It had been over 50 years since I was in the kitchen at St. Andrew’s School.

The day before Christmas this year, Becky Ryan was slicing up turkeys in preparation for the 14th annual community dinner held at the Abilene Elks Lodge on Christmas Day and there I was.

Lots of the surroundings look the same as they did in 1967, though everything seems much smaller.

The way food is prepared has changed in elementary lunchroom kitchens in 50 years.

Amana, the appliance company in Newtown, Iowa, was marketing the countertop microwave oven that year for $495, about $3,515 in today’s money.

Now a staple in today’s modern day kitchen, one can purchase a small microwave oven for about $50.

(Because I did a search for microwaves, I will now have to see microwave oven advertisements pop up on my social media for the next month. Maybe I can search for the TaylorMade M3 Driver, which sells for about the same price as the first microwaves, $499. And had I actually purchased a microwave after my search, why would I need more advertisements?)

What makes the kitchen special was that the head cook was my grandmother, Sarah Horan.

According to my research, Sarah was born as Sarah O’Donnell in Canada.

In my early grade school years, my dad, John, would pick me up after school as he went home after reporting to work at the Abilene Post Office at 5 a.m. He also picked up two big buckets of leftovers from the kitchen.

Those leftovers he took to the farm and fed them to the hogs. The hogs loved it. Fresh food made from scratch.

That ended when a government regulation required that leftovers be thrown out with trash, later fed to the “electric pigs,” what they once called the InSinkErator.

Food sharing is not allowed today but it was common back in the 1960s. Besides, when we took our trays back into the kitchen to be washed, there stood Mrs. Horan, arms crossed, eyeballing every tray to make sure that you at least “tried” every item on the tray.

If she saw something that looked like it had not been at least tried, she would send the student and their tray back to the lunchroom. Stirring it to look like someone had taken a bite didn’t work but often there was someone to take a bite from your tray for you.

We traded food at most meals.

Often one of the boys would say that looks like, well, something gross, to try to get one of the girls to give him her pudding.

The milk came from Peterson’s Dairy which at the time was located south of town.

The milk truck still delivered fresh milk throughout Abilene. Dad often bought bucket calves from the dairy.

The milk bottles made of real glass were topped with a metallic lid.

One year I decided it would be fun to collect the lids. I must have had 100 before the smell got so bad I had to throw them out.

I also failed to mention that the kitchen not only served grades 1 through 8 at St. Andrew’s,  which it taught at the time,  but also grades 1 through 6 at Lincoln Elementary School which was across the street where the Visitor’s Center for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum and Library sits today.

Long before there was a Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act which directed the USDA to renovate school meal nutrition standards, our home-cooked meals by grandma Sarah would have passed any inspection. In fact, I sometimes long for her cooking.

Contact Tim


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