Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Stories

School Lunches

In Mrs. Flakes’ first grade classroom at Rural Point Elementary, the most embarrassing  thing that could have happened happened. I was sitting in the last desk in my row. I slowly began to feel hot. As my head warmed and I began to sweat, I had an uncomfortable feeling in the bottom of my stomach. No, it wasn’t butterflies of nervousness about something that we were about to do in class. It was lunch.

I had gotten a few dollars from Dad that morning so that I could go through the cafeteria line and get pizza with my friends. Unfortunately, after lunch when we were back in the classroom, the pizza returned. I quickly turned in my seat, and like a scene from Family Guy, it seemed to not stop. I vaguely remember standing up and not knowing what direction to go. I felt awful! Mrs. Flakes tired to steer me away from the throw-up and out the classroom door to the nurse’s office. From there, my parents were called and I went home.

I made a decision that day that I held to until my senior year in high school. I would never eat cafeteria food again! From that day on Mom packed me a lunchbox (until high school when the Alf lunchbox was replaced with a brown lunch bag.)

And I still have it! My mom thinks it was Superman or Mickey Mouse before Alf.

And the lunch was always the same. There was my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread. There was an off-brand ziplock bag of potato chips, a Little Debbie dessert, and a drink. Mom remembers me using the thermos that came with the lunchbox in elementary school with either milk or apple juice in it.

Even in the first grade, I was a creature of habit. I would empty the contents of my lunchbox and arrange them. When I graduated to the brown lunch bag, the drink was always in the bottom, followed by the sandwich, and the Little Debbie cake, and the chips. I would eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich first. Then, the chips, and lastly the Little Debbie cake. And then, I would drink my drink. Why I did it this way, I have no idea. But that was my lunch routine.

When both Mom and Dad worked, I would stay at Mrs. Rice’s house. Later, when I got older, she would tell the story that whenever it was lunch time, she would ask me what I wanted, and the answer was always the same: “Peanut butter and jelly.” I image when I got older and into high school, I may have veered off that plan. But, for the most part, it was always peanut butter and jelly.

Today, whenever I’m hungry and there seems to be few options, I will make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – either strawberry or grape. It brings me a level of comfort. It reminds me of my childhood and the security of always knowing that peanut butter and jelly would be there for me.

And the best part is, I never got sick at school again.

The Doorbell

When I was growing up, it was rare that doors were locked. I can remember as a kid roaming around and randomly going into my grandparents’ home next door. No knocking, and certainly no ringing of a doorbell. We would just walk in. But now that I think about, we haven’t asked my grandparents how they felt about any of us randomly walking in their house.

Then, at some point, the world changed. And doors were locked. It was strange. In order to go into someone’s house, we had to use the doorbell.

The Doorbell - dog rings bellIt was a little creepy at first. You didn’t know what was going to happen. The doorbell was a strange object. “We’re just suppose to push it?” we wondered. “That’s all?” We would push the button and wait to hear if anything happened. In some cases, the “bell” would be so loud it would freak us out a little bit. Others we wouldn’t be able to hear it ourselves, which meant we had to push the button again, right? Because if we couldn’t hear it, how could the people inside hear it?

It also seemed so formal. Like we had to wear our Sunday best to visit someone. We were not formal people. We were country, where everyone knew everyone. Honestly, though, everyone was related to everyone – which is a whole other blog post.

Doors were no longer open. Being invited in was no longer taken for granted. We had to ask to be invited in.

When the doorbell rings, we have been trained to go to the door. We may peek through the window first to see who is out there. Maybe we are expecting guests or a delivery, and we wait with anticipation for the doorbell to ring. The power of who comes in is on us, we who are inside the house. If it is a salesperson, we do not have to let them in. If it is some annoying grandchildren, we do not have to let them in.

When I lived in an apartment in the West End of Richmond, a group of Mormons from Central America were making the rounds in the apartment building. I knew when my doorbell rang that it was this group of people. I knew what they were selling, and decided that I needed to bury my  head into my textbooks instead. I figured after they rang the bell and no one came to the door, they would move on to the next door.

However, the bell kept ringing. After awhile I finally got up from the table where I was studying, and answered the door. The elder member began chatting me up in a quick pace of Spanish that I did not understand. I finally realized that they had the wrong apartment. They were looking for my neighbor, who was a relative they were looking for.

About the same time that Dad got sick with prostate cancer, I brought home  a black lab. Dad named her Lady. She had been left on the side of the road near the church I worked at at the time. She was malnourished, to the say the least. And as a result, she spent the first few months inside the house.

As we got better, she would spend most of her days outside. At some point Lady learned that if she jumped up and pushed the doorbell, one of us would come and answer the door. And I don’t mean a neat little trick where she uses her nose to push the bell. No, she would jump up and lean on the door. Once “standing,” she would use her paw to ring the bell. It looked a little bit like this:

www.catster.com

www.catster.com

And because we had been trained to response to the doorbell, we would always check to see who it was. Imagine our surprise the first time we realized it was not a person, but the dog!

Lady was not surprised. And once we started answering when she rang, she would continue this habit. Especially when she sensed a storm coming. Lady was deathly afraid of storms. On these evenings, she would ring the doorbell at the front door, and if no one came soon enough, she would run and ring the bell on the back door. This would continue for awhile until my Mom would wait patiently for her at one of the doors to let her in.

One evening while Dad was in the hospital, I was home with my two younger brothers. Lady had gone outside. Not long afterwards, the doorbell started ringing. I – the older brother – told my brothers, “Don’t answer the door. It’s just Lady, and she needs to learn to stop doing that.”

The doorbell did not stop ringing.

Finally I got up, annoyed with the lab, to let her in. Only, there was no black lab waiting at the back door. Instead, it was one of our neighbors bringing us a casserole. I was only slightly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought you were the dog.”

Penny’s Rescue

When I was in middle school, a friend of my Dad’s brought a collie to our house.  He had found her on the side of the road, hit by a car.  He took her to the vet.  He couldn’t keep her because of the apartment he lived in, so he brought her to us.  He had named her Penny.  Penny looked just like the famous collie, Lassie, just a lighter shade of brown.

Over the years, Penny would be there to see us get on the school bus each morning and to welcome us home each day.

My senior year, our marching band trip was to Walt Disney World.  My Dad was going as one of the chaperones and we were leaving the house to go to the school.  It was that part of the day when evening was coming on.  The sun was slowly slipping away and the moon was slowly rising to takes its place.  Penny was nowhere to be seen.  I remember thinking that this was odd.  She was always around.  She always there to greet us or to see us off.   But on this evening, she wasn’t.

Something deep within me knew that something wasn’t right.

I called her name, “Penny!  Penny!”  Nothing.  No bark.  No collie feet running through the woods.  Nothing.  The strange feeling I had that something was wrong wouldn’t leave me.

I called again.  Still nothing.  My Dad was urging me to get into the truck.  We were going to be late.  It would be ok, he said, she’ll find her way back.  I kept calling.  Then, I heard something.  I asked my Dad, “Did you hear that?”  He said he didn’t.  I called Penny’s name again, and the sound of faint bark could be heard.  Soft, quiet.  Something was indeed wrong.

I took off running, despite the cries of my Dad telling me to wait or to get a flashlight.  Back behind our house was a huge creek that would run into the Pamunkey River.  There was a trail from our house to the creek and another trail that would lead to my grandparents’ home next door.   I ran, stopping every so often to call Penny’s name again, listen for her bark, and then run in that direction.

I ran down the path, jumping over dead logs.  I crossed the creek using the old oak that had fallen in just the right place to serve as a bridge.  I struggled to get up the steep hill using weeds and branches to pull myself up it.

I reached the top and there was this old abandoned house.  No one had lived here for years.  Windows were broken.  Doors were missing.  It looked like something out of a horror film.  As I ran around to the front of the house, I stopped to see Penny standing on the roof of the porch.

Without a moment of hesitation, I ran into the dark house, up the stairs, and found the room whose missing window, Penny had walked through.  I called her to me, and she came back into the house and together we ran out of the house, down the hill, across the old oak bridge, and up the path back to my house.  Somewhere in the midst of this running back, we bumped into my Dad would was coming after me with a flashlight.  But, we didn’t stop, we both kept running until we made it home.

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