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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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When I was seven years old, the principal’s wife called my mother and invited me to dinner.  To this day, I do not understand why I received that invitation.  My family was poor and the principal’s family, while not wealthy, were much better off than we were.  His family lived in a house owned by the school system and had beautiful hard-wood floors, a living room, dining room and play room on the first floor.  Upstairs were several bedrooms and there were two bathrooms with flush toilets; our bathroom was outdoors in an outhouse.  Need I say that the difference between our family and theirs was monumental.

Perhaps the principal’s wife realized that I did very well academically in school, and maybe she wanted to introduce me to some of the finer things in life.  Or maybe she was simply a kind woman who believed that I could benefit from an evening with her family.  She is long deceased, so I guess I will never know the real reason for the invitation.

My mother had agreed that I could accept the invitation, and my father said he would drop me off at their house when he was delivering coal in a nearby neighborhood.  That meant that I would arrive there for that occasion in my dad’s coal truck.  I certainly did not care as I knew that I would wear my very best dress and have ribbons in my hair.

As soon as mom knew how I was getting there, she started in with lessons in how to conduct myself at their table.  Although we were poor, mom always set our table in the correct fashion.  Our cutlery was plated silver and absolutely in the right place, and though we did not have matching dishes, they were also in the proper place.  She always insisted that we sit down at the table for every meal, and after we asked grace, food was passed and conversation was entertaining or at the very least, newsworthy.   At no point were we ever to pass on gossip or make fun of others who were ethnically different than we were.  Meal times were always polite and pleasant.

Then, because of the special invitation that I had received, meal times became times of lessons in manners and the proper use of the forks and spoons that mom thought would be on the table at the principal’s house.  I learned about salad forks, dessert spoons and soup spoons, none of which were ever on our table.  Mom drilled me on keeping my elbows off the table, and insisted on teaching me that I should not rest my left hand on the table, but I must keep it in my lap.  Finally satisfied that I would not embarrass her or my family, mom pronounced me ready to have dinner at the principal’s table.

On a Friday afternoon, when I got home from school, mom had the galvanized tub out in the middle of the kitchen, and I had a bath.  Just as I had known, my best Sunday dress was starched and pressed ready for me to wear.  My ugly Buster Brown oxfords were polished to a military shine, and my white socks were trimmed in lace around the cuffs.  I felt perfect in every way, and just before I left to get into dad’s truck, my mom reminded me to keep my left hand in my lap.

I will always remember the dinner that night.  It was just the way my mom had said it would be with real silver cutlery and beautiful china that matched and shone in the candlelight.   I was proud that I knew that I was to eat the cottage cheese in a sliced pear with the salad fork, and that when I drank my milk, I wiped my mouth with my napkin.  But when the main entrée was delivered to the table, I realized that I was in trouble.  Along with creamy mashed potatoes, and green beans, there was a thick cut of baked ham covered with a pineapple slice.  How was I going to eat it or cut it into bite-size pieces without using my left hand, which had remained in my lap as if it were glued there?  Finally, I decided not to eat it at all, although it smelled heavenly and looked perfect.

When the principal’s wife asked me if I did not like ham, I replied that I liked it, but I just wasn’t hungry.  I wonder now how she thought I could devour the cherry pie with ice-cream topping if I wasn’t hungry.  In the end, she wrapped the ham in wax paper and suggested that I might want to take it home and make it into a sandwich the next day.  I was grateful knowing that I would eat it as soon as I walked into my house and definitely not save it for the next day.

After I had thanked the principal’s wife for a lovely meal and evening, and once home my mom asked about the ham.  When I explained that there was no way to cut it without using my left hand, she just shook her head and said, “Oh, honey, you just didn’t understand what I meant.  You can always use your left hand to hold your fork and cut up your meat.”

Well, I hadn’t known that, but just as soon as mom put that ham on a small plate, I sat down, cut it up holding my fork in my left hand, and ate every bit of it.





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About the Contributor
Maryann Nunnally
Maryann Nunnally, Contributing Writer
Maryann Nunnally is a retired high school principal and professional comedienne. She writes the regular column Laughing through the Golden Years for Cape Fear Voices.

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