Sunday, March 19, 2017
Lunch is Served
One by one, my classmates moved until I was left sitting alone at the long table.
St. Mary's didn't offer hot lunch like all the other schools did in the city, so we had to bring our lunches from home. Some who lived a short distance from the school, went home for lunch. I don't remember much about what was usually in my lunch box aside from fruit like an apple, four cookies (four was the house limit) and a sandwich either peanut butter and jelly or sliced meat. I recall one day that I brought sardines to school. It didn't go well.
I loved sardines. After school my father and I would often share a tin on saltine crackers. It was a bonding experience as we both smacked our lips in utter satisfaction. The intense fish flavor paired with the crunchy saltines became a favorite snack. One day my mother packed me a sandwich-sardines on soft white bread and a smear of mayonnaise. The wax paper that it was wrapped in did little to trap the fishy smell. So when I undid the folds of the wax paper in order to eat the sandwich the smell wafted quickly, assaulting the noses of every child in the large room where the entire school ate at once. This room was in the basement of an old brick building where both my grandmother (at age 4) and my father attended. There were no windows that opened and the two exit doors at top of each opposite stairway leading to the first floor did little to alleviate the odor. Three or four long tables were arranged end to end and lined horizontally to accommodate about one hundred kids.
Placing the contents of a can of sardines between two pieces of bread was a messy affair. Eating it was worse. The oil that the little fish were packed in dripped everywhere and the bread pressed thin and became soggy in places; the oil oozing through the holes in the bread. The sight of it all and the smell was just too much.
A few weeks after this lunch-time disaster, my mother with sardine can in hand began wrapping the metal tab of the tin around a key in preparation of packing my lunch another sandwich. She stopped amidst my screaming, "Ma, please, please don't give me sardines again. Please no."
"A sardine sandwich was my favorite lunch. That or a bean sandwich. 'Want a bean sandwich?"my mother asked, her voice light and promising.
That day I ate lunch with my friends and the peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth.