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I May Have Been a Pep Rally Cheerleading Phenom,

Fall 1980, Homecoming Pep Rally
L-R: Cates, Bach, Brady, MONK (cheering)
Cantwell (hidden), Fobare, Sawyer, Camelo(?), Chapin

But My True High School Major Was Lunch Hour.

(Okay, guilty as charged.
Maybe sometimes I did.)
1980 Canaras Yearbook Photo

     I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I absolutely loved high school.  Many cherished memories of life were crammed into those four short years, including some of my best, some of my most embarrassing, and some of my most painful.

Someone asked me a couple of stories ago;

“Would you go back if you could?”

I answered “No, I would not.  I think part of the beauty of high school is that it’s an experience we each get but once.”

     In any event, every day of my high school memories started pretty much the same. I trekked across town and up the hill, sometimes on my bike, sometimes hitching a ride with friends, occasionally riding the bus, but most frequently just walking.

     I liked walking to school. Then I was on my own schedule. I’d brave the trestle, walk down the tracks, then cut cross lots to Broadway. There was a little donut shop there, by the bridge on the river, across the street from Dew Drop’s. I’d dig into my pocket for change enough to buy three or four breakfast “day olds”. If I got lucky, they had Boston Cremes or eclairs. Those were my favorites. They cost a quarter. Most generally though, I marched up the hill fortifying myself on day old ten cent jelly donuts.

     Looking back, that was a pretty long walk to school across town from our Stevenson Lane home. That hill was a bitch of a climb. Try as I might, I could never get all the way up it on my bike. I’d end up walking my bike about halfway up. I’d get all sweaty. Some days if I had time, I’d scurry down to the school gym locker room and take a quick second shower before homeroom.

     In the winter, I’d rush out of the house with wet hair. By the time I got to school I’d have a head full of icicles. Never thought much of it at the time. I guess growing up in Saranac Lake, morning ice hair just seemed natural.  I’d simply shake or comb the ice out of my hair, stash my books in my locker, then head off to homeroom.

    Freshmen, sophomores & juniors all had homerooms in classrooms.  Seniors started their day in the study halls down under the gym. I don’t recall who all my homeroom teachers were. I want to say I had Mrs. Kalinowski one year, maybe Mrs. Tolhurst, Madame Klein, or Mr. LaGasse in some others.  I’m just not sure.

     In any event, every morning began with a loud BEEEP! Over the intercom, followed by

“Will the following students please report to the main office…”

I always held my breath at that point.

 “Had we been nabbed? Had someone ratted us out? Had our most recent transgression been exposed? Did they somehow know it was us who left those big ruts doing donuts in the outback school parking lot last night?”

     By the time I finally breathed a sigh of relief (or sometimes not), the announcements were most generally nearly complete…

“Today’s lunch menu is mashed potatoes with gravy, cut green beans, oven roasted mystery meat, canned peach slices, bread & butter, milk.”

     The truth of the matter is, I rather liked our school lunches. Especially on pizza day or around holiday time when they served sliced turkey and cranberry sauce. It was a pretty good deal for less than a dollar.

SLHS High School Lunch Ladies
(1978 Canaras yearbook Photo)

My favorite high school cafeteria school lunch though, was three or four ice cream sandwiches washed down with several cartons of chocolate milk. I think ice cream sandwiches cost about a quarter at that point.

     By the time I got to high school though, I didn’t usually eat the school lunch.  We were allowed to go off campus for lunch hour. If I had my bike, I’d scoot home. We had a Jenn Air grill in our kitchen. I’d make myself a quick pile of grilled Velveeta cheese or fried bologna sandwiches.  Sometimes I made hot dogs in our first microwave. I discovered that if I wrapped a raw hot dog in cheese and a slice of buttered bread, then stuck it in that microwave for a minute or two, it came out pretty good!

    If Mom was at work, I’d pilfer a bunch of homemade cookies, wolf down a whole jar of her off limits home canning jarred fruit cocktail she kept stored in the basement, take a few big swings of whole milk straight from the carton, then grab two or three bananas for the road.

     I loved bananas. I could never get enough of them. My parents traveled to the fruit market across the border in Canada, where they bought bananas by the case just to keep me supplied.

     Other days, I’d go downtown for lunch. There was a sub shop on the corner of Broadway, next to the bowling alley. I can’t remember the name of it, before Dagwood’s moved across the street from where Bitters’ & Bones is now.  For $3.15 I could get a whole mixed sub; ham, salami, bologna, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shakers, oil and mayonnaise on a big sub roll. Later on, another place opened up in a tin building just off school ground where I discovered french fries & gravy.  But I still have dreams about those subs.  They are one of my all-time favorite lunch menu memories.

     One day I was headed down to the sub shop with a classmate friend of mine named Billy.  Billy had been one of my best friends since fifth grade. For some reason, Billy was always getting picked on and bullied by other kids.  Maybe it was because his dad was a teacher. I was never quite sure why, but Billy definitely always seemed to be in the crosshairs of bullies.

Several of My SLHS Freshman Classmates
Including My Friend Billy (RIP)
(1978 Canaras Yearbook Photo)

     That day we were walking down the hill on our lunch hour when Billy got accosted. Three kids were behind us, taunting us, threatening to beat up Billy.  Neither one of us being a great fighter, Billy & I started running. Somehow, we ended up down on Dorsey Street.  The three bullies surrounded us there. We were cut off and cornered.

     Billy was clearly their target, but I wasn’t going to let my friend stand alone. We stood back-to-back and took our beating together. I guess I figured at least I could take half the beat down and lighten his load. We ended up climbing back up the hill pretty scuffed up and battered. Billy had a bloody lip as I recall. My nose was bloodied.

     We both ended up late to our next class that day. It was pretty clear we’d been fighting.  Sure enough, the next morning during homeroom announcements:

“Will the following students please report to the main office…”

     Despite intense interrogation, Billy and I were both smart enough to know that ratting out our nemeses would only ensure another beating.  It always seemed a bit unfair to me that we were the ones who ended up in detention. Sometimes I think grown-ups forget schoolyard law.

     That wasn’t the only time Billy and I found ourselves standing back to back fending off bullies. Not long after high school, Billy was killed in a car accident.  I think those experiences with Billy were a foundational part of my motivation to go into the service, complete Army Ranger School, learn to fight and defend myself.

     In the winter, when I wasn’t busy scooting home for grilled cheese or downtown for subs, I’d spend my lunch hours in the school gym, playing pick-up team half-court basketball.  If I was able to finagle my schedule just right, I could get gym class just before lunch hour, then a study hall afterwards.  We could sign out of study hall, so some days I could end up already in the gym in gym shorts playing basketball for nearly two full periods. On those days I’d either get my lunch from the vending machine or bring lunch from home.

     After a lunch hour of basketball, I’d be pretty sweaty. I had a locker downstairs in the team room, so near the end of the period, I’d head down to shower. I loved mid-day showers in that locker room. We didn’t have a shower at home. The water in that team locker room was hot, with an endless supply of warm dry towels, courtesy of Cuppy.

     Cuppy was the head gym coach, as well as my track coach. He also coached varsity basketball. Everyone loved Cuppy. Despite all his good-natured ribbing, I never tried out for Saranac Lake’s team, or played high school basketball.

“Hey Monroe. Why don’t you do something useful for a change & play basketball?”

1978 Canaras Yearbook Photo

     Basketball fell smack dab in the middle of hunting season.  I didn’t want to be stuck running up and down the high school gym doing suicides every day after school during hunting season. I had afterschool dates with my shotgun and some snowshoe rabbits, so I played CYO basketball instead.

     TC was our CYO coach. He was also our mailman.  We played at the old Pius School gym. We only practiced one night a week and played games just on Saturdays. That interfered a whole lot less than high school basketball would have with my pursuit of snowshoe rabbits.

     At any rate, one day there I was, my senior year, down in the team locker room showering after a sweaty lunch hour of basketball. The team locker room at that time was in the basement below the gym. It had a door at each end. My locker was on the very end of the row next to the door. My clothes and my fresh towel were on the wooden bench right in front of it.

     I finished my shower and stepped out, soaking wet. I was alone that day, just me and my green squeeze tube of Prell. I headed towards my locker to towel off and dress.

     Just as I rounded the corner from the shower, the locker room door flew open. Much to my surprise, the persons that appeared through that door resembled none of my fellow lunch hour basketball players or teammates.

     No, instead, what appeared was a small covey of co-eds.  There were about five of them in all, all fellow seniors and classmates. I clearly remember all the faces and names. However, I’ll let the guilty parties involved remain anonymous, as a courtesy.   

     Now, I have no idea whether they were there at that particular moment by pure happenstance or by dare. Regardless, there I was, walking towards five of my admiring female classmates armed with nothing but my green tube of Prell, dripping wet, full frontal, in the raw, au naturel.

     In that instant, I had a choice. I could scurry back into the shower room, cower down and cover up, or I could just keep on walking.

     I chose the latter option. As they stood there momentarily frozen in their tracks, giggling and gawking, I just gave them a friendly smile & wave.

“Well hello there ladies.”

     They quickly turned tail and ran. I just kept walking.  I still to this day chuckle to myself when I think about that moment.

     I’ll share one final senior year lunch hour memory. This one occurred sometime in mid-April, on towards spring. Every spring as the ice let out on Lower Saranac Lake, our crew competed to see who dared be the first one in the water.  We’d head up to Ampersand Bay in Dupe’s “rig du jour” on our lunch hour.

     We’d cruise out the parking lot on the back road from school up to Lake Street.  There was a small beach down off Lake Street, on Ampersand Bay, near the boat docks. I assume it’s still there now, though I haven’t been down there in decades.

     As soon as the ice started to go out, we’d head down there and challenge each other to see who dared go in. It only counted if there were witnesses and you went fully underwater.

     The ice had melted about twenty-five feet or so back away from shore. I’m not sure who was all there that day besides me & Dupe, but there were several of us down there that day, just guys, I don’t recall any of our co-ed cohorts in crime ever being dumb enough to participate in this particular challenge.

     Of course, none of us remembered to bring gym shorts or swim suits, but it was just us guys, so we decided to swim out to the ice and back full on polar bare-ass. The problem was, just about the time we got out to the ice, another car pulled up, full of females.

     My memory is hazy, they were all girls who had graduated ahead of us. I want to say at least one of the Morgan girls was there. I’m not sure who else.  Regardless, there we were, treading water shrivelled up bare ass boy naked in ice cold April water.

     I’m not sure how that situation resolved itself. I do remember the girls realizing our predicament and standing there laughing. I’m not sure who claimed the polar bear title that year.  I just remember no self-respecting man was getting out of that ice cold water with a co-ed audience.

      There is an endless menu of memories I could share.  Suffice it to say, lunch hour was far and away my favorite subject.

If high school lunch hour grades had been factored into our final averages, I daresay I’d have been class valedictorian.  


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 6/22/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)