Swapping Lunches (from Kathleen’s Memoirs of The Great Depression)

velda n melbaI was fascinated with the twins, Velda and Melba Peterson, from a family of eleven kids on a poor farm way down in the low country. Their daddy “drank.” They often came to school beaten and bruised. They carried their lunch in a silver-colored syrup bucket and ate it under a big oak on the school playground, off to the side of the big, congenial crowd, probably not wanting the kids to comment on their bucket’s contents.

Since we lived next to the school, to my great sorrow, I always had to eat at home with my family; great hot dinners (not lunch) of pinto beans, hot cornbread or biscuits with home-made butter and preserves, home-grown tomatoes, squash, home-made soup, dumplings, greens, fried or mashed potatoes with gravy, baked or candied sweet potatoes, always with fresh milk. At supper that night, we had leftovers from dinner. Of course, I felt sorry for myself, but had to admit it looked better than Velda and Melba’s cold biscuit and gravy coming out of their syrup bucket. Their lunch did look pretty meager. One afternoon I told Mama about their lunch, asking her to make me a lunch the next day big enough for two so I could trade with them. She was kind-hearted and agreed. At school the next they, I confided that I’d brought a lunch, too and wanted to trade. They agreed without argument. I opened their syrup bucket, knowing I’d get two biscuits with cold gravy. They opened my brown paper bag and pulled out two big biscuits with crisp fried dry salt meat, two boiled eggs, and four big tea cakes. Those two biscuits with gravy looked pretty pitiful, but I gobbled them down while my mouth watered over the lunch I’d passed along Velda and Melba. At least they had a good lunch one day. I was happy to run home to leftovers after school that afternoon

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