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Darrell Huckaby: Saying goodbye to the cafeteria

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

"School days-school days. Dear old golden rule days."

Somebody posted on Facebook the other a day a photograph of the old Porterdale School. It was the lower building. Talk about precious memories flooding one's soul! I spent some of the happiest moments of my life in that building and was introduced to the magical world of reading and writing and the not-quite-so-magical world of arithmetic. And yes, from time to time I experienced my teacher's hickory stick, or at least her paddle -- but it was never my fault.

The thing that stuck out about that photograph, however, was the door in the lower right corner of the building -- because it led to the lunchroom, which was one of the best things about having the privilege of being educated in Porterdale.

Mrs. Effie Boyd was the dietician at our school, although I am not sure if that's what she was called back then. I do know that she was in charge of the food and she would forevermore put out some good groceries which I and the other little linthead children had the good sense to appreciate -- and it was only 52 cents a week. My parents would really scramble on Sunday nights to scrounge up my lunch money for Monday morning, too.

Mrs. Boyd also ran the restaurant at the Porterdale Hotel and people came from all over Georgia and beyond to eat there. We got her food five days a week at school, and she put the same care into preparing our food as she did the food she served in her place of business.

I have worked at nine schools during my 39-year classroom career and have been treated like a king by all of the lunchroom ladies at all of the schools. My first teaching job was at Cousins Middle School, and Mrs. Mary Clemons used to send me pork chop biscuits to the gym every morning and would invite me to eat in the kitchen with her workers after lunch was served. I ate well, understand, at Cousins Middle School.

But the food Ef Boyd fixed us was especially special.

She made yeast rolls that would melt in your mouth and it was torture to have a class right above the lunchroom when she took them out of the oven at about 10:30 every morning. The fragrance of the yeast rolls was nothing, however, compared to that of the cinnamon rolls on the days she prepared those delectable treats. What I wouldn't give for one of those cinnamon rolls, hot out of the oven, right now. Just thinking about how good they were brings a tear to my eye. Some days we had candied yams -- which were actually her special version of sweet potatoes, thickly sliced and glazed with butter.

Sometimes our menu was determined by what surplus foods the government provided to the school, but I am convinced that Mrs. Boyd could make shoe leather tasty. Some days we had roast beef and mashed potatoes. No flakes or frozen foods for us. We had hand-peeled fresh potatoes and they were absolutely delicious. Even her green peas were tasty and were much better than the ones I might pour from a similar can tomorrow night at supper.

Once a week we had fried chicken. Once a week. And it was actually fried, too, and was slap-your-granny good. She even made fish sticks and salmon croquettes taste good. Best of all, when we went on our end-of-the-year class trips -- which would be coming up about now -- Mrs. Boyd made the picnic lunches we would take along.

The aforementioned fried chicken would be a staple in those meals -- and we weren't limited to just one piece, either. It was all you could eat on those days. Deviled eggs that were just the right consistency -- not too runny and not too dry -- pimento cheese sandwiches that ruined every other pimento cheese sandwich I ever tried to eat for years, and all manner of pies and cakes.

I only remember one bad meal at Porterdale School. I went through the line and the server put an amazing-looking hamburger steak on my plate. It looked so good that I sinned and began coveting everybody else's hamburger steaks. My buddy Gary Stowe pretended to do me the greatest service in the history of lunch trades. He offered me his serving of meat and all he wanted in return was my peach cobbler. Certain I had gotten the better end of that bargain I sat down and cut into the first piece of meat -- and learned that I had traded peach cobbler for chopped liver. And the rule was you had to be a member of the clean plate club. All the Ovaltine I could mix when I got home didn't get the taste out of my mouth, and I have never eaten a piece of liver since.

Those were the days. I know kids now who have eaten pizza, French fries and ranch dressing every day of their high school careers -- bless their hearts.

Pretty soon I will no longer be eating school lunches at all and the feeling is a little bittersweet. But not as sweet as Mrs. Boyd's peach cobbler and not as bitter as her fried liver.

Selah.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck008@gmail.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.