Last Wednesday I had a lunch date. It was a very special date. The seven year-old grandson asked me to go to lunch with him at the Brockway Elementary School. I recalled doing the same thing with his 15 year-old brother when he was in the second grade so I knew what to expect.
I was both pleased and troubled by the seven year-old’s invitation. Pleased because he asked me (and not his Na-Na or Mom) and troubled because I am an old guy who takes Protonix daily. I would never say no to the seven year-old and I figured I would keep the antacid handy just in case.
I received explicit instructions from the seven year-old on how I was to dress, (No tie, blue jeans were OK and a shirt but not a tee-shirt). I was told I could bring my lunch but he had to either pack his lunch or buy. I was also told to go directly to the office, do not pass go and not divert until I had checked in.
That bit of information proved not to be true because the folks in charge at the Brockway Elementary School had this scene well under control. The principal, Mrs. Glasl met us at the door and quickly divided us into two groups: Those who had stopped at McDonalds or Subway and those who were “going down the line.” I paid the required $2.80 for the regular cafeteria meal and joined the mob of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who had accepted the invitation to luncheon.
As the 11th hour approached, Mrs. Glasl told us to line up against the wall where we would be claimed by our respective second graders. The gong struck 11 and our hosts poured down the hall and claimed us. (Now I know how my luggage feels at the airport!).
We were guided to the cafeteria where we met “the lunch ladies.” I had a memory from my youth (or perhaps some coming of age teen movie) that depicted lunch ladies as a cross between Dorothy’s wicked witch and the bearded lady. I was therefore quite surprised when I was greeted by several smiling ladies who were more than helpful to someone who was obviously out of touch with his elementary etiquette.
I was served a kid-sized sloppy Joe (this was, after all, an elementary school) and then, to my amazement, candied sweet potatoes! I must divert here to mention that my mother always served the best candied sweet potatoes. Succulent orange delights swimming in partially melted marshmallows. When the ladies offered me some I melted and did my best Oliver Twist impression, asking for more. She asked if I wanted marshmallows on it and I thought, are you kidding? You are offering me something I can’t get at home and you want to know if I want the best part? All this tripped through my mind in a flash and I responded, Yes, please!
Realizing I was indulging in the forbidden fruit, I made the seven year-old swear never to tell his Na-Na! Having a tray full of my secret delight, I passed by an array of food that other days would have proved tempting; Baked beans, apple crisp, fruit among other items.
I thought as we entered the cafeteria that this was not too bad. I made a secret note to myself to find out the next time they are serving candied sweet potatoes and wrangle another invitation!
The interior of the cafeteria looked very much like someone had pushed over a human anthill. There were little bodies everywhere. Well behaved little bodies who were busy eating, socializing and, well, being kids.
After parading around the cafeteria a few times, the seven year-old found the right seat which just happened to be the first seat we had passed. It also happened to be next to two of his classmates. Being boys, they proceeded to engage in a milk chugging contest followed by a cookie munching contest, a belching contest, discussions about “girl friends” and who had been in trouble that day. It was a very informative lunch on some very low tables.
When the bell rang (and this was an old hand-held, one-room schoolhouse bell and not an electronic tone), the seven year-old jumped to his feet and led me toward the tray room. We ran afoul of ground control and had to wait while the other tables cleared. The delightful lady controlling the flow finally gave us the green light and I was led to the tray room where the remnants of my meal, and his, were discarded.
The seven year-old must have figured I could not navigate the school without a compass as he told me I had to stay close to him. When we reached the hall he instructed me to follow the other parents and I would be OK. Amazingly, I found my car all by myself.
I don’t know if you have ever been invited to lunch with a second grader but it is an experience every parent and grandparent should have. And then there are those candied sweet potatoes.