All our money smelled like Folgers. While I hated paying with coffee can money, I loved sticking my head into the can to inhale the bitter bean scent. It was a better smell than the usual combination of sour baby spit-up, on-the-edge of rotten food out of the unmarked cans at Food Mart and no-showers-since-Sunday.
I knew not to ask for anything if the can was close to empty. That meant groceries were more important than baseball gloves or shoes. Or daddy’s pocket dollars smelled more like Wild Turkey than usual.
“There’s no bread for lunch.”
Mama reached into the can and handed me the two quarters I needed for a reduced fee lunch at Margaret Mitchell Elementary.
“I didn’t make it to the store.”
“Is it my birthday?” I asked.
Those two quarters bought a feast of room temperature milk, mystery meat and grainy mashed potatoes served up with lunch lady pity.
“Enjoy lunch. Don’t miss the bus.”
I ran the two blocks to the school bus, my stomach growling in anticipation of a hot school lunch. I was rich with my two quarters.
At lunch time, I avoided the Tobler brothers who would think nothing of stealing my lunch money.
Blue jello in plastic cups awaited. There was no mystery meat. It was corn dog day.
“Here’s an extra corn dog.”
The lunch lady who looked like my imaginary grandmother plopped an extra corn dog on my tray. I handed over the quarters. The smell of coffee mixed with corn dogs. I huddled at a table alone to eat my lunch.
By the time I got home, there was no dinner and no mama. I heard her come home around midnight to drop two more quarters in the can. I could still taste coffee scented corn dog.