In Basic Training (BT), one learns a whole new kind of etiquette. It's called shoveling. The cafeteria was down the hill from our barracks and you'd pass the 3 other barrack buildings to get there. Those three other buildings held a beautiful sight... boys. When I went through BT, it wasn't co-ed. The only time you saw males (other then your drill sgt.'s) was walking past their barracks and in the chow hall. (The drill's used to get irritated with me because I hated calling it a chow hall and would stubbornly call it a cafeteria. "Riggs is still in kindie-garten, she eats in a 'cafeteria'". "Riggs wants to do her own damn thing." I heard that last one a lot.)
You lined up for food so that your front was touching the back of person ahead of you. You had to stand in "parade rest" - this means you had your feet shoulder width apart and your hands clasped behind your back, elbows bent. I remember we were so starved for human contact. You can't hug or do anything women are wont to do and so we'd find other, childish ways to have this much needed contact. Standing in line, that close together fostered some pretty foolish games. One of the stupidest things we'd do was boob tag. Seriously. When standing so close together, waiting for food shoveling, one would whip an elbow back into the chest of the girl behind one. When we were standing in formation, at attention, one would fling a fist up into the chest of the girl next to one. You'd have to be supah-fast with that one so you wouldn't get caught moving while you were supposed to be perfectly still. There was this little woman in our squad who was crazy fast with that! She was the oldest one in our platoon at 32 and we used to call her Mama. You never wanted to stand next to her! It was completely retarded but it was contact and it would make us giggle and laugh uncontrollably.
You never wanted to be last in line for food. There was about 15 minutes allotted for eating. That 15 minutes was for the whole squad/platoon to get in the cafeteria, get your food, eat it, go back outside and get back into formation. If you were last in line, you had mere seconds to eat. We were marched and exercised into ravenous hunger every day. We had 4 overweight girls in our squad, so our drills decided we couldn't ever have dessert. I lived for the mornings when they'd serve pancakes and I could get a little syrup! Except for the heavy girls, the drills didn't put up with anyone trying to "lose weight". Before they let us in, they would tell us what needed to be on our tray. Then they would stand at the end of the food line and make sure you had what they dictated. It was usually enough to choke a horse. They wanted to be sure we were getting enough food fuel to last us. If a girl got caught without the requisite amounts, they'd make her eat what she had, get the required amount and eat that too!
The food at BT was horrendous. I've had many excellent Army food meals. None of them were at Ft. Jackson. Just remembering that food gives me indigestion. To this day, whenever we go out for breakfast and I order eggs, I always say, "Scrambled. Very dry." I had enough wet eggs during that 8 weeks to last me a lifetime. I also remember we'd always be trying to gain some sort of balance for our digestive track. You were either looking for raisins (or prunes) to get stuff moving or more cheese to slow things down. It was awful!
Since you didn't have time to eat anyway, you just got a big spoon, mashed everything into a big pile and started shoveling it in. You'd mix things you never thought possible. Things you could never stomach in the real world. Eyes watering, stomach churning, trying desperately to get enough before it was time to leave. Never wanted to be last in line. The drills would have these little contests for us to see who would be first and one of the biggest punishments they could dole out was to put someone last. I've seen people reduced to tears when sentenced to the back of the food line. I've seen DS's do it to people that had the tray in their hand almost getting their first scoop of glop. Cruel. Just cruel.
Some of the favorite DS mantras for eating...
Eat it now, taste it later.
Eyes down, mouths chewing.
Yer movin' like pond water - EAT!!!!
We used to joke that whenever we got back to the real world and went on our first date, the guy would be horrified by the giant shoveling spoon we'd take out of our purse.
As I said, the only plus about the cafeteria was you got to see boys on occasion. Boys and girls would actually vie for KP duty so they could talk to each other without getting in trouble. (I only got KP twice in the whole 8 weeks of BT.) And the note passing! It was worse/funnier then a jr. high gym class. One of the best tricks you learn in BT is espionage. A guy would get your BT address and your name with note passing (or a girl would get a guy's, whatever!). They would mail a letter to their cousin/aunt/you-name-it and "forget" to put postage on the letter. The return address would be yours so the letter from the boy would come back to you! Brilliant in it's simplicity.
The DS's didn't pay attention to outgoing mail, just incoming so they never seemed to catch on, though I'm sure they knew all about it. I remember a DS pointing out that one girl always seemed to forget to put postage on her letters and her handwriting seems to keep changing. (She was an especially beautiful girl!)
I remember one boy in particular.... God, he was gorgeous! We had been making eyes at each other in the cafeteria for weeks. One day, 2 other girls in my squad and myself were put on a detail to paint the First Sgt.'s office. (A First Sgt., often called "Top", was like a CO for NCO's. If you were in trouble or had a beef with someone/something, you went up your chain of command and you'd talk to Top before you got to your CO.). That painting job was a whole 'nother adventure I'll tell y'all about someday. Suffice it to say, it was hot, thankless work. We had to finish before we got to go eat lunch and at the end, the three of us decided to drag it out just a bit longer so we could get to the cafeteria after our squad was done with lunch. That way, they'd have to let us take our time to eat! As we were "hurrying" down the hill to the cafeteria, the barracks behind ours had a bunch of male soldiers out in front of their building. They all had on on their BDU pants, boots, and their brown T-shirts, their BDU jackets hung here and there around them. They were supposed to be practicing breaking down/putting back together their weapons but most were lounging around enjoying the hot sun.
The gorgeous boy was among them and when he saw me, he looked around for a DS. None were in sight so he sprinted over to me and started walking along side us to the cafeteria - hands in his pockets, strolling along like it was the most casual thing in the world!
Him: Hi, my name is Brad!
Me: (giggling like a stupid girl, which is exactly what I felt like at that moment)Hi. I'm Ruth.
Him: I know.
I looked at him and said, "Oh really."
Him:Yea! I've been asking around about you.
I couldn't stop looking at him like he was a crazy person which he totally was! You can get in so much trouble for "fraternizing". I told him he was nuts and he said, "Maybe. But you are the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!"
Me: You've obviously sustained some sort of head injury. [I was sweaty, half-covered in paint, and wearing BDU's issued 2 sizes too big.]
By this time we were nearly at the cafeteria at the bottom of that hill. I had been staring at my boots most of the way down so if anyone saw us, they wouldn't think I was participating in this madness. One of the two girls with me started furiously elbowing me. I looked up to see DS McCoy. Apparently she'd watched the whole thing unfold. She was doing her best to look fierce while trying not to laugh at the same time. About halfway down the hill, Brad's DS had come out of their building and spotted him. He was loping down the hill and hollering obscenities.
I whispered to him, "Aw man, you are in so much trouble!"
Brad looked at me and said, "Totally worth it!" Then he slipped me a note with his info on it.
When the three of us girls got to the bottom of the hill, I started to explain but DS McCoy said she'd seen the boy come up to me and that the three of us needed to get our asses in the chow hall and eat. She told us the rest of the squad would be in our barracks classroom when we were finished eating.
When we finished our somewhat leisurely meal and headed back up the hill, Brad was still doing push-ups with his DS yelling at him. I remember the other guys seeing us and making "ooooooo, busted" sounds and Brad looked at me and smiled. His DS saw it too and said, "Oh HELL no! You keep pushing boy! I hope it was worth it, kid." Brad said, "Oh it was, DS, it so was!" I think he's still doing push-ups.
Just kidding! Actually Brad and I corresponded the rest of the time we were in BT and for a few months after. We got sent to different places for our AIT training and we eventually lost touch. The whole walking down the hill together thing only lasted probably less then two minutes but it is still one of the most unexpected, most romantic things I've ever experienced.
Finding romance in unexpected places, Ruth!