Do you remember afternoon milk break? I do. It was one of those myriad elementary school honors to be chosen as the milk bearer for the week. After a hard day of work and play – both of which were equally important – things slowed down in the hot afternoon. Milk break effused into the afternoon ebb.
Each grade took break at a slightly different time, so as milk-bearer you sauntered out into the big, empty hallway alone – courageous in your freedom to roam the hallway unsupervised - powerful yet trepidatious, still, lest you make too much noise passing Mrs. Floyd’s classroom. The cafeteria was at the end of the hallway. By this time in the afternoon, the workers had washed and stacked the trays, turned out the lights, and gone home.
As you open one of those big double doors just wide enough to slip through, you sense the quiet, venerated atmosphere of a cathedral at rest. The light is dim, cool, calming. The overhead fluorescents have been silenced and only the muted light from the frosted windows stretches across the linoleum. You try to walk confidently to the big reach-in cooler at the back – after all, you are a Milk-Bearer. You have position and the authority to be here. But an over-riding sense of quiet pervades your very soul. Each step seems to echo and compete with the hum of refrigeration. The hum is always there, yet at this time of day it is all-powerful, all-knowing, the personification of a lunchroom deity.
The milk cart is parked inside the kitchen door. It clatters irreverently as you move it in front of the cooler. You carefully count the milk. The teacher has given you the list. 17 chocolate. 2 white. The two white don’t make a lot of sense. Who really drinks white, anyway, when there is chocolate to be had? One goes to the blonde whose older sister just entered junior high, the other to her best friend. The blonde’s older sister has blamed the insults of pubescent complexion on chocolate. So younger sister and her best friend are on a chocolate fast in preparation of impending adulthood. Or fourth grade. Whichever comes first.
Carefully, respectfully, you wheel the cart back to the cafeteria doors and maneuver it through. You feel the need to somehow apologize to the hum for the disturbance. The sun-streaks on the linoleum seem undisturbed. You scoot through the doors as quickly and quietly as possible.
Now you are on the way back. Mission almost completed. The lanky cart makes rhythmic squeaks all down the hall, but you don’t care. You are a Milk-Bearer. Mrs. Floyd’s room be damned – you have a job to do! Outside the door to your classroom you glance back down the long hall. Look back to the darkened lunchroom that lies behind the big double doors. A cathedral at rest, the room seems to grant you some of its respect. If not for you, at least for the job you have done. And you’ll be back. Its only Wednesday.