The Spirit of Tehachapi
October 24, 2020
I read an article a while back that described a study (a study?) about why children didn't care for the school lunches. We're talking about a carefully planned, nutritionally balanced lunch. That last sentence says it all. What kid likes a carefully planned, nutritious lunch? I remember my youngest child (now past 50) used to tell me that he always put his peas in the empty milk carton. Good place to hide peas!
Of course, some kids eat the lunches and think nothing much about it. The general population of school children will have a few fussy and picky eaters. You can't please 'em all! But the schools have to please those who demand they serve well balanced meals and they do serve just that. Whether they can ever please the experts is doubtful. The experts being the children. These days, there is much more in school than just teaching a child the "three Rs."
When I was in the Fourth Grade in 1937 they had just started a hot lunch program at Tehachapi Grammar School. Mr. Wells had been Principal only one year and the school – years later named Wells Elementary – was also just one year old. It was a beautiful school architecturally and the third building to house students. In 1938, a room was built behind the auditorium to be used as a cafeteria. Years later, the room ended up a classroom space. After that they used the auditorium for a lunch room.
They hired a local woman, Minnie Mathiesen, to do the cooking. Man, was she a good cook. I never, ever, heard her called Mrs. Mathiesen; everyone called her Aunt Minnie. Her main dishes were tasty and teacher and students alike cleaned their plates. The food was so good we kept telling our moms to make some for us at home. It probably would not have passed the test for nutritionally sound, but there was one wide noodle dish called Tollerina that I have never been able to duplicate to my satisfaction. Probably because I am no longer a Fourth Grader and my memories are clouded with sentiment.
She had four children; two boys and two girls. The eldest, Ed Mathiesen, used to have a café directly across from the BeeKay Theatre. His physical makeup belied his Nordic ancestry; tall, broad with the very blonde hair. One day he asked me if I would work an eight hour shift for him. He must have been hard up for waitresses for later he asked me if I'd like to work steady, even though I carried one plate at a time and made many trips. Thank the powers that be that I already had a job as a telephone operator on the local switchboard. I found that being a waitress takes a talent just as singing, playing an instrument, dancing, sewing, etc. I seriously lacked that waitressing talent and I have never worked as a waitress since. I admire, to this day, the people that bring our food in an eating establishment. I do recall that I did not receive a single tip that day. That tells the whole story.
Aunt Minnie's eldest daughter, Emile, pronounced like "Amelia" for some reason, was my sister's friend and about six years older than I. She was a marvelous artist and married a writer of children's books. She did the illustrations and he the stories. I recall her very blonde hair and lovely complexion.
Another son, Jack, with the same white-blonde hair, was my brother's best friend in school. Jack was killed in World War II. His name is listed on the monument in Philip Marx Central Park.
Aunt Minnie's youngest girl was several years younger than I and was very thin. I always wondered if she was a picky eater and how in the world could that happen with her mom's good cooking.
Aunt Minnie and her husband, a World War I veteran, were staunch members of the local veterans group. He, of the American Legion and she, a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. I don't recall his name and I really don't think I ever knew it, but everyone knew his wife. Even the Post Office would get mail addressed to "Aunt Minnie, Tehachapi, California." No problem, we all knew her.
P.S. I have six recipes for Tollerina! None of them taste like Aunt Minnie's. She is pretty much a lost page in the history of Tehachapi. Too bad. I'll never forget her.