It was late August, almost time to go back to school. You wouldn’t think that my friend Irene and I, at 13, needed to fret about expenses, but we did.

Irene was usually the mastermind behind earning the necessary cash to maintain our meager lifestyles. At Carl’s, there were hamburgers to be scarfed down as well as a jukebox to feed. We always needed bus fare to Portland, and it took two bits to get into the Cape Theater.

Sometimes it wasn’t about making the money as much as not having to spend money in the first place. Irene was good at both.

She also didn’t mind working hard and getting messy. She once made it through one whole strawberry season at Jordan’s Farm. I lasted one day and ate most of what I picked.

Irene had already asked the school cafeteria ladies if we could work for our lunch, thereby saving us a bundle.

Irene and I went to Town Hall School. For those of you unfamiliar with the town of Cape Elizabeth, the Town Hall is a big, old, yellow building on Route 77. Many years ago, seventh and eighth grades were called “junior high.” Our junior high just happened to be in the Town Hall.

At first, I wasn’t too excited about learning kitchen skills. However, when Irene mentioned that we would have to leave social studies class 15 minutes early, every day, to work in the cafeteria, how could I refuse?

Another perk: We could eat all we wanted – or all we could consume in 15 minutes. And that would include my favorite, “bubble and squeak,” which was usually served on Fridays.

Our first day in the kitchen involved not only ladling out food to our classmates, but also wearing hair nets while doing so. I was mortified. The kids didn’t laugh – no, they just looked incredulous. One actually asked me if I was Sally.

After lunch, Irene and I and the cafeteria ladies cleaned – everything. My specific chore that week was to scrub the pots and pans.

The steam from the hot water made my hair frizz. My hands grew pruney. My formerly pristine apron was wet and stained. I was wet and stained.

The next thing I knew, the bell rang. It was time to go to class. What had happened to that time after lunch when we played dodge ball? Jumped rope? Gossiped?

Vanished, misspent in some messy, basement kitchen, that’s what.

I don’t remember how long I stuck with the cafeteria job. I did learn some kitchen skills, though. At least philosophical ones: In order to eat, one must learn to cook. Cooking is messy. Someone must clean up the mess.

Those were things that Irene inherently knew. What had taken me so long?

And while I’m in a questioning mood, what exactly is “bubble and squeak”?