Colleen's Corner: Lunchtime Memories (Mostly)
©2022, Colleen Irwin. All rights reserved.


Recently I have been rewatching Call the Midwife and know people sometimes look back at that time in wonder. The series shows the marvels of childbirth and medical advances for women. The realities of life on the East End of London were very different from my childhood of the late 1960s and 1970s. By no means did we experience the poverty that show represents, yet we had our own struggles.

For many reasons, my memories of that time are locked deep away. It wasnít a very happy time and I try not to focus on that. I try and be present in the moment, so looking backwards doesnít always happen. When I do look back, I marvel at the memories of things that I have not thought of for years.

Watching Call The Midwife has had me thinking about First Grade. Sister Claretta was my teacher and there were many battles my mother had with her, from the fact that I was left-handed to (gasp) sending me to school in boysí pants in the dead of winter. This teacher was why I hated school, that and all the taunting and teasing I endured from classmates.

Towards the end of the school year playing kickball it was my turn to kick, and kids were teasing. I was embarrassed and angry at the ridicule. I was not all that coordinated, and often the ball and my foot never met. When my foot did meet the ball that day I put every bit of anger in that kick, and Sister Claretta was right in its path. Her glasses and nose were both broken. I laugh now, but back then I was in a lot of trouble.

My cousin Nancy lived a block from the school. She was two grades ahead of me. A couple of times I got to go home with her and have lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. I enjoyed having a hot lunch and a respite from the school hall where all students ate lunch together. Especially the fact that my Aunt Jane made her grilled cheese sandwiches with white American Cheese as opposed to the yellow my mother preferred.

One of my fondest school memories was about lunch. I went to a small school attached to my Catholic Church. We brought our lunch to school, there was no cafeteria. Lunch was eaten at long tables in the basement hall. It was also where we had gym in the winter. We did get milk each day in these little milk cartons.

It was when children were given whole milk and probably why still today, I enjoy it over any other version. My husband drinks 1 percent and I cannot drink it. It was the only time I had a choice. White or chocolate milk. I always had chocolate. It was from Hooverís Dairy. We were never allowed chocolate milk at home. That milk always tasted better than at home, even when they didnít have chocolate milk. I always thought it was the little carton or the forbidden chocolate. Later in life a conversation with my mother made me understand that she only served 2 percent at home because it was cheaper. Hoover's Dairy is still in business, selling lots of chocolate milk.

At home I was never given a choice except when it came to vegetables. Then there was a negative connotation. I could have a half cup of a vegetable that I liked, or a teaspoon of one that I did not like. It was often lima beans vs. corn. Easy choice-- I was eating corn! If I didnít eat all of my vegetables, I could not leave the table. I dreaded the days my mother made scrambled eggs for breakfast. If I didnít eat them, they were reheated for dinner, and I got sent to school hungry. Is it no wonder I have issues with food?

On Fridays we got pizza, cheese pizza. Square slices. One per child. It didnít matter if it was Lent or not. We were not going to get meat on a Friday. My grandparents always followed that rule, so did my parents. In earlier times, meat was a rich man's food, and the penance of abstaining from eating it every Friday was a church tradition until the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965 decided that abstinence need be observed only on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and every Friday during Lent. My family never got the memo.

Fridays during Lent meant we were going for Fish Fry in the church hall for dinner. It was Haddock, Pike, Cod or Perch deep fried beer battered. If we didnít go out it was a sure sign we would have pizza for dinner.

That was until my parents divorced. Then we seemed to get it on Saturdays with my dad and during the week with my mother. Fish Fry was no longer at the church hall, so we ventured to the bars along Oliver Street in North Tonawanda. Birch beer was served on tap for kids at many of the establishments, and they all had chocolate milk. By then we were allowed chocolate milk when we were with my dad, eventually my mother relented.

To this day chocolate milk, birch beer and good fried fish are some of my favorites. Lima beans and scrambled eggs I absolutely refuse to eat. It is funny how little things from such an early age can impact who you are over fifty years later.

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