Boarding school. For many, the phrase conjures up images of plaid ties and skirts, strict matrons and snooty kids in navy blazers riding horses. The Milton Hershey School in Central Pennsylvania is much less red brick and ivy than corn fields, dairy cows, and waking before dawn for chores.
For four years, I lived in a ranch house with eleven other girls who went to my high school and a set of house-parents. Every morning we all rose at 6:00am to do chores and get ready for school. One chore, cooking, was especially despised for all the time it required, especially those precious pre-6:00am minutes we would rather spend in bed.
Every twelve weeks or so it was my turn to cook. We had hot breakfast (as opposed to cereal) twice a week, and when I got to choose what we were eating, that meant chocolate chip pancakes. I remember my roommate grumbling as my alarm sounded at 5:30am and I struggled from bed and into the kitchen, still in slippers and sweat pants. Maybe I was bitter that she would be able to sleep for another half an hour before munching on the pancakes I would slave over. No matter.
The house was entirely quiet. I turned on only a few of the lights and enjoyed the quiet dimness of the kitchen as I slid around the linoleum collecting a bowl, flour and the portable griddle. The kitchen had several windows that faced the garage, and I could see a tinge of pink on the purple edge of night rising into the sky. It would be light soon.
Almost a hundred years earlier, Milton Hershey, the founder of Hershey Chocolate, watched the sun rise over the same corn fields and cow paddocks. Milton and his wife could not have children, so they adopted several and finally started the Milton Hershey School which took in needy children and taught them life skills along with farming and academics. I guess they wanted us to learn how to feed a hot breakfast to a house full of people.
I set everything on the island in the center of the kitchen, where at turkey dinners my house father Mr. H would let us grab crispy bits of skin before he finished carving the bird with an electric knife and sent it into the dining room. As the smell of the melting butter filled the kitchen, I did not regret leaving my bed so much. After making the batter smooth, I poured small dollops on the griddle. They landed with a soft sizzle. As they plumped and the outside the sky brighten, I carefully dotted each one with several mini-chocolate morsels, making sure they stayed intact.
I tossed a few morsels into my mouth – having chocolate for breakfast still seems like a terrible act of rebellion. But alone, for the few minutes I was EVER alone in boarding school, that was just a small part of the quiet and luxury I was enjoying. I would usually have a few stacks of pancakes done by the time my roommate and the other ten girls trudged out for breakfast and their various chores- vacuuming, dusting, laundry. Their morning complaints and squabbles over syrup broke into my peaceful flipping routine and make me eager to be finished with the food and get into the shower.
Still, that half an hour was always better than I expected anything could be before 6am. Even being rich and riding a thoroughbred horse at a fancy prep school.