mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Grade school cafeterias

Do you remember your grade school cafeteria?

I was about to step into the shower at the health club yesterday and suddenly caught an odd aroma -- a complex smell -- decades of overcooked food -- the cafeteria at Most Holy Rosary.

It was a cavernous underground space, long tables and benches. I can walk myself through the classrooms and hallways of the old school, but I can't walk my mind from hallway to cafeteria. It feels disconnected -- an isolated place that accumulated food smells.

My memory of buying lunch there is horrible -- large sweaty men and women in white piled something unrecognizable and inedible onto my tray. I must have complained to my mother because I was converted to a lunchbox carrier.

I was the first child of parents who didn't feel compelled to have a baby every year, in a school full of large working class families. Therefore I was pretty upper crust. My lunchbox might have been a hand-me-down, but my mother painted it bright red. And I had a Thermos bottle for chocolate milk. Because my mother came from the grocery store business, she knew the perfect way to wrap a braunschweiger sandwich in wax paper. Other kids had endlessly reused brown paper bags.

I had lunch in that cafeteria every day for four years, but this is all I remember.

The second half of grade school was spent at Epiphany, where the cafeteria was wonderful. It was a basement space too, but brighter. Our neighbor Mrs. Lawler was in charge of it. Mothers volunteered to don hairnets and aprons to serve us kid-approved food. My favorite was sloppy joes -- ground beef and tomato sauce on a hamburger bun, with a slice of American cheese. And scoops of tuna-with-egg salad on Fridays.

I don't know why I'm thinking about this.