Monday, August 8, 2011

smells like feet...



It's no secret that I like to eat.

Lunch was definitely something I was pretty skilled in at school, and since keeping focused was an issue (constantly daydreaming) I always looked forward to the lunch bell.

The challenge, I was an immigrant kid from Greece without the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


I grew up in a small suburb of Chicago (Hillside, Il.) and went to Longfellow grade school in Berkeley, Il. The school is no longer there. It was torn down to make room for a housing development.

My parents were not ones to "blend in" when it came to our new found home. They didn't try to stick out or go out of their way to not be a part of their new surroundings, as a matter of fact they loved being in America. They hoped, like all those seeking a better life in the Sates, it would be the opportunity for me that they never had--and for my brother who would be born in Illinois years later. My parents just kept being Greek, no matter where we were. People stared and they didn't seem to notice. Their incredibly shy and painfully awkward son (me) noticed and just wanted to blend in so badly, that he petitioned them passionately about changing his name to Scott. Don't ask me why. I have no idea other than to say, it sounded like every other boy's name in my school. Normal. They weren't having any of this.

George and Olympia (my folks) still enjoyed eating their favorite foods and didn't think twice about giving their son, who so desperately wanted nothing more than to "NOT be noticed," a feta cheese sandwich or pastichio for his lunch. Now mind you, today---I'd be all over it and with the way most schools tend to be multi cultural with kids being exposed to all sorts of tastes, smells and foods before they even get to school, this wouldn't even be an issue. When I was in grade school, not only did we walk thirty miles in the snow to get there (barefoot)---I was the oddest thing these kids had seen. I was not named Johnny, Scotty, Mikey or Jeff.  I had weird dark, kinky hair, a too large head for my body, big eyes & nose and my mother still dressed me as if we lived in Europe. I had poncho/shawl like thingys that she made me wear on chilly Illinois Fall days. Seriously. I looked like a background player from the "Sound of Music" minus the Von Trapp aesthetics. I tried once to sneak out of the house in just my button down shirt in the middle of winter. Cold be damned. My mother caught me before I ran out the door and slipped an itchy wool, striped pncho over my head. She remined me how much it cost and how she had bought it while living in Germany. It was hand made by a woman who apparently worked for a fashion house. House of Shame as far as I was concerned. We also had little to no money so my new school year clothes came from the neighborhood thrift store, where the other kids parents dropped off their old clothes in order to purchase new ones for school. Every school year I was wearing everyone else's hand me downs and being in a small town, everyone knew it.

So, when my beloved lunch time rolled around, all I wanted to do was just escape into a world of epicurean bliss. One that involved baloney sandwiches on white bread with mustard, mayo and a slice of american cheese. Fritos. A real life brand name soda. A Ding Dong. Instead, my lunch smelled like feet. That's what one boy said, as I unwrapped my feta cheese sandwich that was on a crusty baquette. It had been drizzled with olive oil (it might as well have been motor oil to everyone around me), sprinkled with Greek Oregano and topped with a few tomato slices. I was mortified. BTW, I eat this regularly now when I'm too busy to cook. Add a few leaves of fresh basil, ground pepper, a little onion and heaven.

My folks meant well and like most immigrant parents, never fully understood the new and delicate nature of school politics or the need to be accepted. They believed that we were lucky to be able to have food to eat (we were) and that my classmates would be intrigued by my lunch and want it for themselves (they were intrigued, not in a good way and they didn't want it) instead of the peanut butter and jelly that they had grown "so tired of."

I survived. Hell, I wound up thriving and I have some of the best recipes, in my head, due to my parents wacky food ways. Thanks Mom and Dad for making making school lunches memorable. BTW, once in a while, they would begrudgingly let me buy hot lunch on "Hot Lunch Wednesdays" with my paper route money. Sloppy Joe's were my favorite and on those days, the daydreaming was off the charts.

Also, I'm still not a fan of ponchos or any other itchy article of clothing that you have to slip over your head.

Good Times,
-angelo

3 comments:

Kimjks said...

Scott you were one lucky little boy and did'nt know it huh?Your school lunches leave me drooling and planning today's lunch menu.Your Mom sure had an incredible sense of style,I see where you get yours!

Beth said...

Such an evocative post. Whew.

Childhood is quite the gauntlet.

You traversed it very well.

Nancy Caryl Geiger said...

Well, I insisted on bringing a cooked broccoli and yellow cheese sandwich to lunch at my Catholic school in the 5th grade. Let me just say this..."feet" was NOT what it smelled like :)
Scott is my son-in-law's name and he is just wonderful! Stay the sweet guy you are, Angelo and have a glorious day! ~~ Nancy <3

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