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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If Farmer Boy Had To Buy School Lunch

In the elementary school where I taught in Denver, the school, oddly, lacked a full kitchen. With most of the school needing school lunch and no facilities to actually cook, the district put bids out to—weren’t the 90’s awesome!—fast food chains! We had Pizza Hut one day, Taco Bell two days a week, and pouches of fried nuggety matter that came off a truck and into a microwave the other days. (On Martin Luther King, Jr,  Day, in a hideously confused gesture of respect, the central kitchen served, and I am not making this up, watermelon and fried chicken.
Around the same time, soda companies had figured out how to break into the public school market by offering $10,000 cash for every vending machine placed in a  school. Our district decreed each school would get two. 

When the kids saw the Pepsi machines they went crazy. “All right!” “Yes!” “We get to have pop at school now—that’s so awesome!” And every day, despite the fact that they were all on free and reduced lunch,  nearly every kid showed up to school with $2.50 to purchase an 18 oz bottle of pop.  Since these  bottles were really too big for the kids to finish in their approximately 9.5 minute lunch period, the bottles of soda ended up all over the playground, spilled in the classroom, or used as weapons on the bus. This drove all the teachers (not to mention the bus drivers!) insane--we cursed the Pepsi corporation, the parents giving into peer pressure and shelling out precious cash every day,  and the fools in the downtown Administration building who had sold us out like this, every day.

Seeing my students swagger around with their damn Pepsi bottles made me think of a scene from Farmer Boy. When Almanzo Wilder--Laura's future husband-- was about eight, he went to the Independence Day celebration in Malone, NY, with his family. At the parade, his cousin Frank, a “town boy”, taunts Almanzo because he doesn’t have a nickel to buy lemonade. Knowing his father will disapprove, but determined to show up his nemesis cousin, Almanzo gathers up all his nerve and fearfully asks his father for a nickel to buy lemonade. To his surprise, his father holds up a half dollar:

“Almanzo, do you know what this is?”

“Half a dollar.”

“Yes, but do you know what half a dollar is?”

Almanzo didn’t know that it was anything but half a dollar.

“It’s work, son….You know how to raise potatoes?” 


“Say you have a seed potato in the spring—what do you do with it?” 

“You cut it up….Then you harrow—first you manure the field, then plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow them and hoe them twice….Then you dig them up and put them down cellar.”

“Yes…and come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price, son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much to you get for a half a bushel of potatoes?”

“Half a dollar,” said Almanzo.

“Yes,” said Father.”That’s what’s in this half dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it.”

….Frank asked Almanzo: “Where’s the nickel?”

“He didn’t give me a nickel,” said Almanzo.

“Yah, yah! I told yiou he wouldn’t! I told you so!”

“He gave me half a dollar,” said Almanzo…. “I’m going to look around, and buy me a good little suckling pig.”

Which brings me to my next post: where children think meat comes from. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jessica, You are quite good at connecting the mid 1800's with our modern day everything is easy, what only a half dollar? What is a half dollar?
    I used to get a Kennedy half dollar under my pillow from the tooth fairy when I was a kid. It was big and shiny and really something to covet but then I grew up and Ronald Reagan became the president and thus the "me first" generation had fuel for the fire.
    Thanks for the entertainment. Amy