School Milk Breaks

by Harry T. Roman


As I pause in front of the refrigerated display case that contains miniature, pint-size, milk containers in my company's cafeteria, I start to remember..… know.… of those Newark memories.

As I contemplate this rapidly materializing memory, I feel myself slipping inexorably back to Abington Avenue Grammar School, to Mrs. William's class on the second floor corner --- looking down on North 7th Street, across from St. Francis school and church. As I make the transition back to 1955, I can almost smell Mrs. William's perfume once again………


"Harry, the milk is ready. Better go down and pick it up"

"Yes Ma'am."

"Lorraine, do we have our snacks ready for break time."

"Yes, Mrs. Williams. We have graham crackers and some butter cookies."

"Good. We shall take our break at 9:45, same as always. You hand out the cookies and Harry will hand out the milk."

And thus went the time honored tradition of a milk break, very similar to a factory coffee break. It was a chance to take a time-out; to re-gather our thoughts; shift gears in preparation for another classroom activity; and generally relieve the desk-bound tradition of the academic day. Even kids need a little in-class recess, a chance to re-fortify their spirits.

I remember the weight of a whole wooden box full of those little milks as I gathered them for my classmates. My job was to get the cartons from the school cafeteria, deliver them to our first grade class, and in the winter, put them out on the window ledge to remain cool. Today, if you did this you would be in trouble for endangering someone's well being below.

We always had our reading groups before milk break, when everyone's mind was fresh. There we took turns sitting in a circle around Mrs. Williams while reading a Dick and Jane story from our readers. How I remember that reading circle, and many of the stories still.

Those students not in our circle did a reading activity on their own until Mrs. Williams was ready for their group to come sit down and read. This took up most of the morning time before the coveted milk break.

Downstairs in kindergarten, where we had "graduated from", they got to have a 15 minute floor nap on a cardboard bed after they had their milk and cookies. The shades were pulled down and everything. You could really cork off for a while down there. But up here in the grown-up leagues, you took your milk and cookies on the fly and never lost a step. Often you finished up your treat as the next lesson was beginning.

Language or math usually followed reading before lunch. If it was language, there were usually mimeographed lessons we all did, like filling in the blanks or choosing the right word from a selection of 2 or 3 possible words. Or maybe we took the new reading words we learned and wrote a sentence, and the dictionary meaning, for each one. We often had to write each word 10 times too, for spelling practice. If it was math that followed reading, we often folded our paper into 16 squares for a whole variety of problems--one in each square.

Sometimes our mothers would send in special cookie treats, or Mrs. Williams would bake some goodies for us to enjoy. Oh the joy of the holidays…… as all sorts of delicious things would be delivered unto us hungry students. It was a cornucopia of delights.

What's that? It sounds like someone is calling my name…what the..…I'm slipping back……hey, this memory is way too short!…….


As I realize once again where I am, my company cafeteria is alive with folks milling around, getting their morning breakfast. I am still staring at the little milk cartons in the display case.

"Hey Roman……you awake or sleeping with your eyes open? You gonna' buy that milk or what?"

"Ugh…..oh, sorry…….Duke……just lost in thought."

"What's so interesting about milk?"

"You'd be amazed at the power of milk! Did you know it improves your memory?"

"You R&D guys sure are weird!"

"Someday if you are good, I'll tell you about traveling back in time."

"Roman……I think you need more than milk!"

"Yeah, tell me about it."


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