I am, The Lunch Lady

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Now you’re climbin’ to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn’t take too long
Can’tcha you see there’ll come a day when it won’t matter?
Come a day when you’ll be gone, whoa – Boston, Peace of Mind

 

When I was thirteen years old, my first job was as an attendant at the Chevron filling station which was located across the street from the house where I grew up. In those days, the customer would roll up to the pump and generally ask for five dollars worth of either high test or regular. I would wash the windshield and check the oil, then pull a wad of bills from my pocket and give change and sometimes, S&H green stamps.

At the age of 15 I was tinkering on the body of my 1954 Chevy panel truck, and suddenly found myself doing something which I thoroughly enjoyed. At 16 I was working at Precision Auto Body, and worked there from 1976 – 1978. In 1978 when the two owners of the body shop parted ways, I began working at Griswold Textile where both my mom and dad were employed. The owner of the mill had a 1958 English Austin Taxi Cab which he asked me to restore. He hired me to work under the guise of Maintenance, and the boiler room was converted into a body shop. I worked there for 2 years, restoring several cars for the owner and his family, as well as a 1924 Studebaker for my dad.

It seemed as though I had finally run out of cars to restore, so I went up to the color shop to do some actual mill type work.

In 1980, I started doing some contract work as an industrial painter for a company in Pawcatuck, Ct. Part of the year I was working 40 hours a week at both jobs, and finally left the textile mill, and started a career job with the Connecticut company.

Ah yes, I worked there for nearly 20 years. Eventually I was in charge of Shipping and Receiving, as well as the Lead Man over the paint, metal fabrication, motor assembly, and box shop; all at the same time. Needless to say, it was a stressful job. We shipped all over the world, and most of the time we were competing with deadlines.

My doctor informed me that I would probably die of a stress related heart attack or stroke by the time I was forty…and I remember saying, but I am 39 NOW! His reply, “I know.” Well, I concluded that it was time to move on. I wish I could say that it was easy to quit that job, but it wasn’t. It was easy to tell the guys in management that I was leaving, but the people I worked with…I did not want to leave them. They were my family. Those guys and gals knew me better than anyone. When the deadlines were close, I was never one to sit in my office, fretting over a way to build a better mouse trap; I was rolling up my sleeves and diving into the work with my men. I knew their jobs and was good at the work. My guys appreciated me. I liked the work. I just hated the, as I saw it, terrible management above me, that did such a poor job scheduling and making such horrible promises to our customers, at the workers (and their families) expense.

Well, in August of 2000, I took the leap, and off to another similar company I started as inventory control, shipping, receiving, and paint, lead man. The company was a new start up, and had a hard time getting its feet moving in a smooth direction. A friend of mine offered me a job working for him as an HVAC technician, so I took the chance. Little did I know that he had declared bankruptcy on two previous occasions, and he was less than faithful in paying me at the end of the week for the week’s work that was finished. Oh, he was eventually good for it. Sadly, the bank does not accept payment for the mortgage, nor do the utility companies want their money, in that similar manor. On the brink of bankruptcy myself, I took a job with an electrician that was on many of the sites where I worked doing HVAC. He was generous with the pay, and I went back to school to be trained as an electrician. I did enjoy the work. I piddled with auto body work as a hobby for myself and for some friends of mine.

2004 turned into an all out adventure. My son was now in Knoxville, TN in college. My daughter was 14, home schooled and in love with horses. My son met a sweetheart from Georgia, and they were going to get married. The writing on the wall was that if we wanted to be close to their imminent family, we were going to have to make a move – and we did; nearly 1000 miles away from the place we were born and raised in Rhode Island, to the little town of Nancy, Kentucky.

When we moved to Kentucky, we did not know a soul. It was a total leap of faith. I had never been without a job, and I figured that finding one would be no big deal. It turned out that it wasn’t a big deal, because just three days after the truck, mini van, and 53 foot moving van made its way down here, my wife’s cell phone rang as we were registering our vehicles at the court house. It was one of our realtor’s in Kentucky, husband who happened to be an electrical contractor, offering me a job. It turned out that they had lost my number when I bought our farm through a different realtor. He had called information in Rhode Island, and took a chance with one of the three VanHorn’s listed. He started his conversation with me like this, “ I called Rhode Island information and I got your mom’s number. I’ve been talking with her for the last 45 minutes. She asked me to ask you to call her…” and I started working for him the following week… All the while I was working, our family was also working the 28+ acre farm, in an effort to make it sustainable for us to eventually be able to leave any out side work, and have income generating from the farm. We tried many things, and many things failed. I planted 3000 blueberry bushes over five acres, and watched them dry up and die over several years. We borrowed money to try new ventures, and lately, borrowing to just keep afloat. My daughter has a boarding and horse riding lesson business here on the farm. Economically, we are in a pretty poor area, and it seems that it is, most usually, hard times.

In March of 2015 I was rear ended as I drove my little Honda Civic. A full size Dodge truck hit me doing 55 MPH while I was stopped to make a left hand turn. The injury to my neck now prevents me from doing most of the things an electrician has to do; especially involving ladders, reaching up, crawling in attics and crawl spaces, over extended periods of time.

It was time for another career change. I applied to be put on a sub list for the Pulaski County School system, during the 2016-2017 school year. I subbed for a couple of middle schools, and was asked by the principal of one, towards the end of last year, if I would be interested in going full time for the 2016-17 school year. It turned out that he knew my daughter through the 4H and horses, and had actually been to our farm. My daughter claims that it was because of her that I scored the job…maybe it was!

So, here I am, 57 years old, working in a middle school, as a cook. The pay is terrible and the work is hard- surprisingly hard. I have worked construction for 17 years and never went home as physically tired as I do now. The ladies that I work with are incredible.  I have never worked a job where I have experienced so much compassion and appreciation, not to mention, dedication and such a hard work ethic.

Yes, I traded in my tool belt for a hair net and apron. I’m proud of it. I like the administration and the students. It is a difficult world for them. I try to engage as many students as I can. I guess I’m trying my best to close the generation gap, and let them all know that they have a friend cooking and serving them lunch, or cashing them out at the end of the line. It has been funny to see their reactions. Some of them laugh right in my face. That’s okay, I have broad shoulders. Others, now try to beat me to the punch when I say, “Have a great day!”

We all work hard to serve a good meal, both in taste and nutrition. It is a tough line to walk. A lot of these children come from some pretty scary homes. We do our best to make them feel loved, and to know that there are rules to follow…another tough line.

I guess it is kind of ironic to think that in my high school days, I never worked at a McDonalds or a Burger King. But here, at the end of the road, I’m helping to serve 800 or so lunches a day, not to mention, 300 breakfast meals and dozens of suppers.

I’m Steve VanHorn, cook at Southern Middle School. Can’t think of a time in my life where I’ve had a better time working and a greater peace of mind; no ladders involved, because that doesn’t matter. Sing on, Boston!

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For the Record

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The librarian at the middle school that my wife and I work for has the library decorated with assorted records hanging on the wall. To be more specific, I’m referring to the grooved vinyl disks that we used to play on phonographs, or record players.

Though this was a common practice to play records, back when I was a kid…oh boy, that phrase that makes the kids today roll their eyes, “back when I was a kid…” it surprised a lot of folks that the children in the middle school had absolutely no clue as to what a record was, or that it was capable of being played.

My wife decided to bring a record player into the library as a little demonstration for the students. Some of them were so surprised; wondering how you could skip a song if you wanted to, and how do you know when the next song was coming up?…which really made me think – I don’t ever remember playing a record and feeling the need to skip a song. I mean, really, how difficult was it to listen to a band or singer that you enjoyed, and could not wait 3 minutes and 28 seconds for a song that might not be your favorite, to finish? In fact, a lot of my favorite songs are those that you may never hear on the radio, but are on some of the albums, and were deemed to be too long for radio play. It was an adventure to listen to the whole record. Often, there was a message that the particular artist was trying to get across. Perhaps we were all a little deeper into the music then; or maybe it’s just me?

Oh, this fast paced, on the go world that we live in…

It was actually kind of nice to get out the old record player, listen to some of the songs that we had not heard or thought about for a while, and actually dance a little.

Even the scratches in the record, hold a romantic charm as far as I’m concerned.

Hard to imagine, a generation that is missing the experience of some of the best writing and music ever made, as well as the cool means as to listen to it.

Can you imagine what would happen if I were to roll in my old Victrola?

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Arturo’s Grief-

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Have my aged eyes grown dim?

or

Has an infinite fog settled on this stage I call, the sea?

Violently, crashing from one wave to another,

The ship continues to rock.

The sails are long gone,

Shredded and torn from the mast, tossed into the ocean,

They spiral towards the deep abyss.

I attempted to walk the black and sleek plank-

It was as slippery as the skin of an eel.

The old boat shifted hard and tossed me in the air,

Neither the sea nor sky would have me.

I landed limp on the splintery wood of the bow.

There is no escape.

The memories that once brought promise,

The warm sun on Katarina’s hair,

Lying soft against my skin,

Now is an endless torture to my numb soul.

Oh, for a light in the distance, or the blow of a horn

The spray of a wave as it crashes against a rocky shore

But there is none of that-

My sole companion is a misty void with a relentless drone.

Even my own thoughts seem faint.

All hope, is going down for the third time.

Icy shadows surround me-

Yet, I can not even feel the cold.

 

 

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Morning has Broken

 

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The mellow squeak of the porch swing chain.
A crow in the distance, cawing.
The hummingbirds, chirp and squeal-
their wings are like a tiny buzz saw.
A momma cow, bellows to her calf-
undoubtedly, on the wrong side of the fence.
The bunnies are thumping their large feet.
A rooster crows.
The motors on the lake-
A sign of a peaceful morning.

Bullfrogs on the pond, with their mighty gulping croak.
A morning Dove, and its mournful coo.
Dogs in the distance, bark.
A soft sip, and an exhale of satisfaction.
Then, the creak of the screen door-
The sound of paws, running across the porch.
The dogs bark, and the cats, retreat.
Morning has broken, and so has the peace!

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Whisper – er – er?

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Many years ago, I discovered that I had a knack for handling little critters. It was not unusual to find me on the front porch, watching some family member running in panic because a Bumble Bee was out to get them. I would sit in a chair, and kindly put a finger up for the bee to land on, which it surely did. I would bring it close to my face and observe it, while turning my hand to get it to run around. When we were through with our session, I would give it a whisp of a blow and off it would go. My daughter called me the bee whisperer. I would do the same thing while taking a lunch break at work. I would sit in the truck, and a yellow jacket would come to the window. I put my thumb up, and sure enough, it would land. I would play with it, letting it run in between my fingers, and gently send it off. Of course my co-worker kept no secret about hoping it would sting me, so he could get a good laugh. I never was stung, as I was just offering a place of rest for the busy little worker, and I was able to enjoy a little company and some entertainment.
One day while I was installing lights in a barn in Adair County, I noticed a butterfly flitting around my tool pouch. I worked there for a few hours, and when I went to pack up for the day, the home owner was standing close by. Before I picked up the tool pouch, I saw the butterfly again, and I held my hand out. It turned and landed on my finger, and I played with it, letting it fly up and land again several times. Then I held it close to my mouth, and gave it a gentle blow into the sky. The woman, in awe, actually yelled, “Oh my god, what are you, the butterfly whisperer or something!?” I laughed, and before I could answer, my co-worker told her of my adventures with the bees. She was astonished, and I grinned and made my way to the truck.
There has always been a special place in my heart for the dragonfly, as well…a kindred spirit, if you will. We have had many similar encounters by various bodies of water.
I know that there are horse whisperers, dog whisperers, and even ghost whisperers. That’s all fine with me. I don’t really believe that I’m a whisperer, just a simple man, who loves to get the chance to observe the beauty of Mother Nature, and contemplate with all the little creatures living amongst her.

Just a few thoughts from a simple man.

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Cedar Shake

 

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Froe and mallet worked together to form the shake

Hard as cedar and hewn to its own likeness

No other with quite the same form

Yet in a similar resemblance, were others from the same tree.

 

The shakes work was to protect the house from the elements.

Layers of coats through the years, served to protect the shake-

The elements of sand and surf, rain and sun, beat hard against the skin.

Years of weather, weathered the shake, yet, the countenance remained determined.

 

It was the tight fit of the family, which held the shake.

Nails had rusted and failed.

The shake appeared as strong as ever.

But time had taken its toll.

 

Paint chipped.

Colors of the past blurred together.

Flakes blew to the ground- Trampled, they all but disappeared;

Memories were intertwined-Past and present, were confused and mixed.

 

The shake, returned to the earth.

The spirit of the shake soared.

Remembered by those left behind-

The house remained strong, for another generation.

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Muse?

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Inspiration,
From where do you hale?
You set my heart free,
No longer in jail.
You seem to appear,
From out of no where.
When all seemed so safe,
I was caught unaware.
I write my thoughts down,
And ponder response,
Of friends and of family,
From the thoughts I’ve pronounced.
Some will laugh,
Some will gasp;
I’ve put it out there,
For all now, to grasp.
The memories you spark,
The dreams you release,
From the past to the present,
My thoughts never cease.
Don’t try to forget,
Or say you don’t care.
You see in our lives,
The moments we share,
Out number our memories,
The two can’t compare.
Some are stored in our head.
Some are locked in our hearts-
Our heads become soft,
And our hearts become hard,
The memories so few,
We may disregard.
How I wish that the ones,
That are dear I could view.
Especially the ones,
That I still have of you.

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