Wading through the flood waters

... such a surreal scene ...

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Do you remember those little wooden stools held together by heavy wire? Always a little too low to be comfortable. Just the right size to fit under the long cafeteria tables. Narrow enough to allow one more late-comer into a group Wide enough for an average student to relax during a quick lunch of sandwich and conversation.

All those stools were floating. Round brown polka dots on still gray water. Some gently touching one another as friends. Some stuck in corners, not bothering to try to escape. A few in the corridors where they did not belong. Most contained by the cafeteria walls. All acting like the teenagers that used them. Had they resided in the high school so long that they had assumed the personalities of the kids?

My friend and I waded thigh-high through the cafeteria. We located "our" table where daily we piled our textbooks and purses until the tabletop had disappeared. Lunches in our laps, we settled down to hear the latest from our friends, the five W's of teen life in the early fifties -- who went where with whom. Monday noons were most animated rehashing the weekend, with Fridays anticipating the weekend to come.

The alcove nearest the windows was earmarked for the boys. After sprinting to their lockers, the male members of our class arrived at the cafeteria unencumbered, actually using the tables for lunch trays or brown bags. Conversation punctuated by laughter. Serious issues coupled with jokes. In unwritten letters ten feet high this area was labeled "no girls allowed", and I for one never ate there in four years. How strange to wander through the water in unexplored territory.

We stood where the serving line had been, where we had peered into the mysteries of the kitchen.  This scene of constant activity, well-planned scurrying, light-hearted teasing now awash with storm water. How odd that Mrs. Riley was not present assuring us that we would get a good meal for under fifty cents. Ice cream was extra, and, if pressed for time, ice cream could be your meal. Not much was floating in the kitchen too heavy or too high.

The custodian told us it was time to leave the hall of floating wooden circles and tons of water brought by the Hurricane named for my friend Carol. We bade goodbye to the cafeteria knowing that waters would recede and relief would come. We never did return. It was our final farewell to the lunch room of our youth, three feet of water and hundreds of floating stools.

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