A Time to Be Embarrassed

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In the fall of 1974 at age seventeen, I left home to attend a small private two-year college about an hour from my hometown. The student body numbered about 400, with about 250 of those students living off campus. Financial aid based on real financial need provided all of the funds for my tuition and room and board. I had a student loan, a grant, and a work study job.

At some point I learned about the possible work study assignments I could receive. My biggest fear was that I would have to work in the cafeteria. I feared this because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. The people who could actually afford to go to Cumberland College at that time were quite wealthy. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had to work to help pay my way by working in the cafeteria. I prayed that I would get some other job.

God loved me too much to answer yes. I decided to try to lessen the negative impact of this assignment as much as I could. Believing that fewer other students would come to breakfast and therefore fewer students would know that I had what I thought was a menial job, I volunteered to work at breakfast.

While other students were still in bed, I was in the cafeteria, fulfilling my responsibilities: brushing melted butter on a large pan of sliced bread for toast and setting out bowls of prunes for elderly Dr. and Mrs. Etheridge who lived on campus, where he taught English and she taught English country dance, among other subjects.

A student cafeteria helper peels potatoes at Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Florida
A student cafeteria helper peels potatoes at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, February 1943.

Because I had experience as a cashier in my grandfather’s grocery store, I also ran the cash register for the few people who paid cash at breakfast. I also kept a count of how many meals were served each morning.

Our cafeteria was a popular place for townspeople to come for Sunday lunch so I also had to run the cash register every other week for the Sunday lunch crowd. One instruction from the cafeteria manager was to tally up each customer’s individual dishes and then add on the price of a roll (were they two cents or four cents — I’ve forgotten). Patrons added a roll to their tray after they paid for their meal at the cash register and the manager assumed that everyone got them.

You can imagine my horror when a customer challenged me on the price of his meal and was appalled that he got charged for a roll he had not even picked up yet.

I don’t believe in purposely embarrassing a child, but I do believe in teaching children how to handle with grace embarrassment that inevitably will happen. As mothers we have the job of comforting our children, but that does not mean that we shelter them from every feeling of discomfort.

My feelings of embarrassment about working in the college cafeteria were silly ones. It was good for me to be humbled. But embarrassment about spiritual things is different. We must prepare our children for those times by teaching them that God is first and foremost every day, all the time, and that serving and obeying Him is worth any temporary embarrassment.

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27


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