The Palate Cleanser

“With Abandon”

by Kelly Graham

One of the things I remember about kindergarten—from the first day—was snack time. Snacks seemed like something to look forward to. I was fond of strawberry milk and, having a vending machine in the lobby of the motel my parents owned, I was accustomed to a wide array of candy. Anything I couldn’t get from the machine I usually got from the motel guests.

An assistant (not Ms. Heath, my teacher) came out with a tray. It looked to me like cartons of plain white milk and a box of saltine crackers. This did not compute in my mind with the definition of a snack, but she began handing out the milk and crackers. Surely, they had something else in the kitchen. Chocolate milk, for instance. I’d ask for chocolate milk when she arrived. Strawberry milk was probably too extravagant. In fact, as I thought about it, I was sure they had to have chocolate milk.

And they couldn’t be serious about the saltine crackers. Those were only for when you were sick or for peanut butter, which, come to think of it, goes quite well with white milk. Maybe I’d ask for peanut butter instead and forego the chocolate milk today. I was now confident of my options and satisfied that I could make the best of this rather tragic situation.

“This is your option,” the assistant said. No peanut butter. No chocolate milk, and certainly no strawberry milk. “And no, there are no Ritz crackers in the kitchen.” She shoved a carton of plain milk and a white paper napkin with saltine crackers in front of me. Apparently, no one else had complained.

This was equally as baffling as serving saltine crackers and milk and calling it a snack. I wasn’t mad at the assistant, who looked like my cousin Betty Ann. I loved Betty Ann. I was simply shocked. How could no one else have complained? There had to be twenty or thirty other kindergartners in this class. I was the only one who had stated the obvious—that saltine crackers and milk are not a snack. Or certainly not a snack anyone would want to eat.

“Stanley!” I said to Stanley Preston, who was sitting next to me as he was served his portion of plain white milk and saltine crackers. This was not the last encounter of a controversial nature to occur between me and a teacher in which Stanley happened to be involved. Three years later we would be accused of cheating on a science test when I told Stanley how to spell oxygen. I figured that spelling was okay during a science test. Miss Onko thought otherwise.

“Stanley, we’re not eating this,” I stated.

“We’re not?” asked Stanley.

“No,” I said calmly. “We’re eating our napkins instead.”

“We are?” pleaded Stanley.

“Don’t worry,” I said, lowering my voice. “They will taste the same as the milk and saltines,” and I proceeded to tear off a piece of my napkin and shove it in my mouth. Refusing to drink from the carton of milk, I went to the water fountain to wash it down.

God bless Stanley Preston. He did the same.


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