Sunday, March 6, 2016

Someone Who Fed My Spirit

The head chef at our school has been around since I started teaching back when the junior high had last lunch in the fall of 1989.

School budgets were different, and so were the requirements put on the lunch tray. There was always plenty of food. I was single and coaching high school basketball, so school lunch was the one hot meal I got a day­ besides Sundays at my sister's.

I knew how to cook, but I didn't deem it necessary for just me. At home, I ate a lot of Cheerios and toasted Cheeze Whiz sandwiches. My favorite after school treat had become my adult evening meal.

One woman though, made sure I didn't go hungry. Charlene Lyons, our cafeteria lady.

Back when the government let them serve cake, Charlene always hid away an extra piece for me. I think she'd do this even when we had leftovers.

"Got somethin' for you, Hofer," she'd whisper before I'd go sit down with my cohorts.

This was back in the day when teachers had to supervise the lunch room. Thanks to the Supreme Court of the United States, we get a whopping 20 minute-duty free lunch now. Just enough time to check your email, go to the bathroom, microwave a meal, and scarf it down.

Here's another memory involving her.

One year, Charlene and her daughter were part of my "It's All Relative" game show that I organized for the middle school talent show.

Any district staff member with a middle school child or grandchild could be in the show. Modeled after "The Newlywed Game" from the 1970s, questions were asked of one relative while the other was out of the room and vice versa. Art teacher Michaeline Kohler helped me come up with the title.

Charlene was up there with daughter Alisha or Amber, who ironically, had just performed a trio or duet that day as her talent. The "It's All Relative" game was close, and it came down to this question: What was your most embarrassing moment?

This mother and daughter's answers matched. Charlene had answered first, so when her daughter was brought out and she heard the question, her face turned red and she took a big breath. She said, "Forgetting the words to the song today." The crowd roared.

What had mortified a young soul on stage redeemed her minutes later because her mom knew her well and had the guts to say so.

That's the way Charlene is. She tells it like it is. I admire that.

Charlene had a milestone birthday this weekend, the big 6-0.

I'd started this post last fall during cafeteria appreciation week, but life interrupted me and I didn't get it done. When I saw it was Charlene's birthday, I knew this was the time to post it.

What a beautiful woman with a great heart. Thanks, Charlene, for the many years your spirit has fed mine when our paths have crossed.

You made a young woman feel welcome into the life of small-town teaching.

Who was the one who helped you transition into a new situation? Share memories of your cafeteria lady. 


  1. What a great tribute. And a lesson for us all...sometimes the small things are what make a big difference in our lives and the lives of those around us.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mahrie. That's just what Charlene said on Facebook when she saw what I'd written about her.