.  The trunk, darkened, blackened, and browned with touches of gray. Gnarled. Leaves that are a dark green, jade, larger near the top to kiss the sun, forming a canopy to shield me.  When spring returns, the tree I love awakens to life, its pink blossoms changing from crimson to a blush shade as the petals unfurl.  The tree I love.  Home to squirrels, chipmunks, ladybugs.  Butterflies pause to rest their fragile wings for a brief moment.  Bees drone and circle the blossoms, briefly alighting to dust their legs with pollen.  The tree I love, a home and nurturer of life.  The robin builds her nest in the uppermost branches, a safe haven for the turquoise eggs, the broken pieces of shell float to the ground when the young birds take flight. Collected by the child who gently wraps the remnants into a Kleenex. The tree I love.

It is impossible for me to walk past the Cherry Tree.  Its presence alluring, pure beauty as it commands the ground.  The tree I love has roots that spread and twist as they deeply anchor and nourish. Steadfast. I pause to stand under the majestic canopy and close my eyes.  For a brief moment, I can summon back the memory of a little girl and her younger sister.  A memory of love.

The winds begin to blow, gently teasing the tree.  Dancing together the wind embraces the pinks, twirling and whirling them about before slowly releasing them to the ground.  Carpeting the earth, a pink quilt, covering the ground.  Fragile beauty. A memory of love, fleeting.

See Through My Eyes

Our eyes meet.  It was brief, like the shutter’s snapshot, only an instant, seconds, a moment.  Humanity.  He stood on the island median, cardboard sign in hand, Homeless. Please help me. Disheveled and not in the contrived careless style of today’s fashions.  Authentic disheveled. The jacket just slightly too large, the pants too loose.  The hair, shaggy and layered, time between cuts.  The skin, weathered, lined, tanned from the elements.  The features, tight, eyes averted, head tipped down to avoid a passerby’s direct gaze. Shame.

The stoplight red, a pause, time to consider.  Should I help him? It’s so easy to dismiss, avert my eyes, look away, and drive away.  Still, consider that it could be you.  Who chooses to stand and beg like this?  Lazy, Crackie, substance abuser, mental illness, the stigmas, text bubbles in my brain. Still, consider that this could be you.  Perhaps, someone you loved? The perilous line that separates us, thin and wavering between the fall to Dependence or Independence, Pass to Fail, Sane to Insane. Do we really get to decide our fate?  The child born into dysfunction and pain, what are the life chances for success? The child born into love and functioning caregivers, is that child more worthy than one without?  Obstacles, in circumstances, one to continuously climb over, the other to crawl through. Who chooses their parents?  The chances good, that if I could sit and ask his life story, it would be full of sad memories, broken dreams, a broken heart.  Drifting through life.

I found four quarters in my wallet. “It’s all I have.” “God, bless you, dear,” were the words he spoke.  “God bless you, too,” I replied. Our eyes meet.  Eyes blue. Cerulean. Quickly, we parted. It was brief, like the shutter’s snapshot, only an instant, a moment.  Humanity.

 

God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday song)
God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To Mother’s Everywhere

English: Mother's Day card
English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thank you for the sacrifices that you make on a daily basis.  The times that you are up all night cuddling an ill child, reassuring a small one that there really aren’t any monsters in the world.  The strength that you draw from within, when faced with adversity.  The resilience that you develop to survive the difficult times and remind others that “this too shall pass”. The gift of time that you share at the cost of your own quiet.  Always wearing a smile.  Offering a kind, encouraging word. Loving unconditionally.  That is a mother’s responsibility.  To all the mothers everywhere, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!  Thank you for the sacrifices that you make on a daily basis.

 

xo

 

Today I Remember

my Dad.  It has been just over one year since his passing.  I pray that you are at peace.  With Winter comes snow and when the flakes start to fall, I stop, pause, and think of you.  I try to smile.  I try to understand.  I buy a bouquet of white Chrysanthemums to honor you.  To this day I have unanswered questions and a broken heart.  You know I tried and that I loved you.  I know that you loved me. That should be enough.  Did you leave us the biggest gifts?  The gifts of compassion, forgiveness, a capacity toward kindness.  Today I remember you, Dad and I thank you for gifting me the most important qualities to possess in life.