Yellow Cracker School Days
(biscotti yellows of the peanut butter) *
By Anthony Buccino
My favorite cafeteria snacks were yellow crackers with the peanut butter filling... For variety, the orange crackers had yellow filling. These treats held together with preservatives and red dye No. 3.
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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Life and Growing Up In North Jersey
That distinctive smell of pizza and french fries on Friday mornings always signaled the school week was nearly over.
A few minutes in the lunch line, and one or two classes, and it's onto the weekend.
Not only the children felt this way, but some adults went to four years and more of college, got certified and are allowed to cram an adult meal into their gullets in 20 minutes or less.
Now, that's dedication.
As one who brown-bagged it 99 percent of the time, I often pitied the bus kids who had to buy the hot lunch in the school cafeteria. Theirs was an endless stream of mystery meat in brown gravy with vegetables no one could identify.
Plus Jell-O, of course.
Surely, at that price, it was a bargain, but what it was was anybody's guess.
Luckily for me, Mom packed the sandwich – wrapped in Cut-Rite waxed paper – an orange – scored, of course or an apple or a pear, and a pack of Funny Bones or a Ring Ding.
Sandwiches were predictable, made from the best cold cuts in the world, ham, turkey or bologna and cheese, usually on white bread.
Sometimes there would be a meatball sandwich on Italian bread.
Or on special occasions, Mom set aside a veal cutlet or two from dinner and I had that for lunch, much to the drooling envy of my table mates.
However, to wash it all down, I was a the mercy of the lady who sold the milk at the milk island. If I got there early enough, there'd be at least one half-pint of chocolate milk.
In junior high, they sold tumblers of fresh orange juice for almost nothing, but you had to go through the main cafeteria line with everybody else to buy it.
After lunch and before the bell rang, a classmate got a tray of the tumbler-sized glasses of cold, wet orange juice and drank them down one after another as if they were iced beers on a hot summer afternoon.
They all went down so easily.
School cafeterias always had the greatest food accessories.
For variety, they had orange crackers with yellow filling. These treats were held together with preservatives and red dye number three.
Only in the school cafeteria could we find the three-pack of chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies.
These cookies, although packaged, were soft and chewy – before it became a marketing ploy – and had a fresh-baked taste as in the days when Mom baked cookies and Dad went to work.
If you were quick enough and got into the cafeteria line early, you could grab a piece of blueberry pie.
Sometimes after I finished what Mom packed, I'd check to see if they put out the pie for the next lunch class.
There was something addictive about my school cafeteria blueberry pie.
In a pinch, it could pass for a whole meal, but it served as dessert, too.
Kids who ate the hot meals raved about the broiled potatoes.
These crispy brown wonders were charred with a secret spice combination of olive oil and oregano that was brushed on by women with their hair in buns.
On Fridays, the covert operation was to distract a table mate while an accomplice swiped a french fry or two.
This was always good for a knowing laugh.
Cafeterias were built to provide an outlet for the kids' mid-day hyper energy.
Usually the walls were tiled to give the proper echo to the din. Kids often left he cafeteria and went straight to the nurse's office for Q-tips. Conversations were raucous shouts.
Directions from teachers who could not weasel out of cafeteria duty were lost in the lion's roar.
A student shut in at an elementary lunch reported that they were not allowed to talk at lunch.
Perhaps the armed matron watching over the youngsters was born with a perpetual headache and children bothered her.
But a kid who talked in that lunch ended the day serving time in elementary school detention hell.
Nowadays, the cafeteria ladies, God bless 'em, are said to listen to rock 'n' roll music on WKTU.
If they ever had a radio in the old days, it would have been tuned to the all-polka AM station.
Radios in those days could not pick up the signal in the old stone buildings.
When we were in school, we never had a chance to reminisce about he TV shows we watched when we were little.
If anything, we talked about last night's "Fugitive" or the "Mod Squad."
"Sesame Street" didn't start until I was in high school.
The kids today stumble into a friendly game of "remember when" every now and then.
You can hear the rumble, "Thunder! Thunder! Thunder Cats!"
Then they break away into their sentimental memories of Rainbow Brite.
And so it is when I see an ice cream sandwich. It has been more than 25 years since I queued up with my hearty youthful appetite for those yellow peanut butter cookies and an ice cream sandwich to wash them down.
For a brief moment or two, I long to be in junior high school again.
Maybe I should have been a teacher.
Or perhaps a quick visit to a real school cafeteria with living, breathing brats in their funky oversized clothes indecipherable jive will quash this longing.
Original published Sept. 4, 1997, in Worrall Community Newspapers.
Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND Inside and Outside at the Same Time.
Also appears in
Greetings from Belleville, New Jersey collected writings.
* From the Google language translator.
Read more Back To School!
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