T-Bucket's Memories of a Happy Poor Boy... pt. 2
Every year they took class pictures at the school. They didn’t take individual pictures, they took a group picture while we all sat up straight in our desks in the classroom. I had a royal blue, v-neck sweater that I wore on ‘picture day’ from first through fifth grade.
"Terrence, It’s pitchuh day, put ya’ pitchuh sweatuh on .”
If I wanted to know what grade a class picture was from, I’d just look at the length of my sweater’s sleeves in the photo. I wore that sweater anytime Momma thought there might be a camera about, it didn’t matter if it was 110 degrees in August.
At school, lunch was a quarter and an extra milk was 2 cents (3 cents for chocolate).You picked up your lunch at a window, and went back to class to eat it at your desk. That was a dollar a day for Momma to get us lunch (if we wanted extra milk, we had to buy it). Momma got Chaunce and me jobs as ‘cartboys’, because cartboys got a free lunch of whatever was left in the kitchen after everybody ate. We pushed a cart with a water basin and two holes with trash cans inside down the hall, and stopped, sporadically, while kids brought their dirty lunch trays out to us in the hall to be collected. Silverware in the basin, milk cartons and napkins in the first hole, then they’d hand you their slimy tray and you’d bang it against the wall of the third hole to knock off any leftovers, then stack them at the end. We were proud of how fast we could collect them, and we got to see every girl in school, once a day. I quivered and looked down everytime Madelyn Saunders handed me her tray.
Afterwards, we’d hose the ‘muck and misses’ off our carts out back of the kitchen. When the head kitchen lady said they were clean enough, we could eat. They’d let us go back to the leftover trays, and get all we wanted. It was ice cold, yet bountiful. Sometimes there was whole racks of corny dogs or batter bread. We sat on the back dock of the kitchen, soaking wet from hosing our carts, laughing with heavenly joy as we ate 'til our bellies hurt. Sometimes we’d fart or burp due to our excesses, and then laugh so hard we’d lose our breath, cry, and grimace in a mix of pain and pleasure. I'm smiling, watery eyed at the memory.Those were the days! Chaunce took to hiding stuff out by the dumpster, then snagging it after school to take home. Lunch was one of my biggest motivators not to skip school;that, and my daily transaction with the breathtaking, Madelyn.
In the summer before sixth grade, word got out that they were shutting down our elementary school and our junior/senior high, Douglass, too. Some kind of Federal thing, they said. We were all going to get bussed over to better schools on the fancy side of town. We all knew what that meant.
“They’s closin’ it ‘cause the damn buildin’s crumblin’, and they can’t get no good teachuh over here, anyways”, Momma was sure.
“They want a bettah football team, is all“, Unc’ Bennie was sure, too.
Momma made me wear my picture sweater on the first day of sixth grade. I had never seen my friends so dressed up. It was like we were going off to church or something, and most had never even been on a bus. There was an aura of nervous, fearful, curious, excitement that filled the bus, and everyone on the bus had their ‘picture day’ clothes on. Most all of us took our lunch on the first day, because we knew we might not like ‘fancy school’ food or how much it might cost. Unc’ Bennie said they put mayonnaise on everything. I sat behind Ms. Madelyn Saunders on the ride over, and gloried at the beauty of her full afro with the pink 'pick' stuck in the back . As I ogled the nape of her slender neck, Chaunce nudged me, smiled, and made 'kissy faces' at me. Was I that obviously moon-eyed?
We didn’t buy our new school's class pictures, because they were individual pictures sold in packages. The least expensive package was $3! Momma said they didn't get the lighting right and we all looked like "piccaninnys", and she wouldn't pay a nickel for them. I thought it was the best picture I had taken to date; I know it was really the $3. Momma lined us boys up in front of the willow tree out front and took our school picture that year. Chaunce and I wore the exact same turtleneck shirt with a fake dickie, but with the colors reversed. Mine was orange with a blue dickie, his was blue with a orange dickie. They had come in a sack of three from the Gibson’s downtown. These would be our fancy shirts later in junior high. As a rite of passage, Doodoo had to wear my picture sweater. It was 110 degrees in August.
To this day, I have that photo of us in front of the willow, and often wonder, "Whatever happened to Madelyn Saunders?"
(might as well read 'part 1' ,if you haven't, or part 3 while you're here)