Fluff vs. Marshmallows: Does it make a difference?

Hey, if you recall, I warned you this could be random.

How many people here as kids had to grow up with globs of fluff instead of marshmallows in their s’mores and hot cocoa? This may not seem like a big deal, but it mattered. It mattered just as much as to any kid who had to deal with ‘government cheese’ instead of Kraft or Peter Pan instead of Jif peanut butter.

Those same kids also grew up with free or reduced lunch tickets (yes, the real ticket not a debit on a private account). I can’t tell you how demoralizing it was to pass over a specially colored ticket at the end of the lunch line because your parents didn’t make a lot of money. Everyone knew your family was poor. There it was the caste system of kids who paid cash; kids who paid less cash and had a yellow card; and the kids who passed over a blue card to the lunch lady and paid nothing. The blue carders were from families on food stamp. I was a blue carder for a time.

My dad never said anything. I’m actually not sure he knew we got free lunch tickets. My mother came from an upper middle-class family and I think she was embarrassed when rough times in the ’80s hit our house hard (not embarrassed enough to go get a J-O-B, mind you). My dad did… whatever it is he still does. Always marching to the beat of his own drum (love ya anyway, dad), to this day nothing ever seems to bother him. He’s just as happy with a moon pie as he is with a porterhouse steak.

Most of the time I took after him. I knew we weren’t well off, but most of my friends lived in houses like mine (or worse). A few lived in town in ‘rich kid’ houses. Where I came up, people didn’t have much. If they did, they didn’t flaunt it, they shared it. I don’t think I understood how poor we actually were until I started getting the lunch tickets each Monday from my homeroom teacher… and no one else in my homeroom did.

I’d get called over to the teacher’s desk just as people were filtering in. He would hand over a small manilla envelope with my name and homeroom number on it. Everyone saw. And I hated school lunches, hated everything about them. I sold the damn thing each week to a friend for $5. Candy bar money. I think she kept the difference from her mother for her own candy bars and I brought my own lunches. Yes, the poor theoretically paid twice.

My point to this is we live in a society, more so today then when I was a kid, that notices those shortcomings. At younger and younger, our material world starts ostracizing the kid with fluff, Peter Pan and blue lunch tickets.

Is there a way around this? I suppose going to the lunch number system helps in the school cafeteria. Every kid buying a lunch punches in their code at checkout. Only the lunch lady and the kid need to know where the funds come from that clears the purchase.

But the insidiousness creeps into the population in other ways. It shows itself in the kid without designer shoes, without brand name shoes or the latest composite baseball bat at the fields. The lexicon has changed, but the sentiments are the same.

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