I worked in the school cafeterias, elementary, middle school, and high school for a couple of years and I learned three things, I don’t like middle school children, I wasn’t made for manual labor, and I really enjoyed speaking to and learning from older women.
I began to recognize the beauty of lined faces and see how optimism or pessimism imprints itself on one’s face. I saw how burdens of life either cause you to bend over, round your shoulders and slow your gate way before your age may warrant it. Or they can cause you to stand taller, pump your arms while you walk, head erect, and lengthen your stride. It was all in the way you handled those burdens and if you had someone to share the load with.
There was one older married woman in one of the schools who had a doll and teddy bear collection. While not my thing, this woman practically vibrated on the day she was expecting one of her orders to arrive. She ordered these things by mail. It gave her so much pleasure. The lesson to me was, do what you must to keep joy in your life. This hobby of hers did not harm anyone and it brought her joy.
You wouldn’t believe that peeling a fifty pound bag of onions could be enjoyable, but when you worked the high school kitchen that was the volume you dealt with. The high school did a lot of cooking for the other schools in the district. Peeling these onions was made easy by standing on the other side of the huge bag from a 65 year old woman. We were chit chatting. Many people in the kitchen didn’t care for this woman because she was stern and had an old fashioned work ethic. In other words, she expected you to earn your money while you were there.
It was with trepidation that I joined her at the huge bag of onions. I thought this is going to be such a drag, but being me I determined to make the best of the situation and pulled out one of my tools of life, I got her to talk about herself. This is a talent I apparently always had and have honed it through the years. She was so interesting and told me about her life as a child which if I remember right was in the late 20s . That’s when I discovered my love for recent history came not from a book but from the mind and voice of someone I could speak with in person.
The kitchen was like being Alice in Wonderland, or in an episode of I Love Lucy. The dish washer was 8 feet long – it was supposed to be manned by two people. Most often one person got stuck doing it. As the trays came through a small window, you would empty them, load them in a rack, push the rack on to the conveyor belt, do a couple more, then run down to the other end. Then you would unload the steamy hot trays before the next rack you had loaded came through. Next you would run back to the window and start the process all over again. This had to be done very quickly or you would have pile ups.
Once a week, you had to break down this monster machine with its billion parts, and hose it out with hot water. Sometime you would hit a wall and it would splash right back at you. By the end of the shift you were soaking wet and your white, nylon, uniform was totally see through. Naturally there would be some school janitor leaning on his broom taking this all in and grinning at you.
I won’t bother telling you about the pots you stirred with an oar or those that you practically got in to clean. The US Army mess had nothing on this kitchen!