The Four Flavors of Serving Ladies

The Foodgoer

Serving ladies in the House dining rooms are not an intensely individualistic clan. Their mode of dress and regional accent is strikingly homogeneous. But general styles of personality, or "flavors," can be distinguished.

At the beginning of the school year most serving ladies taste, figuratively, like grapefruit juice. They all frown or smirk as they dole out small portions. Within a fortnight one can pick out the true grapefruit-juice specimens. They are usually under fifty, and suspect sexual motives in the student's eager smile. Often they try to give the impression that they could beat you up if you tried anything.

Perhaps the least congenial brand of serving lady, the Puree Mongole-flavor, frowns as she heaps your plate with French-fried cauliflower or dehydrated liver, hoping that death will result.

Pineapple pie-flavored serving ladies smile at jokes and quasi affectionate banter, but still give meager helpings of food. Even lavish compliments on the quality of the chow never clicit more than the two regulation eggs or one slice of London broil. These are the ladies whom the management has successfully intimidated. The presence of a man in a double-breasted suit behind the serving line often creates a whole row of pineapple pie-flavored ladies. The inveterate ones are usually either under 25 or over 80. They crave affection, but fear the whip.

One might call the most loveable group of serving ladies the peanut-butter and jelly-flavored category. These are invariably grandmothers, usually with blue hair.

These peanut-butter and jelly ladies are always ready to laugh at a mild quip, even one deprecating the victuals. Only a smile and a nod are usually necessary to win an extra spoonful of peas or more whipped cream for the Jello. Some will go on at great length about the state of their health, or last summer's trip to Europe. Their dauntlessness in the presence of the Mother Superior often springs from seniority. Even the necessity of facing them over rows of cold limp broccoli does not diminish the pleasure of verbal contact with these fine motherly women.

The 50th birthday of a serving lady is a closely observed phenomenon in the House dining room. To an optimist, it may presage the transformation of a tight-lipped grapefruit juice-flavored lady into a placid and friendly peanut butter sandwich.