I believe it was sometime in the Fall of 1966, in a noisy school lunchroom filled with fellow
third graders, that I first encountered real hunger pangs. I remember that scene:
amidst vivid faces, a buffet of observations teases my memory even now.
Of course, we eight year old’s were curious lot. On this particular day everyone at
my table were hard at work dissecting the day’s lunch offering. Mystery meat. Over
cooked “yuck” that could only be identified as, “Whose idea was that?” The “fresh”
green peas were over cooked canned impostors doing the dead man’s float in a pool of
margarine water. And, the fruit parfait dessert? Someone wanted to bring it to
science lab to see what made it wiggle. And the smell…!
I always had a different agenda during lunch, though. Never really hungry for food,
I had an appetite instead for wisdom, wonder, and warm words. And, while most of
the chatter came from the girls’ table and the flying pea paste came from the boys’
area, I found that I liked it somewhere in the middle, between the two groups. I had
a better view. That was about when Mr. B, the janitor, taught me the most valuable
lesson of my life.
Mr B did everything at my school– everything but be a teacher or, at least, that is
what everyone thought. From across the room, wearing his droopy pants adorned with
dust cloths, noisy key rings and, of course, his usual well balanced smile, he caught
sight of me balancing my tray over a trash barrel not much taller then myself. I
could not keep his gaze as he walked across the lunchroom towards me: he had
discovered my plan to dispose of those no purpose peas!
[eyes captured my pondered thoughts embracing my heart with safe comfort.]
” Now, now, little lady. Why, oh why would you do that?” Mr. B asked.
I felt his the warmth of his gentle touch on my shoulder– a familiar comfort, like my
mother’s touch. I turned to face him expecting to see a disappointed lunch lady look.
Instead, there was that unflappable “Mr B” smile again. It caught me short.
” I’m sorry, Mr. B, I hate peas and who ever invented them too!” I pouted.
He frowned slightly with his eyes, “Oh but my dear, I love peas. They taught me
everything important in life. In fact, I used to have as many questions as you have
now. Peas gave me all the answers.”
I gazed at him, awed by his confidence. His words seemed like the purest Wisdom.
After all, he did clean my throw–up out in the hallway that day after shooing away
the nosy fourth graders who had gathered to the scene. I had felt a genuine
admiration for him ever since.
“Well I guess if peas have answers then I should give them a second try, huh Mr B?”
I offered, as he matched my smile.
The next day I listened carefully as Mrs. Horn taught us about growing vegetables,
I was hungry for learning, especially about peas. Each time peas were on the lunch
menu I asked for seconds and, when nobody was watching, I’d cut them in half in
search of any answers that they might hold. Before long, I came to love peas. I’d eat
them at school, at home, for snack and dessert– all to fill my hunger for learning.
Mr. B. didn’t miss much that went on during school hours and when he noticed my
peas were not going in the trash he came over to share some more wisdom.
“Are they working?” he asked one day.
I replied with a smile and nod, “I think so. I haven’t found the answers yet but I did
find that I like peas now.” Then I asked, “But Mr. B., could you tell me more about
how you learned so much from peas?”
He tapped my shoulder saying, ” Scoot over half pint and I‘ll explain.” His eyes
widened with his smile as he sat next to me and went on. “You see, when I was a
little boy, I could not go to school. We were poor and my family needed me to work
on the farm so we could have the food on the table.” He continued, “I would watch my
friends all head off to the school with books in hand as I tended the garden. Oh, how
I longed for the chance to learn to read and write and have all my many questions
answered. At the end of the day I would lug my bushel of peas back to the
farmhouse. As the other children walked by on their way home from school they
would holler, ‘ Hey pea brain, how does your garden grow?’ each time they passed by.
I felt sad, left out and angry that my family had to come before education.” Mr. B’s
eyes looked heavy with sadness.
” Oh I am sorry they hurt your feelings” , I said. ” I guess I am lucky to be able to
come here to learn and eat pea’s,” I stated lovingly.
Mr. B. stood up and started to clean off the lunch table as he went on with his
story. ” Here is the best part. You see, I was learning so much out there in the
fields, just from growing peas. One Spring, there was a bad drought and most of the
town lost their crops. Food became scarce. Except for my crop: I had learned so
much about tending to my garden that I had the only healthy crops in the town.
Before long people came from far and near to purchase food for the family table.
The school children no longer called me pea brain and I was invited to attend their
classroom after my chores. The school house would buy bushels of peas from my
garden to serve as a healthy lunch, for those who had none.”
I embraced his smile with a wider one of my own and gave him a big hug of thanks for
his words of wisdom. To this day I value life’s lessons… and yummy peas.
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