Recollection: charity in the lunch line
Sometimes, the best gift is a secret.
It was barely light outside. In my ice-cold room, I could hear the first cars in the neighborhood pull out of their driveways. They moved slowly due to the falling snow. As I staggered downstairs to a hot Cream of Wheat breakfast, I saw my mom search through pockets, peek into drawers, and scratch the couch cushions as she pulled them up.
This rummaging didn't happen daily but with some regularity, usually between paychecks. What was the object of that morning’s hunt? She was looking for coins for our school lunches.
With five children, my mom mastered penny pinching so much so that we joked that the coins actually squeaked when they left her fingers.
Our large family qualified for the reduced lunch fee. The idea embarrassed me. I still remember purchasing the lunch tokens outside the cafeteria. Blue tokens were normal price; white ones were the reduced rate. I would fiercely clutch my token, not wanting anyone to see that I possessed the dreaded white one.
One day it slipped from my hand and began to roll around the line of kids waiting to pick up their lunches. I flushed red when all of the sudden another token dropped, but this one was blue. The teachers asked the owners to retrieve their tokens. All the kids watched, not knowing who had dropped what.
Then an older student, a really sweet boy who was good friends with my brother, went ahead of me to collect his token, which I knew was blue. He was a single child, the son of a bank manager. I stumbled forward when Scott surprisingly retrieved both tokens. He approached me, handed me his blue token and walked away.
I was both stunned and thrilled to redeem the blue token for lunch that day. He never mentioned the incident despite his frequent presence at my house to play with my brother. Scott’s blue token was one of the best gifts I ever received.