Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pop, pop, pop - a little help, please?

As I poured popcorn kernels and oil into a creaking, rotating canister, desperately trying to remember which parts of the machine were hot to the touch, I suddenly developed a very warm place in my heart for volunteers.

Any volunteers. Young volunteers, old volunteers, canine volunteers - but especially the popcorn mom volunteers at my son's elementary school.

Because this week, only a few showed up, So those few, which surprisingly included me, had to bust their butts to fill hundreds of bags of popcorn for an eager student body eagerly awaiting its popcorn fix.

It's not just a tasty treat - its a school fundraiser. Every other week, there's a popcorn day, and the money raised goes to a particular teacher's classroom budget.

I'm a little embarrassed to tell you I don't know all the particulars. I'm not a very good popcorn volunteer. In fact, I've only done it a few times. And the times I've done it, there have been lots of other moms here. I could have done it more, of course - I could have come in early, before work. But the other moms had more time than me, I told myself. After all, I had a job. I had errands. I mean, I had stuff.

So, I would show up once or twice, assuage a little mom guilt, and then forget about the whole thing. Until yesterday. When I showed up and nobody else did.

Well, that's not quite true. Amy, the organizer was there, like she always is, every single time. She looked incredibly glad to see me. Since I can barely make coffee and only make popcorn in a microwave - and not particularly well - I considered this a bad sign.

"Oh, thank goodness!" she said with a big smile. "A volunteer! Have you done this before?"

Only then did I notice that only one other mom was there, on her cell phone, trying to recruit a few others.

"It's so hard to get people these days, " Amy confided. "Thanks for coming!"

I felt a twinge of embarrassment.

But with little time to chat, I began filling up bag after bag after bag. And bag after bag after bag. Twenty-five orders from the a.m. kindergarten; 17 from one of the first grades. Fifteen from one of the second grades. And so on. Kids would come in, faces alight, dragging off the giant bags that we would fill with their orders.

Amy was working the creaking old-fashioned popcorn machine that beeped every five minutes. She began filling two giant bins with popcorn - one with plain, one flavored with cheddar salt. "Here," she said, demonstrating. "Just season it like this." She shook the salt over the popcorn and handed it to me. I shook it tentatively. A cheddary cloud blew up directly in my face. Amy gently turned it around.

"Oh, of course," I said with a fake laugh. Ugh. Dork.

Soon, another mom showed up to count the money (thank goodness!) and start dividing the bags for the classrooms. Amy's friend, her cell phone efforts exhausted, began helping me fill orders. But then, far too soon, Amy and friend had to leave.

"My car needs to be serviced," she told me regretfully. "But I'll show you how to run the machine." She pointed to the somewhat intimidating looking popper. I was suddenly reminded of the time I was supposed to make coffee for my entire sorority house and nearly caused a fire.

"Uhhhhhhh ...." I protested. "I don't think ..."

She clipped open a few packages of kernels and oil. "It's easy," she told me confidently. "You can do it."

I guess I could. Because I had to. And sheesh, it was popcorn - how hard could it be?

And it probably was easy - for someone with coordination skills. But I spilled a few kernels. And then the bag nearly snagged in the canister's stirrers.

So when a few other parents came into the lobby and said, "Ooh, that smells so good!" I had a very hard time not yelling, "Get over here and help me, then!!!"

It would have been inappropriate. And I know that until yesterday, I probably would have said the very same thing.

My son came home with two bags of popcorn. "I love popcorn day," he said happily. "Don't you?"

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