Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And For Dessert, Suzy Qs

I never, ever enjoyed school lunches. Occasionally I would get excited about the cafeteria's chicken noodle soup (before meal worms were spotted in a batch in middle school, and the noodle supplier changed, and my innocence was lost) or something called "Taco Boats" and, for a brief but glorious moment in high school, those little orange Mexican pizzas. But mostly my feelings for the school lunches my mother prefer I eat because she was not inclined to pack for me ranged from ambivalence to abhorrence.

Except for fifth grade, when for an extra quarter I could buy a Suzy Q every single day as a healthy side dish for my sloppy joes.

The news that the cafeteria would be selling these to anyone buying a hot lunch swept the school like a contagious rash. We all had the fever. I had an advantage, though--my doctor had recently told my mother I was still underweight from an illness years before and should be allowed to eat whatever I wanted, the higher the calorie count the better.

"Can I start buying a Suzy Q with my lunch? They cost an extra quarter."

"Here," my father said, rummaging through his loose change and handing me a stack of silver, "if they let you, go ahead and get two."

For the rest of the school year, I bought a school lunch every day, even when we were having things I absolutely hated. Even on "Chicken Two-Fer" day, where we were served little chicken sliders meant to resemble chicken White Castles. Two for/fer the price of one! One day, after biting down into one of these sandwiches onto something hard enough to make my jaw crack, I started calling them "Chicken Toothers." I know chicken don't have teeth, but I'm pretty sure one was in that sandwich just the same.

So addicted was I to my daily Suzy Q that nearly all memories from fifth grade are colored by my different experiences eating and enjoying my little chocolate-cake-and-chemically-preserved-whipped-cream treats. The afternoon I sat down at the table with aching legs and my first swallow of Suzy Q felt like someone had just used my throat to light a match--I was diagnosed with my first-ever case of strep throat that next morning. The time I had to take the Suzy Q apart and scoop out the whipped goodness inside and just eat that because my mouth was a disaster--that was the day after I tried to lick the frost off of the inside of our metal freezer, got my tongue stuck, and ripped off most of my taste buds. The time I giggled all through lunch and was nearly too excited to eat my dessert because our teacher had decided we needed to sit boy-girl for a while to curb high cafeteria noise levels, and he seated me next to my first crush--I was so giddy from love and sugar I could barely stand myself.

It was a golden time. Middle school came the next year, along with new school lunch guidelines, and my daily Suzy Qs were no more. Occasionally we got pudding pops, and on the very best days I was lucky enough to get a chocolate-vanilla-swirl one, but it was not quite the same.

The last time I tried a Suzy Q, long before Hostess's recent woes sent people rushing to snatch them up for the coming snack-cake apocalypse, they weren't quite the same, either. I wanted to taste nostalgia; instead I just tasted a bunch of artificial flavors and preservatives. Is there anything that can be re-tried as an adult that lives up to the love you had for it as a child? I don't think there is.

I was tempted on my weekend grocery trip to snag one of the last boxes of Suzy Qs off the shelves; it may have been my last chance to re-live 5th-grade school lunches and share them with my own 5th-grader.

But I chose not to. For some things are better (and healthier) to just live as memory.

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