Maraschino Cherries and Honor in the late '70s
There are some experiences you look back on from your childhood as an adult, and you realize how weird they really were, especially through today's filters. As someone who works with children and has a responsibility to create safe, supportive environments in an educational setting, I look back on my experiences as a child in a rural NH elementary school and marvel at the turns it sometimes took.
Chichester Central School was a small school with less than 200 kids in grades 1st -8th. We had about twenty kids in our class and during our eight years together, we had very few new kids come in, and only a couple kids leave. When we were in the first grade, we had a teacher, Mrs. St. Germain, who we loved to please. (I say we because it feels like a group memory- which is part of the point.) I'm not sure how that happened, I just know that we got praised for being the first kids to line up at recess, praised for keeping our desks neat, and praised for getting our work done, as a group. My memories of Mrs. St. Germain are of a kindly stern woman who expected a lot from us, and I remember wanting very much to meet those expectations. Until one day when we couldn't. But I am getting a little ahead of myself.
The other early school teacher, who was my sister Barb's 1st grade teacher, was Mrs. Sanborn. She was free-flowing fun- an artsy teacher whose class always seemed chaotic, but she did have a LOFT in her classroom with tapestries and pillows and books and it was super groovy. Her class was never the first in line when the bell was rung to come in from recess- but then they had more recess... She was also super nice- and it says something that I actually knew her first name- Ginger- whereas Mrs. St. Germain didn't have one, in my experience. (I mean of course she has a first name, but she was like Ms. Clavel in the child's book, Madeline... it would have felt impertinent to know her first name.)
Both teachers were nice, but very different from each other. And in years prior to my coming to school, they would alternate classes: swapping the first and second back and forth between each other. But for some reason, our first grade class did not go to Mrs. Sanborn for second grade, we stayed with Mrs. St. Germain for another year and it was in this year that the cost of our devotion was laid bare: The George Washington Day Salad.
To celebrate Presidents' Day, Mrs. St. Germain had brought in a recipe and ingredients for us to make a salad to honor our first President, George Washington. She had us shred the cabbage, mix in untold amounts of mayonnaise, and fill our little plastic cups with the mixture, adding a maraschino cherry to the top of each cup. You know, for George and his cherry tree chopping. Before we could try it, she was called to the office and left us alone in class, with these parting words, "I expect you to eat it all by the time I get back." Why she said this, I'll never know, but it created the most noble act I'd witnessed in my young life.
I cannot tell a lie, George Washington's Salad was revolting. Maybe it was the combination of the mayo and the maraschino, but after trying it, none of us wanted to eat it. But we also didn't want to let her down, it was terrible to consider. Someone suggested we could all throw it out, but we worried she'd see it in the garbage. Time was ticking and she would be back and we would have to eat it! And then Kent Booth came to the rescue. He ate his. He said it wasn't too bad, and he offered to eat ours. All of ours. We knew we didn't have much time, so he shoved the salad in his mouth, handing us back our empty cups. And it almost worked.
Mrs. St. Germain came in, and we all proudly displayed our empty cups, and pleased, she asked us how we liked it. But before we could perjure ourselves, Kent raised his hand to ask to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately he only made it to the utility sink in the back of the classroom before all of the George Washington Salad came out. All twenty cups of it. And from the number of maraschino cherries that spewed out of his mouth, it was clear what we had done.
At this point my memory fails me. I can't recall what happened to us. But I do remember how grateful I'd felt to Kent for attempting to save us all from the George Washington Salad. It was a very George Washington-thing for him to do, so in that way, the lesson was learned. I also remember that after this episode, we were less driven to please our teacher, and I think that was another important lesson learned.
And I can never look at a maraschino cherry without seeing them come spewing out Kent's mouth, and I could never eat one again. So that was a lesson ahead of its' time...
"The modern maraschino cherry is soaked in a salt brine or—even worse—a solution of calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide. This bleaches the cherries, removing their natural color and flavoring. They are then pitted and soaked in a sweetener (typically high fructose corn syrup or HFCS) for about a month..."
You learn some of the best lessons at school from unintended consequences. Thank you, Kent, George Washington, and Mrs. St. Germain.
* Though that last bit is a little tongue in cheek, I am super grateful to Mrs. St. Germain. She was a wonderful teacher who taught me with such kindness and patience.