At Stapleton Elementary School in Joplin, Mo., where I went for K-5, there was something special about the cafeteria. Not only did the cafeteria serve as the multi-purpose room, stage for presentations and awards and as a, well, cafeteria, but there was something that editing a menu for elementary schools for the Extras section at my current job that sparked a memory. In the cafeteria, sometimes we'd have to sit boy-girl-boy-girl and sometimes we'd have to sit with our class. Other times, we'd sit all girls on one side and all boys on the other side. The rules changed daily, it seemed. I remember going to the large, box-like silver milk container to get chocolate milk from the red crates -- usually I went for the still-partially-frozen cartons. I'd proceed up to the lunch counter and they'd give us our helpings of this and that. Only after everyone was seated would they announce that there was enough for seconds -- but on a first-come, first-served basis. The most popular items seemed to be the miniature Mexipizzas. But what was so special about the cafeteria?
The traffic light. A real, genuine traffic light -- red, yellow, green.
Sometime in my later years at Stapleton, the principal installed a stoplight at the front of the cafeteria/gymnasium. During lunchtime, the lights would change, depending on the volume of the chattering children. When someone would start mixing their mashed potatoes with their pineapple tidbits, a table would roar with laughter from boys and squeals from girls with bows in their hair. The moment noise grew louder than a hush, the light would move from green to yellow, a sign that it was a little too loud and to quiet/settle down.
If things got really out of hand -- let's say someone decided to initiate a minor food fight or one of the boys was picking on one of the girls -- laughter would boom and girls would squeal louder. This usually meant that the cafeteria monitor would switch the stoplight to red, which meant (in plain terms) "shut the hell up." At the red light, a single whisper was asking to be sent to the principal's office or to have recess stripped away. After a few minutes of complete silence -- with the exception of clattering pots and pans from the lunch ladies and silverware scraping plastic trays -- the light would return to yellow and slowly work its way back to green. Usually by that time, though, it was time for recess.
Recess, of course, is a whole different story that includes the honeysuckles, the big tree at the far end of the playground, the four-square courts, the metal railroad cars/monkey bars and the big metal slide where a kid went down head-first (and cracked open his skull, of course, on the gravel and rocks below). I'll tell those stories eventually.
----------------------------------My Judaica blog also seems to be wanting to float into a log of sorts. Lately I seem to be having small chance memories of things I haven't thought about in ages. Autumn and wintertime do that, though. It's the scents of this time of year where you cloes your eyes and are transported to a completely different time and place where your feet were much smaller, hands quite tiny and your eyes were much wider. So that's where I'll head. Wherever the moment takes me.