Sunday, February 20, 2011

Traumatic School Lunch Memories- Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott's writing book, Bird By Bird, is an oldie, but a goody, that I just recently discovered. A friend who always points me in the direction of good reads, recommended it years ago. I've been feeling a little fragmented and stagnant, and in general like I've been neglecting my writing. So, when I came across the book at a thrift store, I grabbed it. I have been reading sections of off and on for a month.

Anne's writing is raw and honest, which I knew from Traveling Mercies, the story of her unlikely path to finding faith, and Operating Instructions, the tell all story of her unexpected pregnancy, and the brutal, early days of motherhood. Anne isn't for those who are squeamish or easily offended because she just tells it like it is, and it isn't always pretty. My jaw dropped at least a couple of times while reading her life stories.

In Bird By Bird, Anne talks about her own life as a writer, and tries to encourage others in getting past the road blocks and obstacles to writing, and just getting busy with the pen and paper (or laptop as the case is more likely to be these days.) Anne also teaches adult writing classes, and gives a few assignments that she also gives to her writing students. One exercise that she feels everyone can benefit from, and easily accomplish is writing about school lunches. Everyone, at least in America, must have some memories of school lunches.

Well, aside from the poor, unsocialized, homeschooled children like mine, who never went to school, and therefore are completely going to miss out on this assignment. They'll be OK though. They are creative thinkers. I'm sure they could write about how their mother put ground flax seed in their birthday cake or used a napkin to soak up all the grease on their pepperoni pizza before she let them eat it. There's plenty of weird lunch material they could draw from.
Thermos Scooby Doo Mystery Lunch Kit
As for me, when I started thinking about school lunches, I immediately had the most unpleasant flashback. Imagine being 8 years old, and one of the only non-rich kids at your private school. There is no cafeteria- everyone brings their lunch. As the other kids open their Twinkies, and bologna on Wonder white bread, I open my super cool Scooby Do lunchbox wondering what my step dad had packed for me on this day.

For reference, my step dad at the time was a bit of an odd fellow, who would seem normal and even semi nice at times, and just plain crazy, illogical and mean at others. In hindsight, he probably had post traumatic stress disorder from his stint in Vietnam, but as a kid, the only thing I knew was that he was OK in a good mood, but you didn't want to make him mad.
He would sometimes give us canned Spaghetios every night for dinner for weeks straight (OK, again, in hindsight, maybe it was only like 5 days, but it felt like weeks.) At first we thought "Yay, cool, Spaghettios!" (I know, I had very bad taste in food at the time, but I was a kid) But after the third day, we were like "Ugh, Spaghettios again?" He responded to our complaints with a pretty scary temper, so we kept them quiet.

In the case of my school lunch memory though- there was at least actual spaghetti involved, not Spaghettios. Now, I like spaghetti, but what he did with it on this occasion still causes me distress to think about. The spaghetti was sandwiched between 2 slices of white bread. It gets worse. He had also decided to add frozen peas and carrots in the mix. Yes, I had a cold spaghetti and pea sandwich on white bread.
Well, of course I didn't eat it. I tried to hide it as quickly as possible before anyone saw the atrocity and called attention to it. But you know how kids are always wanting to see what everybody else has and trade lunch stuff. Someone saw. The secret was out. I think I must have subconsciously blocked out what followed, but we all know how mean kids can be, and that was some pretty easy teasing material right there.

What could he have possibly been thinking? A cold spaghetti and peas sandwich? Why on earth would he do that? Did he actually think it was just a handy way to get a complete meal, including veggies, or was  he trying to cause me humiliation and grief? Of course I took to making my own sandwiches at that point, just to be sure. Who knows, maybe that was his point- to get his step kids to be more self sufficient. I'll never know since my mother and he divorced, and I haven't seem him in over 20 years.

Still, the memory of that sandwich is something I'll never forget. I don't think anyone ever asked me to trade lunches with them at that school again. A few years later, we moved a thousand miles away, and I went to a new school- one where no one knew about my cold spaghetti and peas sandwich- one where I could trade my lunches without the fear of that story coming to haunt me.

Anyone else have any school lunch memories- traumatic or otherwise?