I’ve never been a fan of lunch―mostly (although I’m sure there are other reasons) because of the lunch lady who ran the kitchen in my elementary school and her unforgiving fingers—or, to be more precise, her fingertips.
She was nice enough, I suppose, although I can’t recall any meaningful conversations with her. I imagine most of our interactions consisted of her holding out a spoon and me responding with a carefully thought-out, “yes, please” or “no, thank you,” depending on what was dripping from the end of said spoon.
Still, like I said, she was nice enough. I mean, I don’t have any strange or scary memories of run-ins with her or any of the women who made my midday meal, Monday through Friday, September through June, year after year … but … she did leave a lasting impression (so to speak) on me and literally shaped eating habits that have stuck with me all these years―at least when it comes to lunch.
Because of the lunch lady, I don’t eat sandwiches. Well, that’s not entirely true—as an adult I have been put in situations (company lunches, for example) where cold cuts and sourdough bread were served, and forced my way through at least part of the premade concoction. But for the most part, I don’t eat sandwiches unless, that is, a paycheck is on the line.
I haven’t always been like this. Before the lunch lady made her lasting impression on my young self, I used to love ham and Swiss on pumpernickel. And truth be known, every now and then I sort of crave one. But nowadays I don’t eat ham, so the sensation of sinking my teeth into the dark German bread layered with thick slices of ham and Swiss is nothing more than a childhood memory.
See, because of the lunch lady, rather than eat PB&J like most American children, I used to eat goulash. Instead of turkey on rye, I ate spaghetti. And on meatloaf day, I was the only child with a knife and fork in hand rather than the alternative ham and American cheese hoagie.
Yes, on that fateful day in second grade when I looked at the sandwich on my lunch tray and there, deeply imbedded in the top slice of balloonish-style white bread, were the lunch lady’s fingerprints. Ever since then, I have steered clear of sandwiches. And so, to this day, I still find lunchtime a challenge. Thank God for salads. And goulash, of course.

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