This is a fictional story about true love. Or maybe it’s a true story about a fictional love. If it happened, it was before I met my future wife. She says either way is okay, so just take your pick.
We weren’t exactly lunchroom lovers, but that title has a lot more intrigue than “My Cafeteria Friend.” I loved seeing her behind the serving line at Valdosta State College, and I think she loved seeing me. We enjoyed our brief exchanges as I walked by with my tray. Our visits were often better than the food.
There was a time when I am sure I knew her name, but that was long ago. I wouldn’t know it now, even if I heard it called. I wouldn’t know her either. Her face has completely faded. That seems to happen more often lately than it used to.
I was a third quarter freshman in that spring of 1971. She was a freshman too. She helped in the cafeteria as part of the college’s work/study program. She was blond and pretty and had a smile as sweet as her disposition. She lived at home with her parents in Valdosta.
We never had a class together. Our paths seldom crossed except for those brief encounters in the cafeteria. We flirted a bit, but mostly we just teased each other, each looking for a reason to talk, often finding something to laugh about.
I struggled in search of clever lines. She willingly patronized my attempts. I would ask quietly if she would get in trouble for sharing their recipe for English peas. She would whisper back and swear me to secrecy, saying she could perhaps get me a label from a can.
I would ask if the potatoes being served had been grown in Idaho, that I much preferred Idaho potatoes. She assured me that was the case. She said that she had inspected the bags and found the documentation to be in order.
When we had peach cobbler, I told her I had a vitamin deficiency, that my doctor had advised I needed to eat more peaches. She asked if he mentioned more ice cream as well. I affirmed that he did, already knowing I would get a larger serving than the college administration had approved. We both knew the conversation was not really about dessert.
Once we had a particularly suspicious looking entrée. I don’t remember what the official cafeteria name of the dish was. Maybe they didn’t identify it, giving the students a chance to think creatively. I asked her if there had been any reported fatalities. “No more than usual,” she casually replied. “You can count them on your fingers for the whole week.”
The next day I told her that I thought I had food poisoning. She said, “Maybe you should stop those late-night trips to the Royal Castle.”
“But they have a great scrambled dog for just a dollar,” I said. “You can’t expect me to give that up.”
“I’ll never try to tell you what to do,” she responded. “But if you sleep with dogs you’ll wake up with fleas.”
I never asked her for a date, and I’m not sure why. Maybe she was dating someone, or maybe I was. The shallow end of my memory pond only has a small trace of water remaining.
As spring quarter was ending, I was about to go home for the summer. I was glad she was behind the counter that last day. “Here’s that recipe you wanted,” she said, handing me a label from a can of English peas.
I told her I hoped that she had a good summer, that I would see her in the fall. She made me promise to eat plenty of peaches and cream, a promise that I have faithfully kept.
She wasn’t working in the cafeteria when I returned to college. My trips there were never quite the same. But when I see peach cobbler on a serving line, sometimes it still reminds me of a brief but lovely friendship in a springtime long ago.
It was a special time for lunchroom lovers. It was a wonderful season for peaches and cream.