On the Bag

When I was a boy in Akron and a dutiful student at St. Sebastian School, lunch was one of the few times I had during the day to laugh without conscience, to enjoy my classmates’ jokes and stories without having to attend too closely to the school’s daunting decorum. True, we were still on a Catholic campus, and there was the constant watchful presence of the nuns, even in the dungeon that we also called the cafeteria, but the good sisters did grant us a little more leeway in terms of having fun, and my friends and I took full advantage of that consideration.

Well, that is, as long as we didn’t get off our benches or talk much louder than a confessional whisper.

The school provided a hot meal for us every day, and I recall doing my best to abide it, but after a while, it seemed that the menu did more to turn my stomach than to satisfy it, and so I asked my mother if she would pack a lunch for me instead. She was glad to do so, perhaps because she thought that it might save a few pennies in the long run. It also gave her a chance to stimulate my mind a little, and while you might wonder why she thought that could happen during one of the few respites from learning that I had during the day, well, you really don’t know my mom.

Near the top of each brown bag she would write a riddle. Something along the lines of, “What stays hot even when it’s in the refrigerator?” or “What gets bigger the more you take away?” She would write the answer on the bottom of the sack, and she knew that I was competitive enough to never look until I knew that I had solved the puzzle. I was also competitive enough to hide the riddles from my friends because I didn’t want them chiming in before I had a crack at each question.

I thought about my mom’s lunchtime brain-teasers a few weeks ago when Teresa and I spent a week visiting her in East Lansing. I would never reveal a lady’s age without her permission, but I will tell you that she is as close to 100 as I am to 70. She no longer possesses the visual acuity to read, but she continues to watch and listen to television game shows to keep her mind sharp. I think that I mentioned that I was competitive? I am no match for my mother in that department, and so I can imagine that when a show is on, she works hard to answer its questions quickly and accurately.

To that end, I have decided to return a favor from sixty years ago. Teresa and I alternate writing letters to my mom each week, and last Sunday, I opened mine with a riddle that I’m sure I once read on creased brown paper: “When is a car not a car?” I’m sure that when her neighbor reads her my letters, Mom will answer each of my questions quickly and accurately, and she’ll probably add, “Why, that wasn’t hard at all,” but I’ll still include the answer in a postscript just for symmetry. But that’s not the point, of course. It’s all about thanking her for teaching me that there is no respite from learning, nor should there be, for just as a car can turn into a driveway, any random moment can become an opportunity to learn. 

It’s on the bag.

Categories Education, Personal, Teaching

4 thoughts on “On the Bag

  1. I understand about school lunch. I always brought my own lunch each day.
    In terms of reaching a near milestone, for you almost 70, and your mother almost 100; I hope God gives you numerous birthdays to share together. 😊

    The memories you shared reminded me of how I used to do something similar growing up🙃
    Both in Undergrad and now I’m Grad School I enjoy getting together for coffee with peers and colleagues. Sharing, laughing, discussing, and sometimes learning.
    A group of people from my department formed our own little circle. We meet once week, and do exactly that. (Share, laugh, discuss, and learn.)
    We also sometimes play board games or team sports. But mostly it’s philosophical discussion over coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the circle you all have formed, Sarah. Keep enjoying those magical meetings!


  2. marymckschmidt May 13, 2022 — 3:51 am

    What a stunning tribute to your mom! And a delightful tradition! Thank you for sharing. And thanks for providing the answer to the car riddle!



    1. You’re welcome! And I’ll throw in that mustard stays hot, and a hole gets bigger! 😉


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