Working for Cherokee Schools for 34 years, I ate my share of school food. Not only did I eat it, I liked it.
Faye Tippens, lunchroom manager at then North Canton Elementary, and her crew ran a top-notch program. She was not just the manager of food service at the school, she was a teacher, too.
Ms. Tippens walked around the lunchroom talking with the children about the nutritional value of the food they were eating.
Many schools had their specialties. At North Canton Elementary, it was homemade yeast rolls. When I would open the door of the school and smell those rolls cooking, I knew I was staying for lunch.
I began my teaching career at Clayton Elementary. Clara Moore and Ruthell Weaver ran the lunchroom. Most of the time they had things I liked. But one combination really got my attention. It was soup and cornbread.
I grew up eating soup and cornbread, but I had never eaten them together. With soup at our house, we had crackers. Cornbread was on the table with butterbeans and peas.
It did not take me long to learn that soup and cornbread were made for one another.
In many classrooms there was a chart with each child’s name on it. When students ate everything on their plate, they got a gold star beside their name.
An adorable little boy named Joe James was in my class. Joe wanted a star by his name every day, but there was something that gave him a problem. It was English peas. So, Joe would swallow his peas, one at a time, like taking a pill. Doing that he always got a gold star.
When I was teaching at Hickory Flat Elementary, I quickly learned their lunchroom speciality. It was pie crust. Florence Clark was the lunchroom manager. Along with Dot Pinyan, Grace McClure, Venus Gramling and others, they would bake huge fruit cobblers covered with crisp, buttery crusts.
Then, they would make extra crust. At the end of the serving line would be pans of just the pie crust. Anyone who wanted some just helped themselves.
Florence and her crew ran a well-organized lunchroom and served well-prepared food the children and adults alike.
One day, something happened that turned everything upside down in a hurry.
On the last school day before the Easter holidays, parents would be invited to eat lunch with their children. Then they would help with Easter Egg Hunts on the playground.
On ordinary days, the lunch line moved at a fast pace. But on one particular day the line was backed out of the lunchroom and well down the hall.
Cute as a button, David Thompson, probably a second-grader, was a bright, inquisitive little boy. That day, while he was waiting in line, he spied something interesting on the wall.
It was a red box with a clear glass covering. The box was not locked. Wanting to know more about it, he lifted the cover and pulled the lever.
Anyone in a school knows there are times when you do not have a fire drill. When the children are in the lunchroom is one of them. So, when the alarm went off, teachers, including those of us in the lunchroom, ushered the children and their parents out of the building as fast as we could.
But that was not where the real confusion came in. It was after we were allowed to go back into the lunchroom. We tried to seat each child at the same place with the lunch they had been eating before we evacuated the building.
When a child would say, “Teacher, my chicken is gone,” or “Hey, I had already eaten my Jello,” we knew the child had someone else’s fork and plate.
Children’s tastes have changed through the years. You do not see black-eyed peas on the school offerings as often as you did in the past. Now there are chicken nuggets, tacos, green salads and fruit.
The green salads and fruit mean school food is even better for you than it was in the past.
This week, our cafeteria workers, past and present, are to be appreciated. From Cliffie Johnson, Fannie Bell, Jessie Goddard, Betty Cook, Sara Lee Clark, Pud Puckett, Lottie Nations, Dot Satterfield, Linda Cornelison and many others, including those who are serving school lunches today, we give our thanks. Because of them it remains true that, “School Food is Good for You.”
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.