The Best Laid Plans

Garry's Outdoor Kicks & Grins - March 2022

Garry Bowers | February 27, 2022

Everyone who knows the outdoors understands that a successful fishing or hunting or camping trip is dependent upon preparation, organization and development. Even the short, simple excursions, the hallmark of our little gang of elementary school enthusiasts, were dependent upon planning.

Both the fifth- and sixth-graders had lunch at the same time, so that incorporated our whole group, and we could sit at the same table and for the only time during the school day could talk out loud without getting our knuckles or heads rapped with a yardstick. We planned our trips down to the most minute detail—who, what, where, when and how. It could have been an after-school bike ride to the creek to gig frogs or a march to the Canyon to camp all night. Regardless, there was as much planning as went into a WWII battle plan. And therein lay the problem.

Lunchrooms back in those days were not the carefree, joyful and raucous lunchrooms of today. There was a sort of pall that hung over those cafeterias. In our short meetings, we had to surreptitiously dispose of our food while watching for ever-vigilant teachers and lunchroom personnel and simultaneously avoid the sights and sounds of nauseous and retching children, so as not to become one, and at the same time evolve effective scenarios that would make our trips successful. 

Let me explain.

For the life of me, I simply cannot understand how kids today can complain about school lunches. Aside from the occasional government edict that declares there are not enough “greens” or “vegan” choices on a school menu, they have pizza, hot dogs, burgers, fries and all kinds of really good junk food. When I was a kid, immediately following the Pleistocene Age, there was none of that good stuff. We had green beans, meat, a gooey half-baked roll and warm milk. That was it. Every day.

Sometimes they would try to disguise it and put the beans in a blender or burn the meat into a smoldering black disc. Once a guy who had already eaten was passing by the serving line and threw up right in front of me. You have to understand that lunchroom regurgitation was common in those days. The quality of the food was sometimes such that it did not give its digester any warning, such as queasiness or nausea. It was just in your stomach one second and on the floor the next.

The really troubling thing about this incident though, was that the disgusting spectacle on the tile floor in front of me was identical to the meal on my tray. I don’t mean similar. I mean identical. Back then, girls did not squeal and boys did not point and laugh, for merely looking could set off a chain reaction barf that once incapacitated half the fifth grade. We almost set a school record that day,

There were no protests. The parent’s reaction to complaints consisted of “Children in Europe are starving.” I once made the ill-advised suggestion that I send them my lunches. Once. And kids dared not express their discontent to the lunchroom personnel. Behind the counter were always three or four very stern women (well, female hominids). One usually weighed slightly less than a sumo wrestler and could bore completely through a terrified elementary student with her glaring set of close-knit pig eyes.

Another was 6-2 and had a horse face whose central attraction was a mouth full of long scraggly, discolored teeth. She was always armed with a 3-foot metal spoon. I think she ate some of the smaller children. Occasionally, some doofus would inquire of those ladies, “What’s this?” One would snarl, “Stuff. Move on.” The kid idiotic enough to ask again usually carried a metal spoon welt somewhere on his upper torso for several days.

We never had choices of fruit drinks, juice or tea. We always got milk. Always. And it came from a cooler that had never worked, so in winter it was warm and in the fall and spring, it was hot. That went real well with under-cooked green beans and overcooked meat. Especially if the milk had been delivered on Friday for Monday’s lunch. To this day, I eat breakfast cereal dry.

However, the milk cartons were vital. See, a teacher stood by the sink window to which everyone brought their trays when they were finished. I always secretly suspected her presence was to prevent us from being snatched into the kitchen to God-knows-what grisly fate. The pretense, though, was to ensure we had cleaned our plates. If they were not empty, you were declared sick and sent to the school nurse, who cured every ailment with a shot. She used an equine veterinarian’s needle. Hence, it was of utmost importance that our trays be devoid of green beans and meat.

That’s where the milk carton came in. Since the milk, regardless of temperature, was the least difficult item to choke down, you drank it and stuffed the “food” (contents of the tray) into the carton, thereby giving the illusion that you had eaten everything. Those milk cartons, I am convinced, saved countless lives.

We never knew what the meat was. It had a strange texture, a stranger smell and could vary in color from blood red to ebony black. There was a grandmotherly community volunteer at the end of the serving line taking up money. Someone just outright asked her one day what kind of meat that was. Two of the serving trolls looked at each other askance and burst into uncontrollable laughter, the larger one shaking droplets of sweat into the green beans. I think I saw a single tear in the cashier’s eye.

The meat was malleable. There were only two Catholics in our whole school, but by government decree we were required to be served fish on Fridays. Those sadistic women may not have been French chefs, but they were creative. They simply molded the meat into the shape of a bluegill. Once in a while, we were treated to dessert. It was always the same: unsweetened apple sauce. Surprisingly, we found that its consumption neutralized the effects of sour milk. I can truthfully say that I have never gotten excited about applesauce since the sixth grade.

So, you can see that the planning of an outdoor trip was not a smooth and simple procedure, uninterrupted by outside concerns. But somehow, we got the job done. And things did get better in Junior High School. We were even given a choice for lunch. Gruel or Swill. But that’s another story. I saw a sign the other day that said, “You are what you eat.” If that’s true, I’m in trouble. I know exactly what that makes me.

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Garry’s book, “Dixie Days.” Go to and search for Dixie Days by Garry Bowers. Soft cover is $12.

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