The Lunch Box Series – Hot Dogs

It was a special day, It was an event that happened each year in the upper grades, 4th – 6th). The parents (well, it was really only Moms it was in the late 50’s and early 60’s) created a hot dog day for school lunch. Hot Dogs were made, little bags of chips were download.jpgbrought in and we would have milk to drink. I believe there might have been store bought cookies as well.

This annual event happened in the spring of each year and I am not sure if it was tied to the first day of spring or if it happened whenever the Mom’s got it organized. It was talked about for weeks. Everyone was super excited including the teachers. You needed to have your form filed out and returned with the money. It cost a bit to have this special day.

Each day the list was called off – yes Johnny was ready, Susie was also. The teacher would call everyone’s name every day and let us all know who would be having hot dogs and who needed to get their form and money in.

Here is where the trouble started for me. It began with the stomach ache while bringing the permission slip home. The idea of asking for money for lunch was scary to me. I knew there were no extra funds for this kind of treat. I knew I do not have that kind of money in my piggy bank. I knew this was not going to happen for me.

Each day I tried to let it slip by – I tried to leave the room for the bathroom when the list of names was called. Some days it worked others it did not. How long could I keep the top of my desk up and hide my head during the calling of the hot dog list.  Not long enough it turns out. I recall as I lowered it the looks from kids as my name came up once again. “Joanne are you bringing your money tomorrow? We have having hot dogs tomorrow.”  Now I had to find my voice – “No, I will be bring my home lunch, thank you.”  I heard myself say in a tiny voice.  The response was “Well, you know this is special. The whole class is eating hot dogs.”  I had no words now so none were said.

On this day before Hot Dog day there were two of us who had not brought in our money. My guess now is it couldn’t have been more that a few dollars but that was just not available at our house. Mom was raising three kids alone and the funds were tight. I understood that at the very early age of 5 or 6. I was now 9 years old. I knew better than to even ask.

Hot Dog day came! I brought my peanut butter sandwich – no jelly, an apple and a homemade cookie.

I watched as the classroom was arranged to enjoy the party. Desks put in a large circle but there were two desks left in the middle of the room facing the front as always. I knew those desks were mine and Fred’s. He also stood in the back of the room with his home lunch.

We slowly made our way to our seats as the excited rest of the class lined up to pick up their hot dogs and goodies. We sat in silence and eat as the others talked and giggled. Mothers looked on and shook their heads, whispering about us – at least that is what I thought.

We made it through lunch and went out to recess. I made sure I had a place to be away from the other girls for that recess. I did not want to hear about hot dogs nor be asked again why I didn’t have one.

Walking home after school my stomach pain slowing left for the first time in weeks. I cried my way home. I know I was glad my mother was teaching piano lessons in the living room so she couldn’t see my face as I slid in the back door and up to my room.

Hot Dogs still hold so many happy and sad memories for me. Funny how small items from our childhood can hold such strong emotions.

It is why when a child in my classes, over all the years of teaching, could not afford the field trip, the special event, didn’t have a back pack or mittens or socks I made sure we found a way for them to get what was needed.

I love that teachers now seem to understand we don’t leave kids out – we include everyone all the time. It makes a difference in their lives.




About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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7 Responses to The Lunch Box Series – Hot Dogs

  1. I can hear the hurt in your words. I’m sorry for your experience. Thank you for sharing this memory.

  2. You told that story so well–and my heart was aching for your childhood self! I would bring you a hot dog now if I could, although that wouldn’t at all make up for that memory. I am also so glad that we work so hard as teachers to make sure no child feels left out, especially over such a simple delight as a special class lunch. It really does make a difference to them.

  3. Reading your description of what happened on hot dog day made me a little emotional. “With-it-ness” is such an important quality for teachers. A good teacher is aware of how a situation like this can make a kid feel and discreetly finds a way to make it right.

  4. macrush53 says:

    I feel the sorrow in this and the deep understanding for the students who don’t have the funds for field trips, lost books, etc. Thank you.

  5. This is such a beautiful, powerful piece of writing. Sad, but so, so honest.

  6. Ramona says:

    What a sad slice. I’m so glad for efforts to include all students today. I can’t imagine why someone didn’t step forward to cover for the two of you. Crazy times. It makes me realize that they weren’t always the good old days.

  7. Trina Haase says:

    Oh, what a touching slice. I agree that, as teachers, we are better about including everyone. For me, I quit the swim team in high school because I knew that we could not afford the team suit. There were scholarships, but I was too embarrassed to ask.

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