CUTTING THE FOOL:
WOMEN IN THE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM
S. A. LAWSON
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE
COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
S. A. Lawson
Mother and Father
Usually one starts thanking people who are least important to one's
study and ends up praising one's wife and children. Perhaps this follows
the biblical dictum that the first shall be last and the last, first.
The most important people have been my family and friends. I do
not know if I ever would have finished this if my father had not asked,
"Well, kid, what else are you going to do with yourself?" or my mother
had not always said how proud she was. Or for that matter, my sisters
Kathy and Peg and brother Bill who told me I was too old to be still in
school and they were getting a little embarrassed telling their friends
that I was still working on It.
My sister Kathy, a high school teacher, visited me during the study.
I asked her about the role of teachers, a group with whom I had only
very structured and limited contact. She related to me her own teaching
experiences and made observations about the attitudes and behavior of
her fellow teachers, which were most helpful. Kathy also met one of
the women with whom I worked and through Kathy's comments, I was able
to see some of my own family bias. Peg and I discussed what makes
working worthwhile: to her it was the challenge and the change. For
my brother Bill, however, work was the time that he was with his friends
doing what he liked best to do--tinkering with cars.
My friends at work, about whom this study is written, always jived
me about "the book." One said that this would be the first time that
chaos was documented. They told me to make sure I included this and
Lord, don't tell them that. They were sure I was going to make a lot
of money from selling the book, little knowing that dissertations are
the ultimate in written obscurity.
The importance of one or two individuals who befriended the anthro-
pologist cannot be underestimated. For me, one such person was the head
custodian at Hogtown High School. Much of what I learned about the
subtleties of interaction among school employees and students, I have
learned from this man. He acted not only as an excellent analyzer of
the school's culture but also as my patron and protector. When he died
last year, I lost not only a person who collaborated with me on my
fieldwork, but a dear friend.
At the university, I was fortunate in knowing another man, who
like H.H.S.'s "ole yard man," acted as my patron. I would wander into
Professor von Mering's office unannounced and launch into a diatribe about
the latest inflammatory incident, or at other times, I would talk about
something particularly amusing that had happened. He received these
outbursts with equanimity and then would present his own latest zany
ideas about the research. Many of his off-beat notions, which at the
time seemed irrelevant, proved to be extremely useful; sometimes, not so
useful. His most helpful advice came one day when, after listening to
me go on, he leaned back in his chair, folded his hands over his stomach,
grinned and said, "My dear, that's a judgment."
Lydia Deakin, a friend throughout my graduate study, put research
into a proper perspective, mixing common sense with a tradition of
scholarship. I survived on her daily rations of undaunted continental
charm and homebaked cakes and breads. Another friend, Deborah Bowers,
a writer on local culture, has generously shared her manuscripts with
me on activities that some of my co-workers participated in but which I
had not observed, e.g., family gatherings to make sugar cane syrup in
the winter. Deb has been a mainstay throughout this research, reading
and rereading each chapter as it was written, supplying the needed
encouragement and the occasional midnight MacDonald's hamburger.
Other friends unconnected with the research were equally supportive.
They always said how interesting my life was (?) and how they always
wanted to do something like it (they could not have meant washing pots
and pans). Roz Brandon, Rona Wilson, Phyllis Tellor, Valentina
Komaniecka, and Gemma Tate were such friends.
My committee, save the chairman, were people whom I met late in my
academic program. They were recruited by my chairman to give the
university's equivalent of the Jewish minyan. I thank them for welcoming
me into the olde boy's club that is anthropology: Theron Nunez, Carol
Taylor, Antoinette Brown, William Kelso, and Harry Paul.
Long about this time, one thanks the foundation which gave the grant
for the study. My family always came through with money as needed, never
asked how it was spent nor demanded much more than an occasional letter
in return. Foundations, I understand, are a little less cooperative.
My research and myself were supported largely by my earnings from the
job in the lunchroom and with the local community college, both of which
Shirley von Mering was instrumental in getting for me. I also held
assistantships at the university, for which I thank the University of
Florida and more particularly, Lydia Deakin and Otto von Mering who
saw to it that I got funded if funds were around.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER II: OBSERVATIONS ON FIELDWORK
CHAPTER III: DATA AS THE STORY
CHAPTER IV: EXAMINATION OF THE DATA
Table I: Setting
Table II: Characters
Table III: Action
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION
APPENDIX: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
CUTTING THE FOOL: WOMEN IN THE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM
S. A. Lawson
Chairman: Otto von Mering
Major Department: Anthropology
This is an ethnological study of a small group of women employed in
a school lunch program preparing meals for students, teachers and staff.
In their efforts to fulfill their work functions, the women encountered
certain difficulties which have given rise to a special kind of adaptive
behavior known as "cutting the fool."
The women subscribe to the value that work is both a good and
necessary activity for able-bodied adults, yet, the reality of working
in the lunchroom is viewed less favorably. The work is physically
exhausting, routinized, as well as potentially dangerous. The many
frustrating and even humbling situations encountered in this employ
are not compensated for by the actual financial rewards and benefits.
In order to reconcile the value of work with their job situation,
these workers have developed particular survival techniques which
allow them to play out a fiction. This fiction many of the women have
likened to contemporary soap operas. They have created a story from
the happenings at work and from the situations that occur in their own
lives outside of work. This story contains two essential elements of
drama: role-playing and entertainment.
Acting out roles for the benefit of an audience, i.e., the students,
teachers and staff who come each day to eat in the lunchroom, allows the
women to do their work with the least amount of friction. During the
lunch hour when the women are on stage, they play at being deferential
servants, meeting thereby the expectations of their patrons.
Before and after the lunch hour, another kind of performance takes
place. During this time, the workers stage for one another a kind of
vaudevillian show, which includes amusing dialogues, dancing, singing
and pantomime. These activities foster cooperation and help to solidify
the group into one working and performing unit.
This adaptation to institutional work allows the women to complete
their tasks, to overcome petty tyrannies of their customers and
administrators, to retain a sense of self, and to enjoy the comraderie
of their fellow workers.
It is this instinctive conviction, vividly posed
before the imagination, which is the motive power
of research--that there is a secret, a secret which
can be unveiled. (Whitehead 1948:13)
This is a story about women at work. Like all stories, the
stories that anthropologists tell concern real life, but they are not
real life. Stories are created out of life experiences which may or
may not have happened. Life moves on, but in a story, life stops with
the telling. The teller controls the story by emphasizing certain
things and omitting others, shaping and changing events, sometimes
unwittingly, to accomplish a purpose or to suit the audience. The
anthropologist's task is to tell it like it is, but in so doing, he
distorts the story. This is the nature of story-telling, but it also
a peculiarity of the anthropologist's work.
Anthropology is the study of mankind. The word itself comes from
two Greek words anthropos and logos. Anthropos is unambiguous enough,
meaning man or human. Logos, although generally interpreted to mean
study, has various meanings, only one of which is study. In the
original Greek, logos is the symbol for speech, word and reason.
These three meanings of logos are interrelated and, as a unified complex,
define a significant aspect of man. Man's language is his ability to
create and use symbols to communicate with his fellow men, a great
evolutionary change distinguishing man from the animal world, a world
he is a part of but also apart from. Anthropology then can be inter-
preted to mean a speech about mankind, a meaning in keeping with the
spirit of this dissertation and the group studied. Anthropology has
another meaning as an academic discipline in the social sciences. This
meaning and the first are closely allied, but slightly different. In
the second meaning anthropology has come to mean the study of man
rather than the speech about man.
"Anthropology, as the science of man at large, as the most compre-
hensive discipline in humanism without portfolio, was the last to come"
(Malinowski 1969:3). In order to make way for itself, it had to borrow
concepts and methods from various sciences, to encroach on the subject
matter of other disciplines. It has been an adventure undertaken by
the malcontents of the intellectual world or, as one person described
it, "the investigation of oddments by the eccentric" (in Kluckhohn 1949:
The discipline has come a long way from this nineteenth-century
characterization, at times losing its way. Anthropology, one might say,
was born in confusion and has been trying to make sense out of this
chaos, with varying degrees of success. Anthropology is an eclectic
discipline, so much so that Lowie once called its subject matter "that
thing of shreds and patches" (1920:441). There is still little
consensus on what anthropologists are supposed to study, what kind of
methodology they should use and what concepts are best for understand-
In this country, anthropology is divided into four fields: socio-
cultural and physical anthropology, linguistics and archaeology.
Physical anthropologists investigate the biological basis for human
behavior; linguists study the languages of different peoples; and
archaeologists reconstruct man's past. Sociocultural anthropology is
itself divided into two parts: ethnography and ethnology. Ethnographers
describe and analyze particular cultures while ethnologists seek general
laws of culture (Schusky and Culbert 1967:3).
The common interest that unites these four fields is the task
of studying human nature as embodied in a concept the anthropologist
calls culture. Much has been written about this concept, but little
is understood. Tylor's definition of culture--"that complex whole
which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any
other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society"
(1871:l)--remains a classic, although many other anthropologists have
interpreted it in various ways. Like the notion of pornography, one
supreme court justice observed, culture is something which eludes
definition but which everyone knows when they see it. Perhaps this lack
of consensus on what culture is, is inherent in the concept itself or
simply reflects the limitation of the language and ideas of this time
Because culture has been defined in so many different ways, at
times contradictory, it is important to know how the term is used by
the anthropologist of this study. In the main I agree with Tylor's
definition of culture, that it is a complex whole acquired by man as
a member of society. Culture is coterminous with man. As a concept,
culture is articulated in the world of men who create and are created
by various cultures. The concept of culture is an abstraction, but
its manifestations are concrete and varied. The expression of culture
in a complete actual occasion varies with the particular circumstances
of that occasion. "The form, the content, and even the existence of
cultures," Linton observes, "can only be deduced from the behavior to
which they give rise" (1964:288). These behaviors are the outward
manifestations of culture, the overt signs of culture. Although there
is unity in the concept of culture, the way that this concept is inter-
preted and expressed by various peoples differs with their varying
historical and environmental conditions. Nonetheless, "culture itself
is intangible and cannot be directly apprehended even by the individuals
who participate in it" (Linton 1964:288-89).
If the task of the anthropologist is to understand human nature,
surely the most significant dimension of that nature, the one dimension
unique to man is culture. Culture is that part of man's being most
difficult to grasp: the nexus of mind and body, of intellect and
sentiment. In my own thinking about culture I am as unsure and as
equivocal as any other anthropologist, although I think it important
to attempt to understand even if not to know what culture is. I think
of culture as the meaning that man has bequeathed to himself to continue
his struggle with life though certain to die. It is basic to his animal
nature for self-preservation and species survival, but more than this:
culture makes living--and dying--worthwhile. Individual men may change
cultures, whole societies may do so; but neither men nor societies can
exist without culture.
In the anthropologist's search to understand culture, many
record only what they are able to verify through the senses. What
they report are the observable manifestations of culture. Some call
this the scientific approach, or more recently, the etic approach of
anthropology. Leach (1966:2), however, calls the preoccupation of
his fellow anthropologists with looking at culture as if it were
discrete parts arrangeable into types and sub-types, "butterfly
Like Leach, I do not believe that culture is a category of
experience, substance or form. It is not an entity quantifiable in
the number of institutions or rituals or legends that one society has,
nor is it a thing, such as science conceives of things, i.e.,
empirical and observable. Certainly the manifestations of culture are
reflected in such things as family, history, rites of passage and the
The social sciences, like the natural sciences, have been heir
to a tradition of science with great achievements and many faults.
Anthropology as a social science has adopted the methodology of science
and, in many quarters, the scientific materialist philosophy, e.g.,
Harris (1971). The object of study for anthropologists, however,
differs from the objects of the physical science. Man is part of the
natural world and as such is subject to scientific scrutiny. But
another side to man, another dimension of his character, is "entirely
outside the range of physical phenomena" (Linton 1964:288). This
the anthropologist calls culture. Because of this dual position of
man, with one foot in the animal and the other in the cultural world,
the claim of anthropology as a science of man cannot be fully sub-
stantiated unless the criteria of science or anthropology change.
Although some anthropologists consider themselves scientists,
only to certain aspects of human nature are the methods and concepts
of science applicable. Redfield, a keen observer of his colleagues,
argues that anthropology's alliance with the sciences reflects the
present status ranking of academic disciplines.
At the same time, the orientation of anthropology
toward the sciences rather than toward the humanities
may be seen as an aspect of a general societal phenomenon:
the arrangement of the disciplines in a hierarchy of
status wherein the "harder" natural sciences occupy
the uppermost positions and the humanists is the man
farthest down. (1954:729)
By becoming an academic profession, anthropology has formalized
many of the tentative experiments of early anthropologists who made
their way through trial and error to an understanding of mankind. For
example, what is now a rite of passage--fieldwork (preferably for several
years in a distant and remote place)--began as an accident of war when
Malinowski was confined to the Melanesian islands for the duration of
the hostilities (Penniman 1952:446, Mair 1972: 30). Whitehead notes
that this professionalization is predictable, but it has been hazardous
for a discipline that studies human behavior and values.
Effective knowledge is professionalized knowledge,
supported by a restricted acquaintance with useful
subjects subservient to it. This situation has its
dangers. It produces minds in a groove. Each
profession makes progress, but it is progress in
its own groove. .But there is no groove of
abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension
of human life. (1948:196)
This discussion is meant as a note of caution. Anthropology means
different things to different people. Little in the discipline is not
open to controversy, even though it may seem otherwise. However
indisputable a concept or method may seem, it reflects an accommodation
to ambiguity rather than to any inherent condition.
Like Redfield, I believe that the anthropologist's role as a person
and as a professional are inseparable.
In me, man and anthropologist do not separate them-
selves sharply. I used to think I could bring about
that separation in scientific work about humanity .
But I think now that what I see men do, and under-
stand as something that human beings do, is seen often
with a valuing of it. I like or dislike as I go.
This is how I reach understanding of it. (1966:165)
The anthropologist, like anyone else, is a product of life experiences.
He is conditioned by the training he receives as a social scientist as
well as by the family and religion of his birth. Over the past decade
a literature on the anthropology of anthropologists has grown. Collec-
tions of fieldwork experiences, of analysis of personalities, ideas
and research techniques of anthropologists stand as testimony to the
influence of the researcher on his data (Golde 1970, Kimball and Watson
1972). What an anthropologist selects to study and how he interprets
this material reflect both individual and professional interests.
Kardiner and Preble, as a result of work on the biographies of certain
major anthropologists, come to this same conclusion.
On the cultural level the hypotheses, theories, and
techniques of these scientists are portrayed as
creations responsive to the collective interests
and needs of the time. On the individual level, these
creations are seen as the products of idiosyncrasy
and genius. (1965:13).
If it is recognized that the anthropologist in describing and
analyzing a community is revealing something about himself as well as
the community, what precautions need he take to ameliorate this
situation? The researcher, I believe, should state as clearly as
possible not only his position in the community studied but his position
in the anthropological community as well. That is, he should not only
tell of his relations with the people studied, indicating in part how
he got information. He should state his views on anthropology as a
prelude to analyzing that information.
I have tried to do so: first, in this introductory statement
about the anthropological quest and, second, in the next chapter in
which I have given a brief account of my interactions and feelings
among the people I studied. These two chapters set the framework in
which I worked, giving my perspective on the anthropologist's task
and my position in the actual fieldwork situation.
Following these preliminary statements is the heart of the
dissertation: Chapter III. The data, rendered in a story format,
presents not only information about events and transactions of an
ordinary day in the lunchroom but a "feeling" for living with work as
well. Malinowski states that to ignore this feeling or "the subjective
desire of feeling by what these people live, of realizing the substance
of their happiness--is, in my opinion, to miss the greatest reward
which we can hope to obtain from the study of man" (1961:25).
Chapter IV takes the data presented in the previous chapter and
orders it into three tables covering the setting, characters and
action of the story. In so doing, I have followed Malinowski's dictum
that "the method of reducing information, if possible, into charts or
synoptic tables ought to be extended to the study of practically all
aspects of native life" (1961:14). By ordering data in this way,
the reader will be able to see the relationship between the anthropological
interpretation and the data. A summary statement highlights major themes
and relationships presented in the tables.
In the conclusion, Chapter V, a second look is taken at the story
and analysis. This process represents both an overview and a more
reflective view of life in the lunchroom as it relates generally to life
in modern societies. Central to this conclusion is the reconciliation
of the value of work and the actual working situation in the form of
a primary group relationship within the domain of a secondary group, the
institution of work.
The appendix contains a review of the literature on working women
in the United States and cross-culturally. Such a review places this
research on women in the school lunch program along side others with
different aims, foci and subjects.
1. In many research projects the preliminary problem of investigation
changes in response to the actual field experience. One researcher,
for example, went to Costa Rica to study marijuana use among
musicians, but he had to abandon this project when he found that
musicians there did not smoke marijuana but drank a lot instead
(Bryan Page, personal communication, 1976). Initially, the purpose
of this research project was to gather information about a small
group of women at work in order to compare these findings with
similar studies done on male work groups. Although this explicit
comparison will not be made in this dissertation, the data presented
in Chapter III could be analyzed in this way at a later time.
2. Oscar Lewis renders vivid accounts of the lives of the people he
studied in Mexico (1951, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1969) and in Puerto
Rico (1965) by presenting the stories about themselves that they
told him. He made minute observations of their daily lives and
recorded on a tape recorder their own accounts. Because I admire
Lewis' work as an anthropologist and writer, I have tried to
implement his approach in my own research.
3. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1973:
56 (anthropology), 1523 (leg-), 1531 (ner-)), and the Encyclopaedia
Britannica (1961:334J-36) for the use of logos in philosophy and
4. Pilbeam (1972:153-54), a physical anthropologist, considers language
to be one of man's most important evolutionary developments, giving
him considerable selective advantages over other hominids. Sapir,
a linguist, identifies the beginning of culture with the commencement
of language. "Of all aspects of culture, it is a fair guess that
language was the first to receive a highly developed form and that
its essential perfection is a prerequisite to the development of
culture as a whole" (1970:1).
5. Closest to this meaning of anthropology, i.e., a speech about man-
kind, is White's definition of culture. "Culture is the name of a
distinct order, or class, of phenomena, namely, those things and
events that are dependent upon the exercise of a mental ability,
peculiar to the human species, that we have termed 'symbolling'"
6. Powdermaker hypothesizes that "some of the new trends in anthropology
can be correlated with changing types of personalities in the disci-
pline who have different needs to meet" (1966:20). She suggests
that a difference exists between anthropologists born before 1915
and the generation born between 1915 and 1930. Those in the
former group, she says, "seem to have had problems with authority,
and stood to a considerable degree outside of their culture" (1966:
303). Those in the latter group "seem to be more truly a part of
their society, desiring to enter the Establishment rather than
rebelling from it as did many members of the preceding generation"
(1966:303). This group sought definite answers and tended to
dehumanize their studies by concentrating on elegant models, formal
rules and neat diagrams (1966:303).
7. See the Holt, Rinehart and Winston series of Case Studies in Cultural
Anthropology, edited by George and Louise Spindler, for some inkling
of the diversity in topics, techniques and concepts handled by
anthropologists. See also von Mering and Kasdan (1970) for a
collection of writings relating anthropology to the other social
8. British social anthropologists and Central European ethnographers
present two quite different interpretations of sociocultural
anthropology. The British consider sociocultural anthropology a
branch of sociology (Mair 1972:7-8) in which the systems of
institutionalized social relationships, particularly of preliterate
communities, are studied by intensive methods of fieldwork and are
analyzed by the functional method (Beattie 1955:5). Central
European ethnographers according to Hofer (1968) act as special-
ists who guard the traditional stock of knowledge of a society
viewing culture as internal moral worth.
9. See Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) for a critical review of concepts
and definitions of culture, along with a semantic history of the
term. Sapir (1970:79-89) summarizes three uses of culture, defining
it, first as any socially inherited element of man's life, spiritual
or physical; second, as the conventional ideal of individual refine-
ment sanctioned by tradition in a class society; third, as those
general attitudes, views of life and particular manifestations of
civilization which give a specific group its distinctiveness.
10. "Anthropological theories often tell us more about the anthropologist
than about their subject matter" (Leach 1969:109). Abrahams (1970:
1-4), for example, acknowledges that both his family position and
the scholarly fashion of the time influenced his view of life in
South Philadelphia. In the second edition he tried to weed out the
"psychological baggage" he had been heir to as a graduate student.
11. Etic, as Harris (1971:572-75) interprets the term, refers to the
distinctions made by the community of scientific observers, as
contrasted with emic, the natives' point of view. Martha Hardman
de Bautista (personal communication, 1973) believes that this is a
misinterpretation in that the "new ethnography" (ethnolinguistics,
ethnoscience or ethnosemantics, as it is variously called) seeks
to understand through linguistically expressed categories the
cognitive world of the participants rather than impose the
descriptive categories of other languages, such as those of the
researchers. See Goodenough 1956.)
12. The rise of the social sciences at a time when the physical sciences
professed a belief in certainty has led the former to retain an
attitude which the physical sciences have abandoned in response to
the theory of relativity (Einstein 1916 in the Encyclopaedia
Britannica 1961) and the uncertainty principle (Heisenberg 1927 in
the Encyclopaedia Britannica 1961).
13. The philosophy guiding science over the last three hundred years,
according to Whitehead, is scientific materialism.
There persists, however, throughout the whole period
the fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the
ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or
material, spread throughout space in a flux of
configurations. In itself such material is senseless,
valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do,
following a fixed routine imposed by external
relations which do not spring from the nature of its
being. It is this assumption that I call "scientific
Whitehead (1948:18-19,192-208) calls for a reexamination of science
as guided by this assumption. He argues that science needs to view
facts as interrelated and interdependent phenomena. Whitehead
would direct the focus of science away from the isolation of facts
to an understanding of the relation of each organism to its
environment and the intrinsic value of the environment (1948:9).
14. See Kroeber (1917) for a discussion of the superorganic and Sapir
(1917) for a rebuttal of certain ideas contained in Kroeber's
15. See Greenwood (1962) for a discussion of the attributes of a pro-
fession, i.e., systematic theory, authority, community sanction,
ethical codes and culture.
16. See Penniman (1952) and Bohannan and Glazer (1973) for two excellent
sources on anthropological theory. The first is particularly good
for its coverage of the period before 1930, and the second is a
collection of the classics and some minor classics in anthropology.
OBSERVATIONS ON FIELDWORK
In speaking of bias we are still talking about
research method. (Dollard 1957:32)
I needed a job. This research began not as the fulfillment of a
long felt need to find a lost people or to test some hypothesis in the
real world, but from necessity and later from curiosity.
Several years ago, I applied for a substitute teaching position at
the county school board and was assured by them that chances of making
a living from substituting were slim. While I was at the school board,
I stopped by the non-instructional office to check out job possibilities
there. The woman in charge told me that I was too qualified for any-
thing that they had and that I would not be happy working as a maid,
lunchroom worker or stockboy, but she would keep me in mind.
Later in the week she called to tell me that the manager at Hogtown
High School's cafeteria needed a cashier. Confronted with the actual
possibility of getting such a job, I hesitated. Was all that I had
voiced about equality of people and respect for work simply rhetoric?
What would my friends think? I knew what my mother would say.
I got as dressed up as riding a bike would allow and tooled off
to Hogtown High, which was about fifteen minutes from where I lived.
I walked in through the back door of the kitchen, thinking that if any-
thing at all went wrong I would leave. After all, I would have made the
attempt, and that is what counted. Women were walking around in white--
some blacks and some whites. The manager, Mrs. Andrews, like the lady
at the school board office, expressed incredulity that a person with
such a background would want to work there. Since I had no experience
and too much education, I was sure that I would not get the job, but in
a few days, the manager called to tell me that I had been hired. On my
first day of work, she introduced me to everyone and told me to get a
white uniform, shoes--tennis were ok--and a hairnet and to stop calling
her Mrs. Andrews. Everybody called her "Lucy."
At the time that I began working at Hogtown High, I was keeping a
diary consisting mainly of my personal reactions to daily events. I
began to supplement this with sketches of what was happening in the lunch-
room. The discipline of keeping daily notes, I felt, would be good
preparation for when I actually did begin doctoral research somewhere
overseas. Initially, I recorded what others had told me about the
operation of the school lunch program and I made sketches of the physical
layout of the kitchen (Figure 1), noting in addition sounds, smells and
other sensory information. Later I included observations of events in
which I was involved, and for awhile I tried to follow the actions of
individuals within the group, selecting one person to observe each day.
I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible since I did not like being
watched nor did my co-workers.
The kinds of things that anthropologists study in other cultures,
it has always seemed to me, could also be studied in their own. The
lunchroom presented itself as an ideal setting in which to do a study
on a work community. As I began to read the literature on this country
and on women, I found little discussion of working women. (See Appendix.) The
opportunity and the need for such a study developed almost simultaneously.
Key to Figure 1
Window for Line III
Exit from Line I
Exit from Line II
Serving Line I
Serving Line II
Entrance for Line I
Entrance for Line II
Head cook's working area
Working area for sandwich maker
Pit area: stoves, ovens, steamer
Working area for salad maker
Working area for baker
Broom and mop closet
Closed in porch
Outside entrance to kitchen
1 1 2
4 5 6
19 I 1 I | 20
I had been working in the lunchroom several months before I approached
my fellow workers about doing research there. That I was a student in
need of money had already been established, but I was not sure what
their reaction would be to my doing a study about them. The manager
had been saying for some time that "someone ought to write a book about
this place" so she was both encouraging and cooperative when I asked
her. When I spoke with my co-workers individually, the reactions were
varied. Elizabeth wanted to know, "Why don't you study the men? They're
a lot more interesting." C.M. asked what anthropology was anyway. I
told her that it was a discipline that studied culture. "Hmm, you won't
find any of that here," she assured me. Mariclare said that I would
be too embarrassed to tell my class what had happened in the lunchroom.
The head cook, Nell, who often answered for me, retorted, "She don't
have to be ashamed; she not doing it."
To my co-workers that I was doing research in Hogtown High's lunch-
room was secondary to the fact that I was employed there to help them
prepare and serve meals, and to help clean up and do the bookkeeping
afterwards. As long as I did not interrupt their work and their lives,
any research that I had to do was all right by them. It seems that I
was much more hesitant about doing a study there than were my co-workers.
I felt reluctant because I did not want them to feel that I was
spying on them or that I was exploiting their confidences. Much of the
information that I was privy to was dependent on my being a fellow
worker and friend, and not on any formal researcher-informant relation-
ship. I had a peculiar view of the researcher's role in that I thought
it was clearly distinct from the role of a friend. I have since been
disabused of this notion both by the people with whom I worked and by
the accounts of other anthropologists on their fieldwork.
As I became involved more fully in the lives of these women both
at work and elsewhere, I felt a conflict between their being my friends
and at the same time, informants and objects of study. One way that
the anthropologist has reconciled this conflict is through reciprocity.
Traditionally, the anthropologist has shared food, clothing and other
material goods with the peasants or tribesmen he is studying. Others
have taken a more active part, representing the communities in which
they studied before the national government. Gradually, I found (or
perhaps the women with whom I worked first found) ways in which I could
be of help to them. For one woman I typed some of her sister's term
papers and edited others; for another I babysat and typed a notice for
a group that she was trying to organize in her trailer park. Several
times, I was asked to get legal and medical assistance for a couple of
different women. This was particularly interesting to me because it
pointed out the differential connections that various groups of people
have to institutions in this country.
Earlier in the research, I told one of my co-workers that I wished
she would not tell me so much, since much of it might prove harmful to
her. "Hell," she said, "ain't nothing but the truth. I want people to
know who I am. You know, my mother thinks I'm nothing but a barnyard
hen. But you want to know what I think? I'm an eagle. A high flying
eagle. If a person can learn something from the way I've lived, you
just let them go ahead and learn it. I've lived a full life. Not
always exactly what you'd call your. .Hell, I've done wrong, but
I've helped a lot of people too. People who don't even know it."
In fact, my fellow workers seemed to show a much more sophisticated
stance toward research than I myself did in that they were not afraid
to reveal what happened, regardless of any embarrassment or negative
reflection on them as individuals or as a group. They seemed to under-
stand, much more fully than I did, that doing fieldwork was like being
a reporter, recording what one sees or hears and knows to be true.
After I had talked with the women at work, I started taking notes
in a small black notebook, but later I took notes on paper towels, nap-
kins, whatever was at hand. I left these lying around and different
individuals would check to see what I had written. Without exception,
they were appalled--not about what had been written, but about my hand-
writing. One time, C.M. demanded that I read what I had recorded.
"Hey, Nell," she called to the head cook. "She's writing what we been
saying. You got what I said?" My writing became a fixture in the
kitchen and at the end of the day someone would remind me to collect
the scraps of paper and to get my watch from over the sink where I had
left it while doing pots and pans.
Up until this time, I had recorded mainly mechanical kinds of things:
place of work; territorial domains, kind, frequency and intensity of
interactions; and kinship and community ties. I collected copies of the
daily work sheet, time records and general assignment sheet (Figure 2).
Later, I started to explore what Malinowski calls the imponderabilia of
life. In open-ended interviews, I tried to get information about
values and attitudes of which I was only vaguely aware. These interviews
led me to examine more closely the significance of the group's behavior
and values with respect to class, race and rural/urban backgrounds.
DAILY CLEANING DUTIES
These May Rotate Weekly
(i) Clean Work Tables
Wipe Outside of Refrigerator
(2) Help wash Pots& Pans
Count Dirty Towels A nd Aprons
(3) Wipe stove and Cl ean Drain
Help sweep Kitchen & mop
Clean milkshake holding boxes
(4) Wash pots & pans
wash can opener
sweep kitchen & mop
TUESDAY: CLEAN INSIDE AND OUT-
SIDE OF REFRIGS. WIPE WOODEN
SHELVES AND CLEAN WARMER.
SWEEP WALKING & STRIGHTEN SHELVES
WEDNESDAY: CLOROX WORK TABLES.
WIPE UNDER TABLE TOPS. CLEAN
THURSDAY: CLEAN BATHROOMS NON-
SMOKERS IN ONE, SMOKERS IN OTHER.
STRAIGHTEN PANTRY AND SWEEP AND
FRIDAY: WASH MATS. CLEAN CONVEC-
TION OVENS. CLEAN STORVE AND
GREASE. WASH OFF BACK PORCH
NON-ROTATING DAILY JOBS
Nell) Main dish Preparation and serve Line I CLEAN FREEZER, CLEAN THE
count and put away left-over inventory WALL AND BASE OF WALL.
help kitchen cleanup or nextdays DIVIDE INTO GROUPS AND
prepreparation maindish Check Menu Weekly DO THE CHORES WHEN THE
Count dirty Towels and Aprons MENU IS LIGHT.
C.M.)Bread or Dessert preparation Cashier Line DISH WASHER: CLEAN DISH
II and help Nell with paration or next days MACHINE WITH LIME AWAY
preparation Help on dish machine after line ONCE A MONTH. CLEAN THE
closes. Clean up behind yourself before serving.BASE OF WALL AND CORNERS A
Check Menu Weekly. AROUND YOUR AREA.
Elizabeth) Milkshakes and salad production. PERSONS THAT WIPE THE
Serve on Line I Count plates and milk on DINING ROOM TABLES SHOULD
both lines before serving and after. Clean ALSO WASH AROUND DISH
Line II and wash milk box. Wipe tables, MACHINE WINDOW.
sweep. Catch clean dishes during serving HOOD FAN CLEANED BY
when able. Check Menu Weekly. CUSTODIAN.
Sally) Make and wrap sandwiches for Line III HelpCLEAN ICE CREAM BOX.
with giving lunch tickets, out. Cashier Line III count money, help
prepare deposit. Keep-butter Help where it is needed
Shirley) Put on vegetables, cook food for Line II (Pizza, French Fries,
Tatar Tots, etc. Help with other jobs that need to, be done. Run
and clean dishmachine. Clean and mop dish machine area take out
trash out of diningroom Wash containers. Wash and replace mats(FriDAY)
Gail) Wash pots and pans from main dish preparation, Serve on Line II
clean steam table Line I Count plates and milk before and after serving
On both lines Clean milk bos wipe tables in dining room. Catch clean
dishes during serving when possible. Keep butter cut. Check Menu weekly.
Cora Lee) Give out lunch tickets, cashier Line I, Help where is needed.
Do records for each day. Make work sheet daily, call grocery
order in on time. Count money and help make the deposit slip.
Many other chores. Try to keep PEACE, LOVE, AND HARMONY.
In the process of examining their behavior and values, I had to
examine my own. American culture, I came to realize rather slowly, was
more diverse than the ethnic groups, American Indian tribes and
"mainstream" Americans that anthropologists and others have commented
upon. Although this seems rather obvious now, working toward this
perception was not always easy. At first I found certain behavior
rather irritating and confusing, but as these behaviors repeated themselves
in different situations and with different people, I came to realize that
more than the peculiarities of an individual were involved.
For example, I was invited to dinner several times to find that the
woman had left town or that "something had come up." I was not informed
that the dinner was off, nor was an apology given, let alone an explana-
tion or even acknowledgement of the invitation. Such social events, while
oftentimes elaborately planned and discussed, did not come off and few
people, even the planners, really believed that they would. Nonetheless,
everyone had a good time talking about them.
One of the major problems that I had with the research was that I
was myself: white, not black; an urban dweller, not a rural migrant;
upper-middle income--at least my natal family was, not poor or moderate
income; and university educated, not a high school graduate. All of
these characteristics set me apart from many of the women with whom I
worked. Unfortunately but typically, the people with whom I was able to
establish the greatest rapport were those most like myself. No doubt,
in part because of my own personality, I was not able to have stronger
relationships with other people. This was something that I was aware
of throughout the study, but was unable to do anything about.
My particular family situation--or lack of one--proved to be both a
disadvantage and an advantage. Many of the women felt sorry for me
because I lived alone, and particularly on holidays they would include
me in their family gatherings since I could not be with my own family.
But because I lived by myself, my home served as a refuge for some; one
of my co-workers, toward whom I feel a special regard, said that she
felt peaceful and calm in my little apartment. Living alone was one
thing, but having no visible boyfriend/lover/husband was another, which
limited some interaction that might otherwise have been possible. More
important than this, however, was that I did not have a child. Having
a child, for many of these women, seemed to mark the difference between
a girl and a woman, not in any chronological sense but in a social one.
For instance, one of the female deans at the school was married, but had
no children, and therefore was not considered a fully responsible
How I was viewed by some of my fellow workers was hit upon by
accident, one which almost cost me my job. A student complained about
my treatment of her to the principal and he in turn called the manager
to his office. Because the student was black, he thought this was a
racial incident and he was having none of that. This was the first
confrontation that the manager had had with the principal, and knowing
the history of the conflict between the previous manager and him,
she felt that she could not challenge his judgment. When she returned
to the kitchen, she and some of the other women sat around talking.
They agreed that I was not prejudiced, but it was hard to figure out
what I was because I was so different and so quiet. C.M. said that I
was strange, and Nell said that she could not really say anything:
that I did my work and had very little to say. I learned of this
exchange when Gail came by my apartment with a bottle of Irish whiskey,
which she knew I liked. She came as my friend and the unofficial
representative of the group. She told me what had happened and what had
been said about me. She said I was different from them, more reserved,
but not to worry about it: just play it cool.
Although I had observed the behavior of others for patterns of
socialization, I realized then that I was not doing my part as a member
of the group. That I was indeed strange and a stranger to the group was
something that the personnel woman at the county school board and the
manager who hired me had meant when pointing out the differences between
myself and the other workers in the lunchroom. The position of stranger,
however, seems an appropriate one for the anthropologist.
The stranger's position, as Simmel (1964:402-408) points out, is
one of remoteness and nearness, of distance and intimacy. The stranger,
although not a member of the group, is an important part of the group,
being in it but not of it. That is, the stranger is both detached and
involved with the group, detached in that he is not tied to the local
habits, pieties or precedents, but involved in that he brings new ideas
or items to the group and acts as its critic, judge or confessor. This
was the position in which I found myself.
The role of the stranger is not passive nor indifferent, but
ideally impartial and objective. The stranger's own standard of
measurement becomes suspended and his perspective, as was mine, may
become altered through interaction with the group.
The role of the anthropologist as stranger may take several
different forms. He may assume select roles of the community as did
Nunez (1972) when he acted as Senor Abogado in his research among the
Mexican villagers; or he may simply try to get backstage, discovering
what the community most wants to hide, as did Berreman (1962) when
working among North Indians. That the anthropologist is never a fully
incorporated member of the group is realized by both the community and
the researcher. Nevertheless, the anthropologist must learn the proper
behavior and concommitantly the values of the group, like any novice.
Although the anthropologist may remain a stranger, he is not an outsider.
The rite of passage from recruit to old-timer has been an important
source of information and insight. Becoming a member of the group,
albeit never a fully incorporated one, was critical to gaining access
to information which, I believe, could not have been gotten in any other
way. Instead of being an outsider threatening the harmony of the
group and causing quasi-legal or group specific behavior to be suppressed,
I was a participant in these activities and came to hold certain of the
group's views about them. Seeing how outsiders were treated, manipulated
and appeased has strengthened this conviction that the researcher needs
to align himself with the group.
Understanding the process of socialization, which was dependent
on role models within the group and on status references outside of
the group, was facilitated by my own involvement in a series of conflict
situations. My socialization was aided by the fact that I was regarded
first, and perhaps exclusively, as a fellow worker in need of reproving
and encouragement and only secondly, if at all, as an anthropologist.
It would be misleading to suggest that I became "just one of the gang"
since the initial distance was too great to overcome. I never did learn
to accept gracefully and with humor my proper station as a subordinate,
nor did I learn to speak correctly.
The language used by the individuals with whom I worked is itself
a fascinating subject and one worthy of greater study than I devoted to
it. Talking and jiving were constant sources of entertainment for every-
one in the lunchroom, whether as speakers or as listeners. Speaking
for the pleasure of social interaction was a well-developed art within
the group. I recorded many such dialogues, usually by writing the
exchanges down and once with a tape recorder. My own inability to
talk well made me keenly aware of their virtuosity: their ability,
style and mastery skill with the spoken word. Accompanying these verbal
behaviors was the omnipresent radio music, some of which I recorded as
individuals would select favorites.
As I was able to establish rapport with members of the work team
on an individual basis, they shared with me some of their outside
activities. For example, with one co-worker I traveled to a flea market
in another town to find plants not available in this area. With a
second woman, I went out drinking to a local bar and with another I
attended Sunday services at her church and participated in a tent revival
in a neighboring community. Some of the experiences outside of the
lunchroom were work related, for instance, the annual banquet to which
I went twice and the monthly Food Service Association meetings to which
I went with greater faithfulness than most of my fellow workers.
For some months I stopped taking daily notes at work, but continued
to record any value comments or significant changes in behavior. Just
being there and experiencing what was "going on" helped to clarify what
I had recorded earlier.
The fieldwork part of the research was almost over, I thought, but
I was mistaken. It was only after I consciously stopped making observa-
tions that any real understanding of the group began to develop. This
may have been simply a function of time and familiarity, but it seemed
that the freedom to participate without straining to remember and
record allowed me to listen and understand.
Gertrude Stein once pointed out to reporters interviewing her that
they could not comprehend what she was saying because they were
concentrating too hard on remembering and recording it.
..You do I said to the photographer you do under-
stand what I am talking about don't you. Of course
I do he said you see I can listen to what you say
because I don't have to remember what you are say-
ing, they can't listen because they have got to
At the time that I stopped taking fieldnotes, I felt myself a poor and
lazy anthropologist. This time however proved to be the most rewarding
period of the research because all the isolated bits of information
were put into some kind of perspective and began to make some sense.
Before I resigned after almost two years, I distributed preliminary
copies of Chapter III to various people with whom I worked. I did this
in order to enable them to check the accuracy of the report, both for
factual content and for the overall sentiment that it expressed, and
to share with them my findings. They were pleased about finding
themselves in the report and when reading it, they would burst out
laughing and say, "That is just what she do. Just what she do."
For many anthropologists, fieldwork is a time of frustration and
pain, loneliness and self-reflection, what one called "an initiation of
suffering" (Hill 1974). But I had a good time. Even after I had
collected all the fieldnotes that I could conceivably use in the
dissertation, I continued working in the lunchroom because, as I told
one doubting colleague, working there was the most fun that I would have
1. Turning employment in the lunchroom into a research project, although
this was not my original intention, made working there more legitimate
to my family and friends. Otto von Mering suggested that making this
work experience also my research was my own manner of surviving there.
2. The names of the people with whom I worked are pseudonyms.
3. This incident refers to the sexual (verbal and game) behavior
commented upon on pages 87, 155-56.
4. During the time that I worked in the lunchroom, I changed both my
hours and specific duties in order to observe and participate in
the operation of the lunchroom more fully. When I started working,
the manager wanted my position to be clearly understood as an office
one, not one in production. By the end of the study, however, I
had moved down the hierarchy of jobs to where I was washing pots and
pans, usually the first job one gets in the lunchroom.
5. Mead (1972) and Fischer (1970) note that doing research among one's
own people is more difficult in some ways, creating conflicts between
one's duty as a researcher and one's obligation as a friend. "Not
only my informants, but I myself, found my role confusing in New
England," Fischer (1970:285) writes. "The informal friendships that
women develop in American communities were enticing; they offered me
an excellent source of data, which was not available to my husband,
but on the other hand, this use of friendship seemed inappropriate."
6. This active role is challenged by some anthropologists and is still
quite controversial. (See Paredes 1976.)
7. Lewis (1965:xlv-xlvi) in his work on the culture of poverty, notes
this lack of institutional ties as one of the characteristics of
8. Only later when I went back to read my notes, did I find that I had
unwittingly followed the design for fieldwork that Malinowski suggests,
namely, to look at "the routine prescribed by custom and tradition,
the manner in which it is carried out and the commentary to the
routine as contained in the native's mind" (Kardiner and Preble
9. See Warner (1962) and West (1961) for two classics on American life;
Howell (1973) for a portrait of blue-collar families; Killian (1970)
for a view of white Southerners.
10. The actual event is not always as important as the preparation for
it and the memories of it afterwards; like going to the high school
prom, for example, the dance itself may be a flop, but the
anticipation and retelling are exciting (Kathleen Lawson, personal
11. Along with this expressed pity, they wondered if I was not also
afraid to live alone. Being with other people had positive value
for the women both as social contact and protection. Many of the
women, for example, refused to work the special dinners because
they did not want to be alone "with all those men" and they would
have no one with whom to talk.
12. Motherhood is an important criterion of female status in black
communities (Molly Dougherty, personal communication, 1975).
13. For a discussion of this conflict, see pages 107-09, 148.
14. Sociologists have remarked on this change in attitude when one assumes
different roles. Lieberman (1956:385-402) found that a change in
function and in the kinds of behavior required by the new role
influence the attitudes of the role-occupant. Redfield (1956:81)
suggests that this is typical of the fieldwork experience.
Only after he has seen it from the native's point of
view may the investigator change his viewpoint and
look at that object or act--together with the meaning
and the value it has for the native--as an object of
scientific interest now to be described from the
outside and related by the investigator to other
things according to the demands of a more detached
and abstract understanding.
15. Middleton (1965) gives a particularly readable and insightful
account of the anthropologist's rite of passage. Like the children
of the group, the anthropologist must be socialized so that he
learns the norms and behavior acceptable to the group.
16. Pilcher (1972:5) in his study of Portland longshoremen found that it
was impossible to obtain certain kinds of data without being a member
of the local union and a part-time longshoreman. "Moreover," he
states, "this validated my role as a member of the longshoremen
group and demonstrated that I did not consider myself in any way
superior to the other longshoremen because of my education... ."
17. The tape recorder tended to inhibit the natural flow of conversation
and was viewed as a way of trapping people. I promptly discontinued
its use, even though it might have improved the accuracy of the
dialogues presented in Chapter III.
18. Although anthropologists check the reliability and validity of their
fieldnotes, this seems an efficacious method for checking both field-
notes and data presentation.
DATA AS THE STORY
The data are presented as a story, a form the participants in this
study recognize. The women at Hogtown High compared their lives at
work to the stories they watched on daytime television. Like the soap
operas, this story repeats itself, every day adding something and losing
something. It is the same story, only different for additions and
losses. Each woman plays a part in the story by virtue of her participa-
tion in work activities. Each personal story forms part of the group's
story, but it is the story of the group which will be told.
These women have much to tell about themselves, their society and
their culture. By letting them speak and do in the story as they have
spoken and done throughout the days I spent with them, they may be able
to teach the reader as they have taught me. The reader may discover for
himself what this group teaches. In a sense the reader may do his own
The basic evidence I have of what these people did and how they
felt about their actions is contained in my fieldnotes. Reconstructed
from these raw data, the story is a composite of many different days,
reflecting not only continuous activities and themes but a variety of
incidents and the vicissitudes of spirit as well. Using the fieldnotes
as a basis for the story rather than as an accompaniment to the analysis
gives the reader a chance to do his own analysis. The evidence shown
the reader is not as extensive as the material I worked with, but
I have tried to present sufficient data for the reader's use.
Inasmuch as possible, the women and men speak for themselves in
word and deed in the story, though the selection of what to present
and how to present the data contains the researcher's bias. My
interpretations of the group's behavior and values are contained in
Chapter IV and in the conclusion, Chapter V.
The reader may make observations which conflict or even contradict
my own. The resolution lies not in rightness or wrongness but in a
reexamination of the data and the premises of our evaluations. The
interaction between reader and material, as between observer and
group studied, leads to a certain amount of distortion. It may be
well to keep in mind the physicist's principle of uncertainty.
It is to be emphasized that in making observations
on a system, it is necessary to exchange energy
and momentum with it. This exchange of necessity
spoils the original properties of the system. The
resulting lack of precision with which these
properties can be measured is the crux of the
uncertainty principle. (van Vleck 1961:680)
The story is a holistic way of viewing the culture of the group--
perhaps the only way to approach an understanding of the culture
concept. Matters with which anthropologists traditionally deal--
rituals, social organization, religious beliefs, economic systems--
are contained in the story but are not selected out as such except
in the analysis. Such differentiation, or compartmentalization,
obstructs any view of culture as a particular expression of a
group's way of life, and obfuscates consideration of the culture
concept as it applies to mankind.
As part of culture, peoples tell stories about themselves:
their heroes and villains, their fools and wisemen, their lovers
and lonely ones. These stories speak of triumphs and struggles
as individuals and a people. Many such stories form the myths
of the community and become part of the society's cultural
heritage. Each generation creates tales which, with time, may
become legend. Many more are forgotten with the telling and pass
out of history. As long as the community exists, its myths and
legends will survive preserved by elders, priests and scribes.
The stories told every day about ordinary people and their daily
confrontation with life are preserved by strangers called
anthropologists. These strangers record the happenings and
characters of the community's Everyman.
Stories are powerful because they bridge the known and the
unknown. They are based on the possible but often deal with the
probable and sometimes the impossible. Stories tell what others
have done and what someone can do; they speak about what can be
and sometimes what should be. They deal with that which has
actually occurred as well as that believed to have happened.
Stories can make life seem better or worse than it is. They can
create hope where there is none and put fear in a fearless heart.
Stories hold within them more of man's world than any one person
can experience, know or believe.
Cutting the Fool is one such story.
It was dark and cold and silent. No one was in the kitchen yet.
A black stove stood in the center of the kitchen with other pieces of
heavy equipment in a slightly sunken pit. The canopy-like hood over
the cooking and baking area stood ready to capture the hot air as it
would rise up drawn out by a little motor. But now everything was still.
Not even the faucets in the pot sinks were dripping. Abe, the head
custodian, had seen to that the day before. The wooden tables like
elongated butcher blocks flanked the pit. Against the walls were
tables and small equipment for mixing and cutting. Two sets of sinks,
a small rounded vanilla-colored radio and a salad blender clustered on
the outskirts of the pit.
The dishwashing machine and the serving lines jutted out from the
kitchen dividing in half the cafeteria beyond. Stainless steel rails
and receptacles shone where winter-morning light penetrated the dark.
The floors, swept and mopped with lots of soap, disinfectant and water
the day before, mirrored the vague daylight. One cockroach that had
died.in the night rested belly up under the dishwasher. The cashiers'
stools were turned up in the air on the counters like bar stools after
a long night.
The warmer, milkshake refrigerator and ice box stood empty and
unplugged. The refrigerator next to the office contained some tea for
the teachers and opened cartons of milk waiting to be given back to the
milkman. The office was cluttered with papers and manuals, but in the
dark it was hard to see anything but dark shapes and dark spaces.
Everything was as the manager had left it before she caught the four
o'clock bus home. The old adding machine, which could also multiply
but was too difficult to use for this, had broken down yesterday. Its
keys were still in their stuck position. The file cabinets were closed.
There was still glass in the shag rug from the last break in. The
pane had been replaced and all was back to normal. The big orange
swivel chair had not been repaired, but D.C., Cora's husband, said to
leave it that way. Cora was sure to break the next one. Nevertheless,
Cora asked Abe every time he came into the office to stop treating her
so mean and fix the chair.
About 7:30 a.m. Cora unlocked the back door and switched on the
lights. She walked past the storerooms on the left and the bathrooms
on the right. The walk-in refrigerator next to the office had the
padlock on, although Cora knew that this was a formality. Anyone who
wanted to get in had only to pull the prongs out of the socket. Never
mind about the lock. The county repairman no longer fixed it since
it was so easily broken.
She was not thinking about this today: there were no signs of a
break in. Despite several last year and one already this year, they
always took her by surprise. She was tired today and thinking on her
tiredness. Her neighbor, who worked at another school, had left her
off at the corner and the morning chill had awakened her some. That
first cup of coffee would open the other eye, she thought, as the cold
morning air had opened the first.
The night before she had gone up to Coopersville with some friends,
Sister Meadow, Brother Daniel and his wife, to hear the Apostle talk.
And could he talk. The Apostle gave a sermon on the need to find the
Spirit and to allow the Spirit to come into their hearts, no matter
what religion they were nor what they had done. A Baptist could get
the Spirit, or a Methodist. Anyone could, if he wanted to.
Brother Daniel testified about how he had been a sinner--a real
bad big sinner--but now he was with the Lord and the Lord was with him,
Jesus be praised. There was nothing like the power of the Lord.
Cora had felt the spirit there. It was not a double portion this
time. In fact, not too many people came to the tent meeting, mainly
women and children, but they got the spirit. When the worshipers lined
up to receive the blessing, some fell out. Cora helped cover them with
white sheets when they fell withering on the ground filled with the
After the meeting, Cora and her friends fried some fish for the
Apostle's midnight supper. Coopersville was closer than Trenton, a
town three hundred miles downstate where she had gone to last month's
revivals, but she returned late to Hogtown.
Cora opened the office with the one key on the chain that fit into
the lock. Today for sure she was going to get those invoices posted.
She had to start the monthly inventory too. Cora put her big purse
and another bundle down on the table and sat herself in the orange
chair. She started working, doing her paper work, as Dell called it.
The marketing book for a course at the local junior college was
on top of some records she needed to review. She pushed the book aside,
stopped and picked it up, flipping some pages. She had to read a little
of the book for her class tonight. It was going to be a long day. When
she remembered last night's meeting, her spirits rose; she knew she
Outside in the driveway, a Datsun pulled up and Nell, the head
cook, got out, pulling her sweater tighter around her. As her husband
backed the car out, heading toward his job at the new fire station,
Nell walked into the kitchen. She was almost a half hour early, but
she needed that time to get today's meal ready. She had worked for
the county Food Service for thirteen years and she knew, even if the
principal did not, that it took more than two and a half hours to
prepare turkey for three hundred people. Each year, it seemed, the
students' lunch period got earlier and earlier. At this rate, she
would be serving breakfast.
Nell ducked into the bathroom and put her purse in the locker.
For Nell the night had passed quietly. She finished a dress her mother-
in-law had started. She knew Miss Davis would get no grade on this.
No, sir. First she had asked for the zipper to be put in; then the
sleeves. Her mother-in-law never could finish sewing anything. Nell
did not mind sewing, but last night she wanted to watch television,
but the TV was broken. When her husband and two boys had plugged in
the CB radio, something in the television blew out.
Curious Mary, or C.M. as she was known to everyone, was left off
by her sister-in-law. C.M. did not say anything in farewell as her
sister-in-law drove off to her own job at MacDonald's. She did not
care if she was picked up after work, even if she had to take a taxi
to Indianola. A day's wage it was. At least she would not be with
her sister-in-law for the twenty minute ride.
"Hey, Nell," C.M. called as she entered the kitchen.
"Who you calling, child?" Nell answered emerging from the bathroom.
Cora, when she heard voices, came out of the office with her
"What you got?" C.M. asked, walking to where Cora was unwrapping
the bundle on the end of the table outside her office. Nell came
up trailing C.M.
"Lord have mercy, where you get that?" Nell asked.
"I didn't see them. You sure you got that at Sears?" Nell
fingered the material
"You were just looking in the wrong place," Cora retorted.
"That's real cute. That's real nice." Nell picked up the
material to get a better look.
"That's for my baby, D.," Cora said.
C.M. pulled the cloth from Nell's hand. "Give it here." Turning
to Cora, C.M. smiled broadly, lowered her eyes and looked to the side.
"Thank you for my Thursday gift, Cora."
Cora pulled it out of C.M.'s grasp as C.M. had jerked it out of
Nell's. C.M. skipped off laughing, leaving Cora and Nell to exchange
looks of mock disgust. "You some kind of bad. You bad, C.M.," Nell
called after her.
Nell left Cora to turn on the water in the pot sinks. "This water
is piping hot," she said to no one in particular. Sometimes it was not
hot. Other days it would scald. Today was like that. She would have
to remember to tell Gail to be careful when she washed pots.
Nell reached up over the table for a pot, stretching to lift it
off its hook. She filled the pot with hot water and put it on the
stove. The water was for coffee Cora and the janitors had every morning.
The janitors paid ten cents a cup, unless they brought their own instant
coffee. In that case, Cora magnanimously waived the fee.
C.M. had lit the stove and plugged in the warmer. The students
had complained about that warmer once and she had moved it back out
of the way. Now it was back in its original position, but she would
move it again when some student shoved another into it. The warmer was
hot enough to burn, but usually it only scared the student. The
students said the food was"killing them down--now, the warmer.
According to the radio which C.M. had turned on, it was not yet
eight. The radio could be heard throughout the kitchen and in the
cafeteria. Mary said she could not work without it: music helped her
get started and keep moving.
When Pat had left to become a management trainee, she took her
radio with her. For awhile there was no music, but Elizabeth brought
in an old radio that had been lying around the house. Everyone said it
was better than a new one. Liz tuned it to a country music station
and for a few days the lunchroom was filled with Nashville sounds. But
C.M. did not like country music: it was pitiful. And she did not like
the sermons. Liz knew the preacher. Although she did not think much
of him as a family man--too strict on his children--he was a good
minister, she said.
Still C.M. came in before Liz, and she turned the channel to
WHHH, the soul/rock music. Liz turned it back to the country station.
C.M. would turn it to WHHH.
"It's my radio," Elizabeth said with the authority of ownership.
"It's my music you turning off," C.M. replied.
"I'll take it home. It's my radio."
"Take it home. I don't need your radio nohow."
The radio remained even when Elizabeth resigned the next year
because of a cut in her hours. It stayed on WHHH.
Nell hefted a big kettle onto the stove, hot water for the turkey
gravy she would make from chicken bouillon. Cora had put away her
package and started posting the invoices. C.M. wiped down the serving
line on her side and set up the straws she had gotten from the shelf
underneath the stacked trays.
Nell had unlocked the storeroom and the freezer on her way out
back for a trash can. She pulled it after her, slamming the door to
the enclosed section of the porch. It was too cold to fool around out
on the porch today. She ducked into the storeroom, getting a plastic
bag to line the can with and scooted it along the floor to its resting
place by the office. In the course of a morning, it would make the
journey from kitchen to dumpster several times always laden with
paper, cans, boxes, scraps. Usually the garbage was light enough to
carry, but everyone drug it whether it was empty or full.
Cora was on the phone. Not as much as the previous manager, Nell
noted. It was ok with her because then the manager would leave her alone
to get through her work. A lot of the manager's job was conducted over
the phone--placing orders, checking regulations with the county office,
arranging meetings and keeping up with the gossip. The call was from
Gail: family problems. She would not be in today. Cora had half
expected the call, but she was hoping Gail would make it today. There
was so much work to get done.
Gail's husband had been treated for cancer, and Gail was not sure
how much care he would need when he recovered, if he recovered. Gail
had told Cora she was thinking of resigning, but Cora had cautioned her
to wait. If everything turned out well and she resigned, then she
would be out of a job and little use at home.
Gail had toldCora that she never took to religion, but she wanted
her to pray for Warren. She knew Cora had a powerful faith. Warren
was such a good husband, a good father, a good person, Gail said. Why
him, she asked. She thought of him more as a friend than a husband,
you know. She depended on him. He was like a big, soft cushion you
could fall back on, and you could rest and then get up and go on. Cora
said she would pray for him and pray for Gail too. What happened was
up to the Lord, Cora said. Put your trust in Him.
Gail told Cora that she never believed in a god, not really. She
knew there must be something, someone, some great force. But she sure
did not understand it. She was raised religious, she told Cora, but
she never could believe all of it. Warren had the best doctors working
on him, but you know, Gail said, there is only so much that doctors
can do. That's right, Cora had said.
After Gail hung up, Cora dialed Mariclare's number. Once she
had to call three different people before she got a substitute who did
not show because her car broke down. Mariclare had subbed for Gail
before. Cora was fairly confident she would come. The phone rang
once, then again and again. About to hang up, she reached for the
county substitute list. Mariclare's mother answered. Cora asked for
Mariclare. She could come. "Well, that's good. About 9:30? Ah
Ever since Mariclare made out her application at the county school
board office, she had been waiting for such a call. She did not know
why they had not called her before now, but now was a good time. She
had just split up with her husband, and her little girl was old enough
to leave with her grandmother. Her daughter cried every time she left,
but Mariclare hoped she would get used to it.
When she left her husband, she reluctantly had moved back home
with her parents. She did not like her parents' telling her what to
do and not do. They did not realize, she said, that she was no longer
a child, needing supervision, advice and chastisement.
A student walked into the kitchen through one of four doors leading
to the serving lines. He sauntered over to the office, pausing at the
door while Cora was on the phone.
"Hey, C.I.," he called.
C.M. looked over. "Hey, yourself." She continued with her work.
He leaned against the door post, hands in pockets, looking around.
"What we having today?"
"Turkey," C.M. shouted back.
When Cora got off the phone, he turned his attention to her. "Got
change for a dollar?"
Cora lifted herself out of the chair. She shuffled the cottage
cheese box and peered in, tipping it over in her hand. Some nickles,
dimes, the keys to the bank deposit bags jumbled out.
"No, sorry. I don't have enough for a dollar. Go up to the office
and get some change." She said this same thing five mornings a week,
180 days a school year. She never seemed to tire of this morning ritual.
The previous manager had not given change to students in the morning.
She had not allowed them back in the kitchen area at all.
Some mornings there would be enough change in the cottage cheese
box, money that came in from selling sodas and cookies after school.
Other mornings someone would fish into her purse for change, but not
Ree, Cora's niece, and several other students had come in, stopping
in front of the head cook's working area.
"Ree Rollins, you better stop hitting on me. You be on the floor
in a minute. I'll lay you out, girl. I know that's right." Nell
protested. Ree stopped and grinned sheepishly at Nell. "My patience
is too short for this kind of stuff," Nell added.
Another student emerged from behind the door where Ree and her
gang had left after surveying the kitchen. "Hey, mother," he called.
"I ain't your mother," Nell muttered.
"I want a lunch," he said moving toward her.
"We don't have any lunches."
"Well, make me one then."
"Freddie, I'm busy. We don't have any lunches."
More students were converging on Cora's office. "I want my tickets,"
a voice yelled over the din the others made. "Give me my tickets."
Cora asked for names and started pulling off tickets and marking
the reduced and free lunch sheets.
Nell went back for some hamburger and fishburger rolls in the
storeroom. The students would not bother here there. Carl, the Coke
man, passed her on his way in.
In the baking area, he and C.M. talked quietly in the corner. C.M.
acted shy. Carl came every Thursday morning to deliver Cokes, grape
soda, Sprite and other drinks Cora ordered for Line III. On Thursdays,
C.M. took special care with her make-up and hair. Nell never failed to
notice the results: C.M.'s face was "bright" and her hair carefully
"Good morning," Cora said from her door. She handed him the list
of sodas she wanted. She was still tearing off tickets for the students
crowded around her door. He went back out the kitchen door and returned
with the cases on his dolly. He wheeled the dolly into the walk-in,
unloading the cases. C.M. joined him and they emerged together in a
None of this was lost on Nell. She called from her working table.
"Cold in there. Too cold to be standing around in. You warm it up
some, girl?" If Carl had kissed C.M., she was not telling. She ignored
Nell's taunt and strode back to the baking area.
"C.M.," Cora called. "C.M."
"What you want?" C.M. asked as she approached the office. She
did not look up to see Carl as he left.
"C.M., will you please get this boy some soda."
"I want some cookies too. Get me some sweet kind," he yelled
"You got fifteen cents? Cookies cost fifteen cent," C.M. replied.
She brought out different kinds of soda and a number of cookies from
the storeroom. There would be more demands.
Otis and Jim came in by the back door, checking things out and
making their presence known to fellow students and to Cora, Nell and
C.M. They worked in the lunchroom during serving. Otis had started
working in the cafeteria the year before. He could not read or add
very quickly, but he knew how a kitchen operated. The manager who had
left had been hesitant about letting him work in the lunchroom: he
was so small and frail looking. Abe had called him a rabbit once,
and Otis, not willing to take anything, even from one older or bigger,
said, "Who you calling 'rabbit?" Otis had spunk, an easy kind of
spunk. When something was not right, he let it be known. One time he
had noticed that the orange juice had not been put out. He drew the
manager's attention to this. He had saved the day, she told him, and
according to the federal requirements for a nutritionally balanced
meal, he had.
Jim had started working this year, working with the quickness of
a boxer but without the grace. He was another of C.M.'s suitors. At
first he just hung around looking at C.M., buying things from her so
she would notice him. She considered him a pest. The women started
asking him to run back to the stove and bring out more food when the
pans emptied on the serving lines. Soon he was coming in with Otis
They worked on the dishwashing machine or backed up the lines.
Neither got paid for working, although a DCT program in the school
helped students get part-time employment as part of their education.
Some DCT students had worked in the lunchroom and been paid a dollar
an hour. When the program's funds ran out, most of them quit. Even
when they had been paid, they did not always come in. Occasionally,
one or two would take a Coke or sandwich, a six or eight dollar loss
the previous manager could not tolerate. Elizabeth said they were
just children. You could not expect them to work like an adult.
Nonetheless, when they were not there, the women had to work that much
At the second bell, the students leaped and scrambled out of the
kitchen, making a disorderly retreat to classrooms across the green from
the lunchroom, Otis and Jim with them. As they left, a student rushed
in, yelling to C.M. to give him some hot skins.
"We don't have any barbecue."
"Give me what you got then."
"Can't sell it to you now. The bell rung."
"Oh, come on. Darn." He dropped his hand dejectedly and turned
Before the official school day began, Ora gave out lunch tickets
to students who had forgotten them on Monday, when they were distributed.
This morning, C.M. had sold cookies, potato chips and sodas--worth about
fifteen dollars. Mr. Cosby, assistant principal for auxiliary services,
had told Cora she could not sell to students after the second bell. The
teachers were complaining that students were late. Cora agreed with
him, but she was sorry to lose the business. After that, whenever he
asked her how things were going, she told him that it was another not-
so-good day. Losing that morning money had hurt her business. After
this prolonged, subtle campaign, Cosby recanted. She could sell in
the morning and between classes. Cora never challenged her superiors
directly as Lucy, her predecessor, had done. She let them come around
to her way of thinking. That money in the morning often made the
difference between a small and great loss for the day. Since Hogtown
High's lunchroom opened, with the exception of one year, it has lost
between two and three thousand dollars annually. Any fool could see
reason in restoring that source of income.
C.M. came to tell Cora that she did not have enough flour to make
cinnamon rolls. Cora got back on the phone. She called over to
Dixie Hollins Elementary School, where she had been manager before
coming to H.H.S. She asked for Tula, the new manager. Tula had flour
to lend, and Ora thanked her, saying she would be right over.
"Why didn't you tell me the flour was low?" Cora asked accusingly.
"I did, Cora. Don't you remember?" C.M. said, as if she had
been accused of the gravest transgression. "I did."
Cora remembered even as she asked C.M. that the county truck with
the flour and other commodities from the warehouse had not come in yet.
Cora rushed out the back door on the way to Abe's office. She had
forgotten to apologize to C.M., and C.M. was a conscientious worker.
She tried to give offense to no one, especially to someone who worked
as hard as C.M.
Abe was out back, talking with Walker, one of his janitors.
"Hey, Cora Lee, how are you?"
"Hey," she answered coming up to them. "Abe, will you go over to
Dixie to pick up some flour for me? I just need about ten pounds.
Tula will have it ready for you."
Abe laughed in his easy and hearty way. "Sure, I'll bring you
whatever you want. You just name it, lady."
Walker walked off with his hands in his pockets. Cora did not
have to tell Abe that she, Nell and C.M. did not have transportation.
He knew too that Elizabeth, who often ran errands in her car, was not
due to work for another half-hour; not much about the lunchroom that
he did not know. The same could be said of the school.
Students and teachers alike confided in him. They sought him out
when they were having problems. Everyone said he was the principal's
right-hand man and some thought he had more to do with running the
school than any other person, including the principal. The school
newspaper had run a satire on this relationship. Abe just called
himself "the ole yard man."
As Cora left, Abe jingled around in his pants' pocket for his
keys. Walker had gone to the kitchen for toast and juice. C.M. fixed
toast while she waited for the flour, using some old buns and cheese
cut for hoagies. The cheese toast came out of the oven burnt, but
Walker said he would take it any way.
"It your color," C.M. said.
"Nah, C.M. It look more like you look," he laughed. He put his
money on the table and started munching on the toast. "I'll get the
Nell had lain out fresh buns on her work table in front of the
stove and left a few packages on Sally's table by the office. Monday
morning the buns were stacked outside on a rack by the bread man. They
were soft and fresh smelling, in individual bags of twelve tied with a
wire band. These plastic bags were kept and refilled with lettuce,
cheese and luncheon meat. They accumulated in big bundles underneath
Sally's table where the slicer was. The overflow was taken home to
put up beans or corn. Some of the women had gardens or had friends
and relatives who did. The bags came in handy for freezing their
The plastic bags were one of a few things the workers were permitted
to take home. Empty jars were another--but not cans. Cans were sold to
a local nursery for a few cents each. Food, whether edible or in the
swill can was a forbidden item. Payment made no difference. The Food
Service management had made this regulation so that there would be no
suspicion that workers were stealing food from the lunchroom or over-
estimating the daily needs, to create leftovers to take home. Once
when a worker was going home on the bus, someone had asked her to share
with him what she had in her shopping bag. "He thoughtI'd give him
some food. But," she paused, "I pulled out those plastic bags!"
Back in the walk-in, Nell got the mayonnaise-catsup mix for
hamburgers and the mayonnaise-relish mix for fishburgers. On a second
trip she took along a little pitcher to scoop out pickle slices for
the hamburgers. She lifted the lid off a tray of turkey meat left in
the walk-in overnight.
She had cooked the turkey yesterday, boned and cut it up into four
pans. When the turkeys were whole, as they had been yesterday, it took
a lot more time and work to get them ready. Once Cora had gotten some
turkey rolls which were easy to fix, but she never saw them after that
day. Yesterday she had left as tired as Cora came in today. Fixing
the turkey in the afternoon, Nell had exclaimed, "Lord, let me get
through before my tiredness come down on me." Whether the Lord heard
her or not, another worker had. "It be half way down now." Nell
replied, "Sure is. Sure enough is."
The hamburgers were easier to fix, even if they did not taste so
good. She had already retrieved them from the freezer in the storeroom,
ripped open the plastic and put them in a pan with some water to heat.
Last year she had mixed a long loaf of hamburger meat with dehydrated
onions and a soybean substitute. She and Sally pressed trays with
individually made patties under cookie sheets. At the end of these
sessions, Nell would sigh and tell Sally she never would have made it
without her. Of course she would have. Nell could prepare an entire
meal by herself if she had to.
There was a can-do spirit among the workers and it made their
work possible under the most difficult conditions. Once a couple of
regular employees, one-fourth of the lunchroom labor force, were out
and the student servers did not show. Elizabeth said, "We can do it.
It'll be hard. And it'll be a lot of work. But we can do it. We've
done it before." Nell chimed in, "That's right."
Nell brought the fish from the freezer and put them down on
large cookie sheets, while she waited for the hamburgers to finish
cooking. The fish would go in next. She put a piece of baking paper
over each sheet to make them less difficult to wash and arranged the
fish on the paper. Nell swabbed the fish with butter C.M. had melted
on the stove, two to three times as many fishburgers as hamburgers.
The children preferred them, especially now that the patties tasted
When Abe returned from Dixie Hollins, he brought C.M. the flour.
She set about weighing and measuring it. C.M. had made up a brown
sugar, cinnamon and nut mix and prepared the sugar and butter while
she waited. Abe was gone about twenty minutes.
He walked into Cora's office where she was trying, once more, to
post her invoices. "Everybody over at Dixie says hello," Abe told her.
"Shirley is really missed. That boy there kept asking for her. 'You
knows Shirley? How is Shirley? Tells her, I says hey.' What does
this boy want with Shirley?"
Cora just laughed. When she had moved from Dixie to Hogtown High,
she took Shirley with her when a position opened up at the high school.
Cora moved because the participation at Dixie was to be cut, meaning
less money if she stayed, and managing a high school lunchroom meant
more money. Shirley and Cora were friends, and Cora looked out for
"Hey, what's going on here?" Abe said to everyone and no one in
particular. At least once a day, every day, Abe would ask that same
question, always in the same booming, jovial way.
"Seems like you know. What you and Cora laughing about? You come
out of there," Nell said.
"Oh, shoot, Nell, nothing."
"I know nothing when I hear it and I don't hear it now. What's
this nothing you and Cora been talking about?" Nell asked.
"I asked you what's happening?" Abe said lunging toward her with
his arms outstretched.
"Seems like your happening," Nell said waving off this fake
"Who me? The ole yard man?" he said innocently.
Nell was taking the hamburgers from the oven when Abe asked,
"What you got, Nell?"
"What you got eyes for?"
"To see you," Abe said chuckling as he left. Nell looked after
him and put her hands on her hips. She was going to stare him down,
but he did not turn around. He knew how she would be looking after
him. They had known each other for a long time as friends and
neighbors. They liked and respected each other. It showed through
this bantering and ribaldry.
Nell went back to the hamburgers and shoveled them into buns,
stacking them three deep in a tray lined with a moist towel. The towel
was to help keep them from getting hard. The students would complain
if they were. Those children complained anyhow about anything anyway,
Nell told herself, but she would try to keep the hamburgers fresh and
Outside Elizabeth turned off Ninth Street into a road lined with
pines, scrub oaks, vines and a few magnolia trees. Trails were cut
through the woods, footpaths that students used for rendezvous, to
smoke, drink and make love.
Liz's grey-blue Buick pulled into the back parking lot that led
to the custodian's office on the left, to the kitchen on the right.
A dumpster separated the two. Abe's car was already in the first space,
then the band director's car. The third place, usually filled by
the lunchroom manager's car, was empty. Cora's car was propped up on
cement blocks in the driveway at home. Liz parked her car behind
Walker's pride and joy: a late model black Cadillac complete with
About 8:25 a.m., Elizabeth walked by Nell, who called "good
morning" to her as she headed for the office. Elizabeth had not heard
Nell. She was thinking about the fight she had with Pete last night.
She was upset because she thoughtthings would get better after her
operation. Pete was involved more now than ever in his sportsman's
club. She hardly saw him.
"You didn't see it?" Nell asked Liz. "You behind the excitement,
girl." Nell pointed to the bundle on Cora's desk. Liz took a cursory
look at the material, put her purse in the file cabinet and headed for
the walk-in. She nudged the milkshake cartons across the floor with her
foot to the milkshake machine. Once she had poured the mix into the
machine, she left to get a plastic bag in which to throw the empty
cartons. The machine was working well this morning. The shakes were
coming out firm. For the next hour Elizabeth would stand there placing
one cup after another under the spout, putting each in the milkshake
rack. Only variety in the job was the change from chocolate to vanilla,
and then when the machine broke down.
Elizabeth did not seem to mind staying in one place; Nell and C.M.,
on the other hand, liked to move around. Elizabeth seemed to take pride
in being the only one to operate the machine. She had taught Cora how
to use it, in case she could not come to work, but it was Elizabeth's
baby. Regularly when she cleaned it, she announced that she had to give
her baby a bath. C.M. looked askance at this, but Nell told her to
never mind that.
It was the only baby Elizabeth would ever have. Though Elizabeth
was only twenty-eight, she had needed a hysterectomy last summer. She
had been married at sixteen, but her husband was killed in Viet Nam,
pulling five of his buddies to safety, she said. He had been awarded
a Purple Heart for his bravery. Elizabeth was given a widow's pension.
She never could get over it, though, she said. One of the reasons she
liked working in the lunchroom, doing hard physical work, was to get
her frustrations worked out. Nell told C.M. that everybody had their
problems and not to mind Liz and her baby talk.
Outside the milkman backed his truck to the kitchen door. He
turned the motor off, jumped out and went to the back of the truck to
unlatch the back doors. The back door slammed as he came in, looking
for Cora. She had heard the door shut. The milk cartons were out of the
refrigerator ready to present to him. She asked for replacements.
These cartons were sour, and by the way, she wished him a good morning.
He examined the dates on the cartons, shook his head and asked,
"You believe those kids?"
"I have to," Cora said. "They're my customers."
They knew that the cartons might be sour and might not. The kids
returned a half-empty carton sometimes to get a full one, or they had
changed their minds about white milk and wanted chocolate. One could
Cora gave him her milk order--two white and one chocolate--which
he wrote on a sheet of paper on his clip board. He left it for her to
sign. On his way out, he said hello to Elizabeth, who passed him on
the way to the bathroom. She smiled back.
When Elizabeth emerged from the bathroom, Nell started to kid her
about her new boyfriend. "I see you got a new friend, Liz. You better
watch that stuff. I'll tell Pete on you." Liz smiled again, the second
time this morning. Nell had never even met Pete. As for a new boy-
friend, that was just talk too. Everyone talked like that, even the
milkman. Once he had come in with another man, and Cora asked who the
second man was. The milkman told her that he talked so much about the
pretty women on his route that his friend wanted to see for himself.
The milkman returned with the three cases of milk and wheeled
them into the walk-in. He picked up a case left from yesterday and
distributed the four cases to ice boxes on Lines I and II. He picked
up the clip board on his way out and hurried to his next delivery.
All the schools had to be serviced before lunch. He was on a tight
The milkman came every day. The orange juice man came on Monday
morning as did the man from the bakery and another from a local produce
distributor. On Thursdays came the Coke man, the Lance cookie man and
the laundry man. The Coke man had come and gone. The laundry man was
expected soon. The Lance cookie man would come just before lunch at
eleven. The man from the county warehouse arrived at irregular intervals,
but Cora was expecting him today with her order of flour. She was
expecting the health department inspector any day now. She hoped he
would not show up today. She had too much to catch up on to fool with
Nell yelled over to C.M., "How you doing?" C.M. yelled back that
she was doing ok. Nell called back, "You're not getting down enough.
You're not getting down on your stuff. What you have for breakfast?"
"You ok, C.M.?" Nell asked again.
"Ah ha," C.M. replied.
"Well, if you wasn't ok, I was going to come back there. If
you was on the floor, I'd pour some water on you and see you rise up!"
Nell said taking a different tact.
"There they go again. Fighting," Elizabeth called to Cora.
"Just fighting and fussing and fuming and funning," Nell retorted,
ending the conversation on C.M.'s health and well-being.
The baking area was whitened with flour: a white arc on the tan
floor, white on the bleached tables, on the green walls, on black C.M.
C.M. stood back now while the machine did its job on the flour and
water and other ingredients in the large mixing bowl. She turned it off
and scraped the dough from its blade. She scooped some dough onto the
table and started rolling it out as Nell had taught her a couple of
years ago when she first started in the lunchroom as a DCT student.
She began baking regularly when the baker resigned.
Depending upon who told the story, a fight had taken place over
leadership and insubordination (Lucy's version), a struggle over laziness
and cooperation (Elizabeth's version), a racial conflict between the
white and predominately black factions (C.M.'s viewpoint), or tension
between the office and workers (Abe's analysis). These interpretations
are related and indeed may include all variables. Whatever the reasons
for the tension, the baker had left at Christmas, and C.M. took charge
of the baking.
"Hey, Nell, did you hear that?" C.M. asked. The nine o'clock news
"What you talking about?" Nell answered.
"On the radio. This man was shot dead out in Indianola. The mens
"Ah hum. I know. Over nothing too. That's what they were doing."
Nell was at the sink, getting water for tea. "Fighting over nothing.
Died for nothing. For one dollar. Think of that. Dying for one ole
little dollar. You know him, C.M.?"
"Ah naw. I didn't knows him."
The coffee water had just about boiled away. Cora had drunk her
cup for the morning. The other custodians had not come into kitchen
for coffee. Only Walker had come in for toast and juice and Abe,
with the flour.
Nell checked on the rice she had put in the steamer when Shirley,
wearing shades and alligator shoes, swung through the back door. Nell
looked up and smiled, "Hey, Shirley."
"Good morning, Nell," she replied in her crisp receptionist style.
"Now, Nell, don't start that fussing. I didn't even get here yet."
Shirley anticipated Nell's comments. Nell often told Shirley that they
were going to have a funeral soon if she did not watch herself, going
out with all those guys when she had a steady boyfriend. Nell told her
she had her red dress all ready to go for the funeral.
Shirley breezed past Nell to the bathroom, hung up her coat and a
dressing a dry cleaning bag. Her white uniform was one of five she owned.
The other women wore pant suit-type uniforms, but not Shirley. She wore
dresses, short dresses. "The mens say they like my legs," she told
anyone who asked about a hemline at mid-thigh.
Once, when Nell's husband had come for lunch, he put soda straws
on the bottom of his shoes and tried to walk. That was how Shirley
looked, he said. Cora had warned her about wearing platform shoes to
"My customers like to see me looking good," she protested.
"It's unsafe," Cora said, "And the insurance company won't pay if
"Unsafe for who?" someone chimes in.
"I don't mean that kind of unsafe," Cora replied. "I wish you
all be serious now. This is serious."
Shirley headed toward the baking area, where she and C.M. chatted
"You two break it up, now." Nell was returning to put fishburgers
in their buns. "We have lots of work to do. You have lots of work to
do, hear?" She said pointing to Shirley.
"Looks like you lost a friend, Nell." Cora leaned back in her
office chair. She knew that Nell never told anyone to get to work.
Even if the work was theirs to do, Nell would start on it herself.
Since Shirley and C.M. had been getting together to discuss their
adventures, Nell had been on them to stop talking and to do their work.
Really though, Cora said, that Nell just wanted to know what was going
on. When they carried on like that, real quiet-like, she did not know.
Cora went back to the baking area to tell Shirley the Coke man
had come this morning, that he and C.M. were locked up in the walk-in
"Sure were," Nell confirmed.
"You tell everything you know, Cora," C.M. said defensively.
Everyone laughed together, acknowledging their common fault. They kept
few secrets from one another. Certainly someone's new boyfriend was
not one of them. One woman confided in another she was "tight" with.
That woman was friends with another and confided in her. And so the
confidence spread by overlapping pairs to everyone in the group.
About 9:15 a.m., Mariclare walked up to the group congregated
in C.M.'s corner. She was fifteen minutes early. Nell told her to
get herself an apron and waved toward the back. Shirley walked with
Mariclare to the storeroom and showed her where aprons were stacked on
a shelf. Shirley took pizza and french fries out of the freezer and
loaded them on a cart. The cart stalled at a bump in the door way.
It moved unsteadily, and Shirley exclaimed in exasperation, "This
cart go every which way. This cart go where it want to." She
struggled trying to get it on a straight course. At the table, Nell
was just finishing with the fishburgers, a good thing too. Lately they
had been having a border war over the use of that table. Nell told
Shirley that she was cramping Nell's style. Nell could not get her
work done, she claimed. Shirley, in response, would push her pans
over on Nell's side of the table, and Nell would shove them back.
Today Shirley had the table pretty much to herself. She took
long cookie sheets from a rack by the sink, stacking them on the table,
and cut open bags of french fries. After spreading baking paper on
the trays, she dumped a bag, spreading the french fries out with her
hand. She sprinked the arrangement with lots of paprika, giving the
french fries some flavor and color. Turning, she opened the doors to
the oven and a blast of heat assaulted her. The trays went in, and
quickly the glass doors slammed shut.
C.M. had put the cinnamon rolls in the back ovens. The kitchen
was starting to fill with the heavy scent of cinnamon. On a cold
winter day, Gail used to say, she liked nothing better than the smell
of bread baking in the oven. It gave her a sense of well-being, she
said, one of the good things about life.
Mariclare was putting hot water in the first sink. She ran hot
and cold in the second; the third was filled with plastic jars, pans,
pots, other items used in the course of a morning. She poured a grainy,
green detergent into the second sink. Gentle on the hands, the box
said, but Shirley always wore rubber gloves to scrub the pots and pans.
C.M. stooped over beside the sub, sliding the mixing bowl on the floor
under the sinks. She splashed some water into the bowl so the dough
would not harden and stick to the metal.
Cora wandered around the kitchen, stopping to chat and help.
Cora was the only manager to help in the kitchen, Elizabeth said. The
rest stayed in the office. Cora had come from the ranks. Years ago
she and Nell worked together at DuBois High School where an aunt of
Nell's husband had been manager. Miss Dell retired several years back,
but she still went to the Food Service Associations annual dinner for
Cora worked her way to the storeroom where she started her
inventory. At the end of each month, she had to take stock. Occasionally,
Cora called Nell, checking with her about something she could not find.
Nell would go back, rubbing her hands down her apron, shaking her head.
"That's what you get for ordering all that stuff. You got to pay for
it now," Nell told her.
"That's the truth," Cora acknowledged. Doing inventory was not
her favorite job. Being a manager was challenging, but all that
inventory challenged was her ability to get down and get up again.
The laundry man walked in. Cora struggled to get up from her
squatting position. He counted the aprons and towels, putting new
ones--at least, clean ones--on a shelf. He told her the receipt was
on her desk and left. He was a quiet man. Unlike the other delivery
men who exchanged greetings and gossip, he did his work, saying no
more than was necessary. He missed a lot that way: Gail's comment
for example. She considered it a fine day if her apron had two strings
instead of one. Once after a delivery, Nell discovered that the aprons
were new. She and a few others joined in an impromptu fashion show.
They dropped aprons over their uniforms and paraded in front of the
full-length mirror, bowing, pivoting and swirling in front of an
imaginary audience. They broke up laughing.
Nell took out the giant tea bags from the pots on the stove,
pitching the bags into the garbage can by the office. She poured the
tea into four containers and added sugar to three. The teachers liked
their tea sweet. She stirred the sugar in each pitcher and set them
on a tray. Teachers could have tea instead of milk with meals they
bought. Other teachers who brought their lunches helped themselves
to the tea--another loss the lunchroom absorbed. Adult lunches cost
twenty cents more than the students, but that did not cover the cost
of the meal. Unlike student lunches-free, reduced and paid--adult
lunches were not subsidized by the government.
After fixing the tea, Nell added chicken bouillon, corn starch
and yellow coloring to a large pot of boiling water. Nell had to chip
the bouillon out of a jar with an ice pick. Why bouillon was in a
glass jar, Nell did not know. It got so hard. She was sure to break
the jar one day.
The next half hour passed quickly. Elizabeth stood by the milk-
shake machine, placing one cup after another under the spout. C.M.
cleaned the baking area and helped Nell with the hamburgers and fish-
burgers. Shirley put the french fries and pizza in the warmer as they
came out of the convection oven. Back in the storeroom, Cora continued
taking inventory. The ten o'clock news repeated the nine o'clock news.
Nell did not ask C.M. about the shooting this time. Mariclare did.
She knew C.M. was from Indianola. Her brother went with C.M.'s cousin.
You could always tell Indianola people, Mariclare said.
Ten o'clock and Sally was late as usual. She was the only one
who made a regular habit of it. Everyone else came early. At first,
C.M. looked at the clock, then at Sally. Gail asked her what time she
came in. None of this attention got her to the lunchroom any earlier.
Sally swung off the bike, lifted it onto the ramp and locked it.
She parked the three-speed bike between the stacked wooden frames and
the water spigot. It was safest to ride a bike, Sally thought. It
was not large enough to write obscenities on, as had been done to Pat's
car. The windows could not be broken as with Gail's stationwagon.
Nor could the radio be left on as in Elizabeth's Buick.
She hurried inside to get warm. The kitchen did not feel much
warmer than it did outside, even though the ovens had been on for two
hours. Like almost everyone else, Sally went to the office first. Nell
called, "Hey," from her position in front of the sunken pit, containing
the stove, ovens and steamer. Sally returned the hey, a word she
learned to substitute for "hi."
After dumping her books under the office table, she went to the
stove. She stretched her hands over the burners, turning and rubbing
them. They were redder than her face.
"Cold today, isn't it?" Nell said.
"God damn right. It's cold," she replied. She and Gail used
profanity. It was rare that anyone else did. They used god damn and
hell so much that it was as accepted as Praise the Lord, Lord Jesus
and other religious exclamations used by Cora and Nell.
"I can't stand this cold weather. This is awful," Sally said.
"Ah hum, I know what you mean. Junior and Nelson didn't want
to get up this morning. I could have stayed under the covers myself.
But the alarm went off and up I rose." Nell laughed, remembering getting
out of bed.
Shirley passed by on the way to wash her hands. "Good morning.
How are you?"
"I know that's right," Shirley confirmed.
After warming herself, Sally went to the bathroom to change.
Everyone wore their uniforms to work, even if they did not wear them
home. Not Sally. She wore another kind of uniform: jeans and cotton
shirts. Abe described the appearance, "You don't care how you look.
I like that." Sally pulled off her student uniform and tugged on the
white pants and one of two white jackets she owned. She opened the
bathroom door, shoving one arm into her flannel shirt.
Sally saw the forty-eight buns Nell had left on the end of the
table. She got luncheon meat, cheese and the mayonnaise-mustard mix
from the walk-in. Everyone had a different way of fixing hoagies.
The results were much the same. Sally spread the buns on the table,
spreading one side with the mix, laying the cheese and meat on the other.
When Cora did them, she spread both sides of the buns which were
arranged in vertical rows. Nell spread between the buns, leaving them
scattered on the table.
Elizabeth picked up a piece of luncheon meat. "You won't miss
this, will you?" she asked, popping the meat into her mouth.
Sally cut more meat on the slicer, making a mess. The tray did
not abut properly onto the cutting blade. The slicer last year was
better, but it had been stolen during the summer. She was sure she
was going to lose a finger on this one. She never did. People cut
themselves on knives, but not on the slicer. Scaldings were more common.
For such emergencies, there were a few medicines in the bathroom locker:
a bottle of iodine, some cotton gauze and some salves. An aloe plant
rested over the kitchen sink on the high window shelves. No one could
remember to use it, even though everyone knew it was there and used
Elizabeth finished the shakes, cleaned the machine and wrote
the tally on a paper towel. She put the towel with Cora's other
records, and left the office to check the bulletin board. The daily
schedule was posted today. She saw her name penned next to "Cabbage."
When her name was not listed, she mopped bathrooms and washed walls.
Today she had to cut cabbage.
Elizabeth retrieved the cabbage from the walk-in, dragging it
across the floor. It was a simple job. She pulled the outer leaves
off, cored the cabbage, washed and quartered it. While the cabbage
cooked on the stove, Nell would season it. One time, Elizabeth
remembered, someone had stewed the cabbage. The menu that day called
for cole slaw. At least it was a mistake in the right direction.
The students ate cooked cabbage; cole slaw came back to the swill can,
ultimately ending on a pig farm.
Elizabeth brought the swill can from the back porch and threw the
outer leaves into it, filling the bottom. "This is the sorriest
cabbage," Liz pronounced over the accumulating leaves.
"Do the best you can," Nell called. "That's all I know."
"But this cabbage here is so sorry looking," Liz said again.
Sally finished wrapping the hoagies. She put them into paper bags
with a straw, napkin, one apple and a carton of orange juice. Abe
stopped by her as she put the bag lunches on trays.
"Hey, how's my Sal?" How's my girl?" he asked for the first time
"Ok. How are you, Abe?" Sally replied, concentrating on the bag
"Oh, fine. Just real fine." He smiled.
"Hmmm. Abe, I got to put this stuff away," she said abruptly.
"I'll help you. I'd do anything for my Sal."
"Thanks, Abe, but I just have to put these trays up, ok?"
Elizabeth collected the bits of cabbage left on the slicing board
and threw them into the swill can. She washed the knife and cutting
board, setting them on the table to dry. She walked past Abe and Sally
on the way to the serving lines. She started counting plates, moving
her finger over the plates. Fifty in each stack. She placed three
hundred and fifty on Line I and two hundred and fifty on Line II.
Usually Shirley counted behind her, making sure her count was correct.
Today, however, Shirley was cashiering in Gail's place on Line I.
Cashiers could not count plates, Elizabeth knew. Elizabeth looked
for Cora in the storeroom. "Someone has to count the plates again."
"Tell Mariclare to do it," Cora said, returning to her inventory.
Mariclare fished a pan from the scalding water with a wooden
paddle. When she caught it, she held the hot pan by her fingertips,
swinging it onto the drain board.
"Mariclare, Cora says you got to do the plate count," Liz
"I don't know how to do no plate count," Mariclare muttered softly.
"It's easy. I'll show you," Liz said glad to be playing the
part of teacher.
Mariclare shook water off her hands, wiping them on a towel she
pulled from the tray rack. She followed Liz to the serving lines.
Shirley passed them on the way to the eating area, towing two
garbage cans. A third she placed under the return window for cartons,
napkins and other paper products. Students and teachers were supposed
to separate paper debris from silverware and plates before returning
their trays. But Shirley fished out a lot of forks and knives from
Shirley heard the dishwasher gushing and chugging. She had turned
it on, loading the detergent on the side container. As chief dishwasher,
an unenviable position, it was part of her duty. The newest member
of the group was stuck with this job. Today, Mariclare would have
it. One thing to be thankful for, Shirley thought: no soup or chili
today. Those meals were murder. The food stuck to the plates and
there was a bowl to contend with, as if the plates, trays and utensils
were not enough. Other schools had plates and trays all in one.
Not Hogtown High. They never seemed to get new equipment.
As her parting service for Mariclare, Shirley filled the plastic
tub for soaking utensils with water and detergent. Students used the
tub for target practice, hurling their silverware into it. Their aim
occasionally coincided with the dishwasher's hands. You had to have
patience to work that window, Nell said. She did not have enough for
that kind of nonsense.
Shirley brought the swill can from the salad area to the return
window. As Shirley pushed it by, Sally dumped some meat and cheese
scraps into the can. C.M. chanted from the sidelines, "Slowly but
Shirley. Slowly but surely."
Sally stacked the cookie and potato chip rack in the storeroom.
C.M. followed her, getting cans of cranberry sauce. "Ain't you bored
doing that every day?" C.M. asked her. Sally shrugged. She had
changed jobs several times. Sometimes she got a more desirable job;
"I be bored," C.M. said firmly, exiting with the cans. C.M.
agreed with Nell. She liked her job because she got to do different
things every day, Nell said. She liked to move around and go from
place to place. Neither could understand how Elizabeth stood in one
place for a solid hour. As she went out the storeroom door, C.M.
almost lost her cans, bumping into the Lance man.
"She's on the phone," he said motioning to Cora's office. "How
are the pork skins selling?"
"Ok. The barbecue are selling better than the plain," Sally
answered. "Is that true at other schools?"
"Well, yes and no. The black students like the barbecue skins,
but the barbecue chips are not hot enough for them. Too hot for the
white kids. I'd say the black kids like the sweet cookies. You know,
the vanilla, Nekot, ones like that. The white kids eat the Toastchee.
Anything with cheese and peanut butter. They like chocolate too.
It's a good chocolate, better than in an Oreo cookie."
"Hello. I been expecting you," Cora said reprimanding him for
coming so near the workers' lunchbreak.
Sally left for the walk-in. She placed cases of sodas, along
with bag lunches and hoagies, on a cart she pulled to Line III.
She counted bag lunches and sodas before serving. Saved time. After
the lines closed, she counted what remained, subtracted, getting the
total sold. The item tally and the money never seemed to coincide.
If the county office wanted an accurate account, they had to furnish
more than fish and tackle boxes, Lucy, the previous manager said.
The boxes were in poor shape. The lid on C.M.'s was off its hinges
and the inside of Sally's was propped on two wooden bars.
Nell wheeled the cart with the turkey to the stove. She hefted
the pans onto the burners, moving to one side the cabbage Liz put on
the stove. She poured the gravy over the turkey and covered the pans
with flat lids. After getting the turkey ready, Nell checked the
steamer. She turned it off and opened the top slowly. She wielded
a large ladle with both hands, scooping the rice into four deep pans
she got from underneath her table. She placed two pans on the stove
and brought the others to Line I, slipping the pans into slots over
the hot water.
C.M. shelved the pans of cranberry sauce one by one into the
refrigerator by the office. She threw the jagged edged tops in the
garbage and carried the cans to the pot sink, where Mariclare had
resumed washing after the plate count. After the cans were washed, they
were stacked in the enclosed porch. At the end of the month, the
enclosure was lined three deep in cans. After the monthly nursery pick-
up, the cans--like toy blocks--began to build up again, slowly and
"C.M.," Cora called. "Go up and get the money in the office." The clock
Elizabeth brought from home read 10:35 a.m. Cora knew they would be
late for lunch again.
C.M. returned with an empty bank bag and a dirty white one filled
with change. -Cora distributed the change to the cashiers' boxes, checking
for a pencil and two sheets. On one sheet the cashier recorded special
servings and extra milk; the other, she and Sally used to compute the
daily participation, revenue and tickets.
Shirley set up Line II, placing one tray of pizza and pans with
hamburgers, fish and french fries in their slots. The heat rising from
the hot water kept them fresh and warm, just as the hot water on Line I
warmed the turkey, rice and cabbage. Shirley's pot holder caught
between a pan and the counter. She returned to the table where she
prepared the pizza and french fries, pulling a pair of tongs from the
drawer. After lifting the pan off the pot holder, she left the tongs
on the counter. If Cora did not use the disposable plastic gloves,
she needed the tongs for serving.
C.M. placed the cinnamon rolls from the back oven on Nell's table.
She returned with a small bowl of glaze made from powdered sugar.
Nell helped spread the glaze over the hot rolls, crisscrossing the
pans with liberal drippings from a spatula. As each pan was glazed,
C.M. slid it on a vertical rack.
Liz was leaning on the milkshake freezer opposite Nell's working
area. She could help, but she did not. Already they were ten minutes
late for lunch.
"Can we eat now, Nell?" Elizabeth asked from her resting post.
C.M. and Nell were almost finished glazing.
"Don't see no reason why we can't eat," she replied. Nell handed
her spatula to C.M. and grabbed a pair of pot holders. She lifted a
pan of turkey off the stove.
"Excuse me, please," she said, making her way to Line I.
Elizabeth got her tray, plate and silverware. She lifted the lid
off the pan of turkey Nell put on the line. No serving spoons.
Liz went to Nell's table and opened two drawers, selecting a scoop
and two large spoons. She returned to the line and filled her plate
with rice and turkey, large pieces of white meat.
She carried her plate to the stove where the cabbage was cooking.
Liz stirred the pepper around the cabbage and dipped some onto her
plate. Next she opened the refrigerator, holding the door with her
foot, and started to get some cranberries. No spoon. The refrigerator
door shut. Elizabeth set her plate on the table, selected a porous
spoon and returned to the refrigerator. Mariclare handed Liz her
plate. Balancing the plate and spoon in one hand, Liz held the door
open with the other. She positioned her body against the refrigerator
door, transferred the spoon to the other hand and spooned out a large
helping of cranberry sauce. She left the spoon in the tray. The
door slammed as she moved on, searching for a cinnamon roll. She
eyed the rolls, spotting a large, fluffy one in the middle of the
fourth row. She turned to the table, getting a metal spatula, and
extracted her cinnamon roll.
C.M. came from the storeroom, bringing a pan of ice. Liz waited
until Mary set the pan down. She filled a cup with ice and poured
herself some sweet tea. Liz went to the cafeteria and sat down at
the table the lunchroom workers used. She started to eat.
C.M. arranged the teacher's tray with sugar, salt, forks, spoons
and napkins. This tray, along with tea and pan of ice, was for the
teachers' table. Students could not have tea or ice, even though a
student group donated the ice machine to the school.
C.M. filled five cups with ice. Everyone, except Sally, took tea
with meals. She had milk--sometimes three cartons. Nell gave her one
and Sally marked the others on the milk sheet. Workers got a free
lunch. To some it did not seem free. Workers were required to be at
work a half-hour before serving time, time for which they were not paid.
Rarely did they take the full half-hour, a federal requirement for
hourly wage workers. Nevertheless, Mrs. Williams, the director of
Food Service, never failed to mention the free lunch as a benefit.
Other cafeteria workers in commercial establishments paid for their
food, she said. The seventy-five cents was part of a worker's salary.
Mariclare soon followed Elizabeth to the cafeteria; then Shirley,
Sally, C.M. and Nell.
"You better come out of there, Cora. It's time to eat. Past
time to eat. We be ripping and rolling today when those children come
in," Nell called to Cora. Cora emerged from her office as the workers
trailed off to the cafeteria. Fifteen minutes before the bell rang,
she thought, looking at the clock.
C.M. and Nell sat across from each other by the window. Shirley
sat next to Nell. Mariclare sat opposite Elizabeth and Sally slid in
next to C.M. When Cora came a few minutes later, everyone pushed to
the edges to make room.
"Hey, Fat Albert," C.M. greeted her.
"I know I'm no Albert," Cora said.
"You sure is fat though," C.M. retorted. Everyone laughed at C.M.'s
comparison of the manager to the television character.
Whenever a new person came, Liz asked her the same questions:
Where had she gone to school? Where had she worked before? Was she
married? How many children did she have?
To this latter question Mariclare answered, "One." No one said
a thing to Mariclare now. Later when she replaced Gail who eventually
resigned, they had plenty to say.
"You need at least two," Nell said then.
"I'm going to have mine two at a time," C.M. interjected.
"Well, long as you don't have two at a time by two different men.
I guess that's ok, C.M.," Nell joked.
"She won't want to have another one once shehave that first baby,"
A girl walked by the window on the outside concourse. "Hey, look
at those hips," Nell cried. "I could ride all the way to Andersonville.
All the way. And I wouldn't fall off either. A free ride to Anderson-
ville," Nell laughed.
"Hush, Nell," Cora said.
"I was just going to get me a free ride," Nell said, eating a
little of the turkey--only thing on the plate.
"There's not even enough time to sit down. I'm tired, too tired
to eat. I could just stand up and eat this. That way, I wouldn't have
to get up again. Just keep moving," Nell said.
"Just eat, Nell," Cora replied.
"You talk too much," C.M. confirmed.
"You go ahead and eat. Eat for me too. I'm too tired. I just
want to sit and rest my bones," Nell said, looking over the plate.
She pointed a finger at the different compartments. "The rice go
here with the turkey and the cabbage go here; the cranberries go right
here and the cinnamon roll go on top. That sure is a full plate today.
That's real pretty," she said. "Green, brown, white and red."
"The turkey is real good," Liz told Nell.
"Thank you, Liz."
"It is good, Nell," Cora repeated.
"I be glad when this day is over. I be glad when Friday comes and
goes too," Nell said.
A student approached Cora and hung around the table, looking over
the plates. Everyone continued eating, ignoring the intruder.
"I want my lunch tickets. See, I was late getting to school. I
just got here," he said.
"I'm eating now," Cora said. "This is my lunch time. I give
tickets out until quarter til eleven. You know that."
"Oh, please," he pleaded. "I just got to school."
"Where's your admit slip?" Cora asked, softening.
"I ain't got one."
"Then you ain't got a lunch either. Go on. Get out of here,
"But I don't have my ticket."
"Borrow one from your brother, 'cause I'm not going to give you
your ticket now. Good-bye." Cora said, emphasizing the good-bye. She
went back to eating.
Elizabeth got up from the table and went into the kitchen, getting
another cinnamon roll. "I'll pay you for it, Cora, when the lines
close," she called over her shoulder.
"Elizabeth, you shouldn't eat that," Nell said. "You're on a
"I know. But oh, what a way to go," Liz said.
"Well," Nell said resigned to Liz's "diet." Whenever C.M. baked
cinnamon rolls or bread, Liz bought an extra. Nell told her she was
breaking her diet. Liz replied, "What a way to go." It was a litany.
Everyone, except Sally and Mariclare, were on some kind of diet.
Nell alone kept it. She had to: high blood pressure. C.M. went on a
diet last year after her boyfriend said she was too fat. For weeks
she ate nothing except salads. And got sick. Although Shirley was
thin--thinnest person there, she had an ulcer and could not eat spicy
foods. Cora told Shirley she had lost five pounds. She never seemed
to lose it, eating lunch at Hogtown High. Later when Mariclare thought
she was pregnant, the women encouraged her to drink more milk-a diet
of another ilk.
Cora leaned across the table toward Mariclare. "You know Reverend
Brown?" she asked.
"Ah ha," Mariclare replied.
"He's over to Newcrossing this week," Cora told her.
"If my mother knowed that she be begging for a ride," Mariclare
said. "She like that man. She be wanting to go hear him preach."
"Must be a good-looking man," Nell muttered.
"Say what?" Cora asked.
Nell looked down, concentrating on her empty plate.
"You working with some crazy ladies," Cora informed Mariclare.
Dean Phillips left the dean's office and walked toward the women.
"Hey, Nell," she called.
"Hey,your ownself," Nell replied more to herself than to the dean.
Dean Phillips leaned over C.M., hugging her. C.M. smiled and
grimaced, both at the same time.
"I like your outfit," Cora said. "That's a real pretty color."
"Thank you, Miss Churchill," the dean said, towering over the
table. "You look familiar," she said to Mariclare.
"I graduated from here," Mariclare volunteered.
"I knew you looked familiar. How are you getting along with
When the dean left, Nell said, "She can look good. She always
looks good. She don't have any children to bother her none. She
don't have any responsibilities 'cept to herself."
"She married, isn't she?" Cora asked.
"Sure is. Her husband used to work out here. Used to work for
Abe," Nell added.
A tall boy walked by the window. "Muslim," C.M. muttered.
"Seems like all the good-looking mens is Muslim," Shirley said.
"Sure do," Mariclare agreed.
"They always trying to sell something," Cora said. "Yesterday I
went to the 7-11 and got out of my friend's car and this man come
walking over to me. 'You looking real good,' he say. And I said,
'Thank you.' He wanted me to buy one of those pamphlets. I told him
no. 'You want to give a donation then, a small donation to the cause?'"
Cora said, imitating the Black Muslim. "I asked him if he wanted to
give me a small donation for the church. 'We're having a building fund,'
I told him. 'We're building the church of God.' He turned on his heels
and left me flat." Cora laughed. "You know Jimmy Franklin?" she asked.
"He came by my house selling eggs for the Muslims. He had a real good
job at Publix. Was making good money too. He quit. Went out selling
eggs for the Muslims."
"Some people come by my house one time," Nell said. "A man and
a woman. I was getting down mopping the house clean and they come
knocking on the door. Who could that be? I wasn't expecting anyone.
I was doing my mopping. They said that they be back. I sure hope
they stay away. Those people are such a bother. Selling pamphlets
and wanting you to join their ... "
The eleven ten bell rang. Everyone jumped up, carrying plates to
"Oh, Lord," Cora cried.
"Lord not going to help you now," C.M. said under her breath.
"Those children be here in a minute," Cora reminded everyone, as
if they needed reminding of the onslaught about to begin.
The women marched to the return window in the dishwashing area.
They left trays on the counter and emptied plates into the swill can.
Cora left her tray on a table. Sally picked it up on the way to join
the crowd. Cora unlocked the office, arranging the boxes for the
cashiers. Nell took the cabbage off the stove and carried it to Line
I. C.M. put the milkshakes on Line II and the window line, Line III.
Elizabeth brought the cranberry sauce from the refrigerator to Line I.
"Put the orange juice on Line II," Cora called to Mariclare.
"Move that for me," C.M. asked Elizabeth. She was moving a tray
of cinnamon rolls off a rack. "Never mind," C.M. said, seeing Liz
with her hands full.
Sally put a cinnamon roll in the office to eat later. Nell told
her she could have her roll too. If any were left, she would claim
it. Not now. Sally pulled the cart laden with sodas and bag lunches to
the window where she worked during serving. She ran into C.M. who
left milkshakes in the window for the bag lunches.
"Sorry," Sally apologized. After parking the cart, she hurried
to the storeroom, sliding into Elizabeth in the rush. "Sorry," she
said again. She was always bumping into someone or something.
She jerked the cart over the door stop. The carefully assembled
display tumbled. "Damn," she said, bending over picking the cookies
from the floor.
Students banged on the doors, yelling to be let in. One rattled
the door handle. The loudest voices were male. The noise had come
all at once as the students were released from classes for lunch
period. No staggered schedules at Rogtown High. At the sound of
the bell, a couple hundred students converged on the lunchroom,
bunching at the doors. Lines were long. Students pushed and shoved
for positions in line.
After getting the fish and tackle boxes from the office, C.M.,
Shirley and Sally went to their stations. Nell and Elizabeth readied
plates, lining them on the counter. Cora served Line II by herself;
sometimes a student helped her. Mariclare put trays left by the
other women in a rack.
Cora gave the signal for the doors to be opened. Students poured
in. One boy pushed a girl out of line. She started shrieking at him.
He argued back, saying he was there all along, "What's the big problem,
girl?" Other students joined the yelling, trying to get them to mjove.
The pair kept screaming, threatening and cursing.
Lunch was served at Hogtown High.
Sally pushed up Line III's window, sticking a bar on the side to
hold it. The window went half way. Students bent over, ordering what
they wanted. Lucy had instigated Line III for bag lunches, milkshakes,
sodas and snacks, an idea which augmented the lunchroom's income
Otis and Jim slipped on aprons. Cora sent Otis back for some
salt to refill the shakers. Students poured salt on everything--
cabbage, turkey and cinnamon roll. The salt shakers were tied to the
counter with string, preventing students from carrying them off.
Joe pushed through a crowd of students, delivering the teachers' tray
to the cafeteria. He made a second trip for tea; a third, for ice.
"You skipped," Dean Joseph called to three boys in Line II.
"No, I didn't," one yelled back.
"You turkey. I saw you," he answered, pointing to the group.
"You boys get out of that line and go to the end. I don't want
to see you cutting this line again." The students stood their ground
and conferred together.They left disgruntled. Other students watched
Joseph was hard, too hard many thought, but he had changed.
When a couple of those big boys jumped him in the dean's office, he
cooled off some, Nell said. Joseph, C.M. said, was harder on black
kids. He worked hard to get where he was. He did not want those
kids pulling him down, someone explained. They did that every time
they "showed out."
Line II had rougher kids, than Line I, Lucy and Sally said. They
seemed to yell more, demand more and push each other around more.
The trays spaced students some, but they managed to bunch up. For
the first part of the lunch hour, the lines stretched along the walls,
reaching the doors on the far side of the cafeteria. Students clustered
in groups of girls and groups of boys. An isolate or two stared off
into space, amidst the talking, laughing and horsing around.
"I want a pizza. Give me a pizza. I don't want that plate. That
one there." A student pointed to one Cora was making.
"They're all the same," Cora replied--or as much the same as she
could make them. "Put those napkins back. That's what keeping my
production cost up high. You don't need all those napkins," she
yelled over the din to a boy she saw from the corner of her eye.
Every lunch period, she lost napkins, straws and silverware.
There were two types of straws--plain white ones for for milk and red
striped ones for milkshakes, these with scooped ends. Students used
the straws for other things than drinking. They shot the wrappers off
at passing friends or stuck the straws in the side of the mouth,
chewing on them like pieces of hay straw. The straws and napkins were
not the worst losses. The lunchroon supplied tableware to dozens of
home, Cora thought.
"I want a cinnamon roll," another student demanded.
"That's not on this side," Cora replied.
"I want a cinnamon roll. I don't want to go over there. Man,
that lines so long."
"Go on, get out of here, Michael," Cora told him.
'Give me a fish. I don't want any of those old hamburgers."
"Give me a fish too, Miss Churchill. Miss Churchill. Miss Churchill.
Oh, please give me that big one right there. That's right.
"Give me that," another student said.
"You're holding up the line," Coi said to a student.
"Hey, C.M. You let me slip by on seven cents. I don't want to
break a dollar," a boy whispered to the cashier on Line II.
"I got change," C.M. said. "That's fifteen cents. You want it?
You pay for it, boy."
Otis helped Cora serve Line II and Jim backed the lines,
retrieving orange juice from the refrigerator or turkey from the stove
as pans emptied on the lines.
"Milkshakes," Sally called, lifting the empty rack out of the
way. "Could I have some milkshakes?"
"Jim, go get some shakes," Cora directed.
On Line III most of the bag lunches had been exchanged for a
ticket or fifty-five cents. Sally sold some cookies and sodas with
bag lunches, but most of the students with tickets got lunches first,
returning for snacks if they had the money.
"I want those yellow cookies," a student demanded. "No, not
those. Them. Yea, there."
"Give me those brown kind," another yelled. "I didn't ask for
those black cookies. You know, the ones you just gave that other
"I want a bag lunch," a gid said, surrendering her ticket. "You
got a vanilla shake?"
"Just a minute. All I've got right now is chocolate."
"That's ok. Give me a chocolate then."
Jim brought the shakes. "Here you go," he said to Sally, handing
her the tray.
"Give me a lunch," a boy called. "Got a fish in it?"
"No," the cashier answered.
"I want a fish," he persisted.
"They only have hoagies in them," she replied, telling him what
he already knew.
"Well, get me a fish then. Just asked that lady right there.
She give you a fish."
"Hey, move on," another student told him. "These only got
hoagies in them."
"Shit," he muttered.
"Don't talk to her like that," the second student said.
"She ain't no teacher," he pointed out, justifying his language.
"I would like. I would like. Let me see. Well, I would like
some of those Nekot cookies. No. No. Give me a peanut bar. Yea,
that's what I want."
"You sure?" Sally asked the boy. He sang in the school choir
and invited her each time they performed.
"Yea, I'm sure," he said. "Oh, give me a Coke too. No not a
Coke. A Sprite. How much is that?"
"Thanks," he called, one of the few to thank lunchroom workers.
A student stood around the window, asking others for change.
Sometimes they gave it to him and sometimes, not. His line was the
same, although he varied it a little, depending on whether he knew the
"Hey man. Give me a nickel, man," he pleaded.
"This isn't my money," the student replied. Claiming the money
was not yours or reminding him he owed you money usually ended the
"I need a nickel real bad. Real bad," he said to another student.
"What you need a nickel so bad for?" she asked.
"See, I want to get me something with it." He smiled. She
slapped it down in his hand.
"Why thank you, Miss Christine. Thank you so ever so much,"
he declared, whirling around, laughing.
"You got any more shakes?" another student asked the cashier,
singing "Shake, shake, shake," words to a popular song.
"What kind do you want?" she asked for the millionth time that
afternoon. Students wanted "this," "that," "them," or "there,"
descriptions not always decoded correctly by the cashier. Sally had
not realized that many students could not read. She learned this one
day last year.
She asked one student to read the label on the package. The
student pronounced the first syllable hesitantly. She stopped and
tried a different approach. She spelled the word, pausing after each
letter. She identified the first four letters and then seemed to give
up. A friend witnessing the incident offered a name which approximated
the label. She seized upon the word and pronounced it with triumph.
The students said they could not read or count, but the cashier
thought this was jive. After the experience with the girl, Sally
was not so sure. She was more careful not to challenge their ability
to read. It embarrassed the students, frustrating and making them
unhappy. The students were bored in school, they told her that often
enough. That they were not learning came as a surprise.
"Give me some soda water," another student said. "No, I don't
want a Coke. I want that," he said, pointing to the soda cart. "No,
hell. I don't want that grape. I told you I want a root beer."
Telling the student he had not asked for root beer, but for soda
water prolonged the encounter, causing trouble. The cashier let it
go by. Sally learned to let most of it go by.
"Give me a lunch," another student demanded, projecting the upper
portion of his body into the window.
"There aren't any more."
"Oh, man. What can I get with this ticket? Give me a Coke and
I'll give you the ticket."
"Can't do that," the cashier replied.
"You can get a lunch over there," she said, pointing to Line II.
"Or there," she pointed to Line I. She gave up explaining.
"I don't want any of that. I want me some soda water."
"Sorry," she said to the dejected-looking student.
A pair of girls came to the window. "Gee, I don't know what I
want. Mary Sue, what do you want? Oh, gosh, let me see. Do you
have those peanut butter cookies? You do? I want some. How much
do they cost?"
The crowd was thinning now and only a few students came to Line III,
designated "The Pit Stop" by Lucy.
"Hey, you look real nice. Real nice, now. What's your name?"
"Well, Sally, hello. How are you?"
"How about being my friend?" he asked.
"I don't even know your name."
"It's Marvin. Now, Sally, look it here. You my friend. You my
new friend. How about giving your friend some of those sweet cookies
over there?" he asked, looking intently at her. She shook her head.
"You my friend now. You know my name. I tell you my girlfriend's
name: Louise. That's her right name. Ask anybody. Louise."
"I don't doubt it," she replied.
"He just jive talking you," another student volunteered.
"Who you interrupting, boy?" Marvin said to the student.
"Who you calling 'boy'? Boy," the student answered.
Most students came in the first half hour. Teachers came too.
They always showed up for a meal with gravy, Nell said. She and
Elizabeth were busy: turkey was a popular meal. Elizabeth placed a
cinnamon roll and some cranberry sauce on the plate. Nell added
cabbage, rice and turkey.
A parade of fashion passed in front of them. They did not have
time to watch. Not much they missed, though. Students dressed in
the brightest colors, in the most unique color combinations. One
wore a bright orange-pink polyester shirt and electric green pants.
Others wore T-shirts inscribed with "I'm a winner," "Debbie,"
"Shazoom," "Sit on It," "DCT II," and "Budweiser." Some girls still
wore mini shirts; others adopted the new mid-calf length skirts.
Both sexes wore jewelry, an integral part of the contemporary
wardrobe. Boys wore puka shell chokers--plastic and real. Others wore
chains with heavy medallions. Girls wore more turquoise jewelry than
the boys: rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings.
Hair styles were as diverse as the dress. Some students wore their
hair in afros or braids. One had his in corn rows which, as the name
suggests, ran in vertical, parallel rows from the crown to the back of
the head. Others had circular designs: one large swirl, three circles
ending in little tuffs, etc.
"Aha. Aha. I like it. Aha. Aha. I like it like that," one student
sang straggling in for lunch. The radio music carried over the other
noises and reached the last student in Line I. The twelve o'clock
news had just gone off. "Nell, give me that big cinnamon roll. Lord
have mercy, you people is slow. I got to eat now.
"What you rushing her for? You the one that is late," Cora called
from Line II.
"You heard what I say. Your mother's not going to like that.
Treating people so mean."
"I wasn't treating her mean. Was I, Nell?" he said, appealing to
Nell. Nell handed him his plate and turned around, continuing to stack
trays. Never let the students get you down; keep getting up. That was
As the students tapered off, the work of the dishwasher reached
its peak. Trays were piled high in the return window. Students threw
paper trash in the garbage cans under the window, sometimes missing
the cans. Paper and cartons littered the floor. Overflow from the
cans made a mess of the area.
Mariclare kept up with the new spurt of activity as best she
could. She was not accustomed to handling the volume that came today.
Otis moved from serving on Line II to helping with the dishwashing.
He caught trays and plates, coming from the dishwasher. He stacked
them on the shelf above the spillway. As racks emptied, he brought
them to Mariclare, who started the process over. Before putting
them in plastic racks, she banged the plates against a rubber guard
over the swill can. Most of the food came off. She sprayed the
dishes with water from a high power nozzle, spraying Sally on Line III.
Elizabeth left Line I before it closed and washed pots in the pot
sink, clearing the mound of trays, pots, pans and utensils. Nell helped
Otis unload the plates and trays from the dishwasher.
A dean, a kind of disciplinary official, got his tray from the
stack and waited in line. "Oh, dear," Nell said to herself. "I got me
another customer." She washed her hands in the sink outside Cora's
office. "Just a minute."
The four deans and a vice-principal ate at the end of the lunch
hour. They were supposed to keep order in the lunchroom. Sometimes
attempts to straighten the lines, keeping students in order, did more
harm than good. Deans did not recognize the students' social system,
or if they did, they ignored it. At lunch, students were on their own
time. By cutting and allowing others to cut, they showed their status/
deference system. Football players, cheerleaders and hustlers had
status. When deans sent students to the end of the line, they got mad
and vented their anger on the workers.
Mr. Whitehall waited for Nell to finish washing her hands. She
returned and filled his plate. He asked for more turkey and less
cabbage. The customer was always right--unless the manager said he
was not, which was not often. Nell complied with his request. If she
had followed the federal, state and county regulations, she might have
lost a customer, a friend and a sometimes disciplinarian of the
students. He paid Shirley and they rapped about her new cashiering
job, among other things.
Teachers' demands were a bit much sometimes, even for Nell. Once
Miss Phillips wanted a double portion of the protein dish--so meat,
fish, poultry and cheese were called in management parlance-and an
extra roll. She begrudgingly paid her three bits. The other teachers
wanted to know why the lunchroom workers were cheating them. They did
not get what she got.
The bell rang at 12:10 a.m. Cora served a few students in Line II
and C.M. took their tickets. Otis and Jim left, throwing their aprons
on Nell's work table.
"Shut the doors," Cora called, heading for the office. Sally
shut her window. She counted the remaining sodas and long packs of
cookies, recording the results on a sheet marked with short packs
of cookies and miscellaneous items sold during the lunch hour. She
put emptied cardboard boxes and trays, along with the fish and tackle
box and milkshake holders, on the cart. She wheeled the cart to the
walk-in, stopping by the office to deposit the money box. She threw
the cardboard box next to the garbage can. It was full. The milkshake
holders she left on Nell's table for washing. She returned to the
window and pulled the cookie rack to the storeroom, a simple procedure
made difficult by mop strings in the rack's wheels. She joined Cora
in the office. Together they counted the receipts, tabulated items
sold on each line and recorded other daily transactions.
When the last student left, Shirley and C.M. brought their boxes
to the office. The boxes contained tickets, money, an IOU note and
sheets on which they noted extra items and teachers' lunches, with or
Walker handed Sally twenty-five cents. "For a Coke," he said.
C.M. and Shirley brushed past Walker: C.M. to take down Line I and
Shirley to wash in the pot sink.
"You see Shirley?" Nell asked C.M. C.M. lifted a pan of hamburgers
off the line and carried it to Nell's table.
"No," she replied, joining Nell and Shirley by the pot sink.
Nell leaned on Shirley. She made a fold in her apron and patted it
"Down boy, down," Nell said. "Mr. Whitehall must have been going
'down boy, down,'" she illustrated with the apron. "You didn't see
it?" Nell asked C.M.
C.M. shook her head, enjoying Nell's demonstration.
"He come up to her. Leaned on her like this. He told her she had
on pretty flowered panties, too. Sure did. Real pretty flowered ..
Nell started laughing along with C.M.
"They teaching me bad habits out here," Shirley called to Cora.
"And bringing them to us," Nell added.
"All of you better clean up your minds," Cora called from her
orange chair. "What if someone see you do that?"
"That's fun, though, isn't it, Cora? Just fun. Just having fun,
that's all," Nell broke out laughing again.
Not every day did they have such an episode to relate. Sometimes
the scenario was more typical: serving a customer, for example.
Nell would go to Line II and stand on the customer's side. She pointed
to the imaginary trays of food. "I want some barbecue ribs and some
fried chicken and some Naw, I don't want that. Give me some of
those greens, please."
As Nell pointed out the items she wanted, C.M. would take her
position behind the counter. "You want this one, Miss?" C.M. asked.
"Ah ha. And some more peas. I like peas. Peas, please."
After a few minutes, they would quit, laughing.
"Can I buy me something?" a boy asked.
"What you think?" Nell muttered to herself.
"Where the manager is? I got to see the manager," he said.
Cora came out of the office when she heard the commotion. "What
you doing here?" she asked accusingly. "You suppose to be in class."
"I'm hungry. Give me a hamburger. There they go. Right
there," he pointed to the pan C.M. had left on the table.
"We been open for an hour. Where you been?" Cora asked.
"Around. No places to eat where I be at," he said, defending
"Ok, Nell," Cora said. "Give him a hamburger."
"I only got twenty cents."
"What?" Cora said incredulously. "Hamburgers cost forty cents."
"Let me hold twenty cents til tomorrow. My credit's good."
"If you don't pay, now. I be looking for you on Deacon Street,"
Cora told him.
"You seen me on Deacon Street?"
"No, just look like you come from there,"Cora surmised from his
clothes and "hip" behavior. He wore a 1930's style suit: pinstripped
cloth, wide lapels, baggy pants, and a panama hat. He circled the table
with calculated nonchalance and peered into the pans, hands locked
behind his back. "I haven't been down to Deacon Street in a long time,"
she emphasized the long.
Nell handed him a hamburger on a paper towel. He gave Cora two
dimes and eased out of the kitchen, waving good-bye to the women he did
not turn around to see.
C.M. took the remaining pans off Line II and brought them to the
table with the slicer. Nell loaded a cart with leftovers from Line I
and placed them along side C.M.'s pans. When everything was assembled
together on the table, Nell counted the leftovers. She recorded the
count on the same sheet she used earlier to itemize the turkey, rice
and other items. Not much was left from Line I. The little cabbage
left in the pan, Nell threw in the swill can. It was not worth saving.
She consolidated the leftover fish and hamburgers into a small pan,
sealing it with saranwrap. She did the same with the french fries.
Tomorrow they would be reheated, the first items served on Line II.
After she put the pans in the walk-in, she went to the pot sink to
"Looks like they used all the pots and pans in the kitchen," Nell
said to Shirley. "They" referred mainly to Nell.
Shirley continued scrubbing pots. She used a white brush on the
cinnamon roll pans. She wiped easier-to-clean pots with a stiff green
pad. "Be careful, Nell," Shirley warned. Nell pulled the pots from
the rinsing sink, shaking her fingers. The water was "piping hot."
Liz dipped a bowl-like pan into the soapy water and went to wash
Line I. C.M. washed Line II with a cloth, swinging it over the surface.
She scrubbed off pieces of food cooked on the hot counter. After
serving, Liz and C.M. had let the hot water drain from the serving
counters. They were still warm when they wiped them clean.
"That clock's walking down," Nell said to Shirley. "Time for
you to go, girl." It was 12:30 p.m.
Shirley took off the gloves, putting them by the plastic bottles
stockpiled next to the sink. She walked to the bathroom. She opened
her locker and spread her apron on the floor. She changed into the
dress she brought in the dry cleaning bag. In front of the bathroom
mirror, she adjusted her make-up and fluffed her strawberry-colored
hair. As a tribute to her hair, Walker named her "Blondie." She
arranged her jewelry and headed for Cora's office.
She and Cora had the same kind of jewelry--Sarah Coventry. They
sold it to friends and neighbors, and purchased some themselves at a
discount. They planned a fashion show, but the Sarah Coventry party
never came off. Nevertheless, each season they showed the new
catalogue to their fellow workers. None of the workers bought any.
Few wore jewelry. C.M. did, but she bought hers at Woolworth's or
from a friend who sold Avon products. Nell and Cora encouraged C.M.
to become an Avon representative. She would take orders for her friend,
she said, but she was not interested in selling for herself.
Like Shirley and Cora, many of the women had second and third jobs.
In the afternoons, for example, Shirley worked as a receptionist for
the housing project where she lived. Elizabeth, capitalizing on her
green thumb, sold plants. She would not sell plants to her co-workers.
She exchanged them for other things she wanted: a blouse Nell made
her, for example. Elizabeth always brought a plant for a birthday.
She would not accept payment for it, even if the women were willing to
In addition to selling jewelry, Cora styled hair, sold potato
pies (as a fund raiser for her church or the Apostle) and, at one time,
sold TupperWare. C.M. baked for private parties. She also prepared
the evening meal for a family in the rural town where she lived.
"They white?" Nell asked, surprised anyone would hire a personal
"Ah ha," C.M. said. "They both work," she explained.
"They pay you cash money?"
"What you think?" C.M. answered.
Gail was always looking for another job, either in a restaurant
or bar. Last summer before school let out, she worked the late night
shift at Howard Johnson's and worked mornings at H.H.S. Gail had
plans: once for a day nursery. She would not mind caring for a few
more children, she said. She was already raising her granddaughter.
She would get old desks and things from Abe. But she abandoned that
idea. Next she thought she might try running a nursing home. No one
cared about those old folks, she said. She did. She could give them
the care and loving they needed. That idea did not work out either.
Sally worked at the university. She piddled around in the office,
she said. Once in a while someone asked how she was making it. Her