The Old Coot gets lost in the past

By Merlin Lessler —

My wife bought a jar of honey the other day. The clerk put it in a craft paper bag that reminded me of the ones I took to school when I was in junior and senior high. In elementary school we walked home for lunch, but once we made it to 7th grade we rode a bus from our elementary school across town to junior high, with a bag lunch in our grasp. 

We carried our books under our arms, covered in craft paper that matched the lunch bags. No book bags or backpacks in those days. I guess I grew up in the dumb generation. 

Our school had a cafeteria, but many of us either couldn’t afford or couldn’t stand to eat the slop that the lunch ladies plopped on your plate. The only thing I purchased in the cafeteria was government subsidized milk and, once a week, a sliver of ice cream served on a cardboard dish for ten cents. 

Things changed in senior high. There were no school buses. You either took a city bus, walked, or were lucky enough to have some older kid in the neighborhood with a car who would get you there and back for a buck a week. At 25 cents a gallon it was a profitable venture. 

If you played sports, with after school practice, you walked home or bummed a ride. Hitchhiking was another way of getting around in that era. 

The other change in senior high was where we settled in to eat our lunch. There was a bakery just a few steps from school and, for reasons unknown to me, they let us crowd in to eat, even though most of us just bought a container of milk. 

It was a mob scene, so crowded that it was hard to get from the front door to the beverage container in the back. We stood around like munching cows in a pasture. My bag usually contained three sandwiches, a boxed snack pie, and an apple. I’d weigh 400 pounds if I ate like that today. 

When I made it to 11th grade my lunchroom shifted to the pool hall down the block. I learned more there than I did in class, but the subject was street smarts. It cost ten cents to play rotation or eight ball, a penny a minute for straight pool. Those games were fairly innocent. It was the money games that improved our street smarts – nine ball and six ball. We had an hour for lunch; it was enough time to lose a week’s allowance with a missed shot on the money ball. 

The Lotis brothers, who owned and ran the pool hall, collected a fist full of dimes and got a garbage can full of empty paper lunch bags as a reward. Oh my, all that from a jar of honey in a paper bag. 

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