Lunch. It’s always been a strange divide for me—hugely important yet very seldom used for the consumption of lunch. In fact, specific, social lunch plans are one of the fastest ways to derail me completely: they always seem like a great idea, yet without that solitary break in the day, a walk and some window shopping, a phone call to my dad and a trip to the ATM, the day seems lost and overly booked.
Call it brunch and it’s fine (because that means it’s either a weekend or I’m unemployed and time is not the same), and a leisurely dinner with friends is my forte, but lunch? And even as far back as elementary school I learned to eat my lunch in a hurry and leave the cafeteria as quickly as possible. As far as the recess that came after (I remember it as an hour, but that can’t be right), I divided the activities by season. In the warmer months I got permission from our gym teacher and recess guardian, Mr. Nolke, to go past the fence boundaries to search for rogue balls and Frisbees near the rail road tracks (why this seemed an appropriate activity for an eight year-old I’ll never know, but I was certainly grateful at the time).
In the winter I formed an alliance with the school librarian, avoiding the frigid playground and opting instead to stay in the cozy, cavernous library, with its carpeted hush and shelter of shelves, reshelving books. I read as much as a shelved, never able to go without reading the back synopsis or taking a second look at the author’s note. Overwhelmed by the titles I hoped to remember for later reading (we could only check out two books at a time), I began to make lists on the scrap paper kept in neat piles on the reference table tops. Still stuffed in childhood books as bookmarks, I can find my kid scripted lists—A Doll in the Garden and Wait Till Helen Comes—Mary Downing Hahn, a biography of Amelia Earhart and all the Anastasia Krupnik books.
In 1992 I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time, followed by A Wind in the Door. Stuffed beneath a table, my back pressed against the radiator to keep warm, I tried to follow with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but half way through found it too densely adult, the characters now older teens and in their twenties. I missed Meg as a gawky child and her brother, Charles, as a baby in Dr. Dentons.
1990 was the start of The Babysitters Club. I learned what diabetes was from Stacy’s Emergency and wished for long, bland braids like MaryAnne’s. There were also Sleepover Friends and Sweet Valley Twins (I tried to read Sweet Valley High, but the cover art alone detoured me. To a second grader, shapely sweater sets on buxom blondes that look at least 25 is too foreign and strange), Friends 4 Ever and other brightly colored series issued via Scholastic Book Order.
In a corner near the wall shared with the teacher’s lounge was a shelf of baby picture books I’d read as a kindergartner and first grader. One in particular, something that I recognize now as a surrealist Dahli rip off, was of Lisa Frank-like characters following a red string. Through the deserts past a golden sphinx, to the sky and on a cloud with a city carefully perched atop the fluff in secret, a ladder-like slide that lead back down to Earth, a boy and girl followed the string…
I had another favorite called “Help, I’m Locked in the Library!” and who doesn’t love “From the Mixed Up Files?”
And so, as I get ready to start school and return to my favorite place, it’s feeling a little like coming home again. I’ll focus on the good feelings and steer clear of the announcements in the Times saying teachers are still getting the axe.