Western author Ralph
Beer attended Bryant School in the 1950s, and shares these
was a lucky boy to have been able to stand in that same chow
line a few
years later, with the younger brothers and sisters of the
kids in this
photograph, as the heavy ladies and neighborhood grandmas
who ran the
kitchen ladled out our lunches of commodity vegetables and
hot ground beef
and real mashed potatoes onto heavy porcelain plates.
lunches were cooked right there in the school basement each
day, and the heady smells from the kitchen rose and spread
through the hallways like spirits, teasing us and tempting
us and making it hard to focus on long division or nouns or
fractions. Rome may have conquered the Greeks, but that was
genuine Montana hamburger calling our names.
hot lunch program cost our folks a quarter per day and it
was worth it in spades. For some kids, it might have been
the one good meal they enjoyed that day. Most of us came from
working-class families, our dads employed by the railroad
or Caird's foundry or one of the smelters in East Helena.
A few moms worked for large employers like the phone company.
But what money there was in circulation during the Eisenhower
years was snug if not downright tight. A lay-off or a strike
could put a hurt on a family with several kids, but those
quarters seemed to keep coming in, so us kids could enjoy
some hot food in a safe, well-lighted cafeteria with our teachers
seated at their own table nearby.
hot lunches and some of those teachers, like Mr. Nelson, who
taught Sixth Grade, and Miss Dalrimple who taught Fourth and
Miss Erickson who taught Third, were among the genuine blessings
we enjoyed at Bryant School.