To all the cafeterias I've loved before (in memory of Furr's Family Dining/used-to-be Furr's Cafeteria at French Market Mall, which closed for good last week):
• To my first nonschool cafeteria experience, at Phoenix Village Mall in Fort Smith, Ark.
Why, yes. Yes, I did grow up on a farm, with cows and everything, in the late 1960s-1970s, with parents old enough to be my grandparents. (Do some math here).
You might could have told by what I asked for, for dessert, at Luby's Cafeteria (I think it was a Luby's; this memory is 35 years old).
My friend Anthony Bowers' folks took us with them to eat out — itself still an unusual event for me at the time — and a movie. Anthony and I were 13 or 14 or so. The only cafeteria I'd been in was at school, in Muldrow, and back then there were no choices: You took what the lunch ladies gave you.
So, bewildered by the variety at the cafeteria “in town” (Fort Smith), I was comforted to see something familiar: plain old white rice, in one of those little side-dish bowls. We took our seats, I set the rice aside, ate my supper, then slid that little bowl of rice right over and put some milk and sugar on it, for dessert.
They looked at me like I'd fallen off a turnip truck — and I had, although it was actually a pickup with some calves in the back.
Who knew? Who knew rice was meant as a starch to go with an entree? Not dessert? I did not know. And, entree? What's an entree? DO WHAT? It would not be the last time my daddy's eatin' proclivities, which I, of course, adopted, would turn heads. (Fried bologna! Potted meat! Pigs' feet!)
• To Lewis Cafeteria, just a few years later, also in Fort Smith.
I think it was my first nonfarm job: Pot scrubber.