We were at my stepmom’s house a few months ago during Christmas. I was warming by the fire, dozing off. My stepmom came up and draped a blanket over me. Inspecting the blanket closer, I realized it was the quilt my high school lunch ladies made for me!
High school was a weird time for most people, myself included. Where some kids rebelled against authority, I made friends with it. I learned early on that you could get along with anyone with a disarming smile, some confidence, and a little luck. Which helped in getting out of trouble or whatever it was you wanted.
For example, the school policeman caught my girlfriend and me making out between classes and marched us to the principles office. The vice principal sat us down, and I was all smiles and apologies. Eventually, he smiled along with me and let us go. Another time, I was caught wandering the halls by a different vice principal, who mistook me for another punk kid; I went over to him, shook his hand, and introduced myself. His demeanor changed immediately.
Now, I was not put together. I had spiky hair full of Murray’s Pomade, Crisco, or apple pie filling. I dressed in thrift store clothes. Shirts that looked like they were from the 70s, full of safety pins. Corduroy pants, two sizes bigger than I was, safety pins lining the crotch, cinched with a belt. Burgundy Doc Martens, drawn all over with silver paint marker. This may be tame compared to the kids I see nowadays, but it was wild in my school then.
But adults seemed to love me despite my exterior. I think it was because I was personable.
My dad and the lady that became my stepmom were on and off again when I moved into my dad’s house. He was busy with work and his true love, scuba diving. There was never much food in the refrigerator. My stepsister and I would comment that we had only mustard, syrup, and other condiments. What can you do with that? However, whenever my stepbrother and sister were over, my stepmom would fill the pantry with whatever they wanted to eat. Fruit rollups and waffles. Like winning the lottery. Otherwise, I would wait for leftovers or times when my dad offered to take me to Taco Bell. Sometimes he would run to the store and buy hot dogs or chicken chow mein from the can. It was like heaven. I don’t think we were poor; they were not home often and didn’t shop much.
This brings me to the lunch ladies.
The hungry, personable kid that I was, one day, I approached one of the lunch ladies, Kathryn, and said, “Hi, I noticed that this is the last lunch of the day, and this being Friday, these chicken rings will most likely be thrown out. What say I take them off your hands?” Kathryn had big, curly red hair; she might have been thirty then. She looked around and said, “Why don’t you put those chicken rings in your pocket.” I was smitten.
Chicken rings were maybe a second to mozzarella sticks. So good. What part of the chicken is in a ring? Better not to think about that.
And so it went. The lunch ladies fed me throughout my sophomore and junior year. On the weekends, I was either at my mom’s well-stocked house or the stepbrother and sister were over, which meant stepmom went to the store.
My dad and stepmom moved a few towns over during my senior year. So I needed to drive to finish the school year there. Which meant I needed to get car insurance, which meant a job. Once I started raking in the money, I was set with all the Taco Bell I could eat.
But I would still hang out with the lunch ladies whenever I could, even though I no longer needed them for sustenance. Usually, I would see them in the mornings and hang out at lunchtime. They were incredibly inappropriate around me, an adolescent. But they also knew I wasn’t a narc, which made me feel further like I was included.
So they also fed my soul with a sense of belonging.
During yearbook photos of the faculty and staff, I was brought in to stand with my chosen people.
When it came time to graduate, Dorothy made me a quilt. I was shocked. As I mentioned a few posts ago, making a quality quilt is no small endeavor.
Maybe five years later, I saw Kathryn at the Art Institute enrolling her daughter into the culinary program. She seemed smaller and meeker than I had remembered. No longer the vivacious redhead I knew in my younger days. I had wanted to talk to her more and catch up, but we were both in a rush, and I didn’t know what I would have said anyways and felt like she didn’t want to hang out if I did.
I remembered that our dog had chewed up the quilt years ago. For some reason, in my mind, nothing was left of this precious memento worth saving, but it ended up being just little bite marks on one corner. Though I am not big on keeping unnecessary things, I was glad my stepmom had kept that for all these years. Seeing the quilt brought tears to my eyes to think of my old friends.