In her book Bird by Bird Anne Lamott wrote that she believes good writing is telling the truth. She suggests we write about our being, our beginning, our childhood. As an example, write about school lunches. For Lamott it was brown-bag lunches and through this she got an idea of who she was and “if her family were okay.” Only store-bought white bread was acceptable for the “centerpiece,” the sandwich made with bologna and wilted lettuce and mustard. The sandwich should be wrapped in waxed paper with hospital-squared corners.
My memory about school lunches only applies to high school. I bought the hot meals in the cafeteria. The menus were limited. According to the day of the week we could guess what we’d have. Fish, usually from frozen sticks, was served on Fridays, the Catholic influence in New Orleans. And we generally had red beans and rice one day a week. Mother would hope that day was not when she planned the same. Accompanying the beans we had chunks of French bread, buttered.
And we had some kind of dessert on the divided plates. The boys always ate their dessert first. Maybe it would be ice-cream cups and that would make sense. Sometimes it would be pudding or cookies or cobbler. I thought the boys’ habit was not proper, but I wanted to do the same.
It was not so much what we ate but what lunch period was all about. For me, high school lunch time meant being with friends. At Murphy High School in Mobile, AL, we sat around and talked to find out about each other. I’m sure we also talked about those not sitting with us.
During lunch hour at Murphy the clubs met, so we would rush through the meal in order to attend a club meeting. Even there we made associations with who was “okay,” who was popular and accepted and belonged. We tested who we were and who we would become.