Those who took hot lunch and those of us who took cold lunch apparently required segregation. The furthest table from the hot lunch service counter, the one under the drafty old basement windows, the table that was older and different from the rest, was where the motley crew of bag and box lunchers were cast to empty their oddly wax paper packed lunches from home and eat their strange leftover foods.
When the small, round as she was high, principal, Sister Mary Terrance, rang the carved one winged dove designed hand bell, (one of the dove's wings shatter during a particular angry, nun crazed bell ringing episode) to announce Father Mulligan's entrance it was our cue to settle down and prepare for grace. Not only did we say grace but we would pray for the Pope, for our Bishop, for the boys in Vietnam and sometimes we prayed for Nixon.
Us cold lunchers way over by the windows were mostly forgotten in the blessing. Which was fine with us. I learned quickly from the older kids that 'we' were like the hippies. So radical were we cold lunchers, with our unholy food from home, that Father could scarcely acknowledge us for fear of an uprising. This is how we felt. This is how we acted. Well, as best as you can act like a rebel in a tied down 1960's Catholic school. Trust me though, when no one was looking we had some swagger.
Around fourth grade it became insanely important to be able to sit with your best friend at lunch. It was a crucial matter of social life and death. Sitting alone, without your best friend was like being an absolute social outcast. The only way you could sit by each other was if you both took the same lunch. A hot luncher could never sit with a cold luncher or vice versa. Weekly and sometimes daily you would have to do some serious choreography to be certain what lunch you were both taking. Usually if you remembered you would beg your parents to make a phone call after the unheard hour of eight to make sure your friend was taking the agreed upon lunch the next day.
I remember one such night. My Dad didn't have any ones in his wallet. There would be no hot lunch tickets bought tomorrow. My brother and I would have to take cold lunch. That changed the plans I had made. I just had to call Anne and tell her to take cold lunch. My Mom told me it was too late to make a phone call. I pleaded my case, she called it nonsense and with that I was sent off to bed...devastated.
That was the first time I ever prayed with tears pouring from my eyes. I prayed like the house was on fire. I was praying like I imagined the nuns did all day in their pristine white convent. I had my rosary in hand but couldn't remember all of it, but I thought hanging on to the rosary counted for something. If Anne didn't sit with me tomorrow at lunch I felt sure I would be doomed. I was so afraid that I would be made fun of for being alone. I was so scared to sit there, alone, without a friend and eat my lunch that my intense praying and tearful sobbing was beginning to make me feel as though I would vomit. I was 8 years old, it was late at night and I was a wreck.
The next day despite my fervent prayers Anne took hot lunch like we had planned the day before. She was mad at me, for she too had to sit alone and face the same ridicule as I. She wouldn't even look at me let alone talk to me and at recess I didn't get picked for the kick ball team since Anne had been chosen captain. I had to wander alone for the whole lunch recess. So as not to appear as such an outcast I hid in an architectural aspect of our overly designed, massive church until the bell rang. The rest of the week was more of the same. Ignored. I really began questioning the whole praying thing. I mean if you couldn't 'get' what you prayed for what was the point?
Later, much later, laying in a bean bag, smoking a joint in some campus apartment, I heard some Scripture that enlightened me and has continued to serve me well. From the Reverend Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need."
Tonight, decades later I find myself tucking in my wee one. Her cuddle blanket is around her head and shoulders like a scarf. Something is troubling my pea pod. I ask. I wait. In the shadows of the pink and purple room whispers a little voice choking back tears "Mom, tomorrow our desks are going to be moved. Judy was laughing in our pod and me and Noah smiled and then Mr. Handsome teacher said he was changing everyone seats." "I don't want to be in the back." "I don't know how to defend myself." "Everyone likes where they are sitting and they are all gonna think it's my fault we have to change." "I don't want to get a bad check mark." "I want this year to be my best year ever." Tears and sobs. She lays there, so worried, me consoling her, really, truly knowing and feeling what she is feeling and wishing I could make it all better. I told my angel that "Everything happens for a reason and whatever happens you will find a way to deal with it the best you can. If you try and still can't find your way I am here to help...always and forever."
So tonight instead of the standard lullaby I grabbed my IPOD, docked it and cued it to The Rev. Mick and his disciples and I sang and swayed along.
I would like to think that tonight my sweet little girl smiling up at me from her cozy purple blue hazed hippie bed, got what she needed.
I know I did.