Beans and Donuts: A Survival Story– Part I

Donuts_OCS

It is well known that certain foods can evoke strong emotional memories – sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good.  All of this talk in our blog about salads and their ingredients got me to thinking about “beans” (not the kind you are thinking of) and that lead me to think about glazed donuts.  Admittedly, lots of things lead me to think about glazed donuts.  If I ever have to choose a hypothetical “last” meal I would not hesitate to pick glazed donuts, four of them to be exact.

Just the thought of glazed donuts takes me back to one of the most intense culinary moments of my life, although I’m not really sure if it was good or not-so-good.  The moment took place while in army Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Belvoir in a darkened barracks at 2300 hours (11 pm to you civilians). Each of about 60 of us candidates were in our bunks and, by military regulations, “asleep”.  But far from asleep, we were each gulping down four glazed donuts (“pogey bait” in military parlance).   To understand why these donuts made such a lasting impression on me you need to know something about both official and unofficial ways to dine in OCS — at least back in the 1960’s.

OCS Colleagues

“Beans” from OCS Class 505, Golf Company, Ft. Belvoir, VA.  – 1968 (Candidate Raggedy snapped the picture so is not shown)

The official OCS dining routine was well established and clear cut. Befitting of future officers, our meals were served “family style;” for us there was no filing along the serving line to have army grub unceremoniously splotched on outstretched trays!  We ate on real plates at tables that each seated 9 of us underclassmen (aka “bean heads,” or just “beans”) and two upperclassmen (aka “white tabs”).  The catch, and a big catch at that,  was that for the 11 weeks that we were underclass “beans,”  tactical meals were mandatory.  Tactical meals required, among other things:  (1) sitting in an upright position with eyes locked straight ahead at all times, (2) cutting all food into pieces no wider than a fork, and (3)  after putting food in mouths, returning the knife and fork to the “crossed rifles” position at the top of the plate before starting to chew.  There were other rules, but you get the drift.   Any premature food chewing, “gross bites,” or errant “eyeballing” (I always hated that term) would get an immediate “SIT UP!” from one of the ever vigilant upperclassmen at the table.   Immediately all bean heads at the table had to cease eating and sit at attention.   To begin eating again, the bean sitting at the end of the table had to request permission to eat on behalf of his fellow table mates.  To do this he had to raise his hand in a proper military fashion (i.e., elbow on the table with the forearm extended at a 45 degree angle, fingers aligned along the thumb)  and wait to be acknowledged by one of the upperclassmen.   The exchange nearly always went something like this (keep in mind that throughout this the upperclassmen were relaxed and continued to eat):

Upper Classman (while forking a piece of pork chop into his mouth) — “Candidate Raggedy, what do you want?”

Me — “Sir! Candidate Raggedy! Request permission for the men to eat, sir!”

(Note:  we had to begin each comment with “sir” followed be our name and end with a resounding “sir!” )

Upper Classman  (casually helping himself to a second portion of mashed potatoes) — “So Candidate Raggedy, do you know why I ordered the table to sit up?”

Me — “Sir! Candidate Raggedy! Because Candidate Bradly chewed his food too soon, sir!”

Upper Classman — “Candidate Raggedy, you could only know that by eyeballing.  I want you all to continue to sit up and think about how to improve your tactical eating skills. How do you expect to be officers when you can’t even eat properly?  Permission to eat denied!… and, would you please pass the peas?”

This type of harassment would grind on and on until the commanding officer in the mess hall would yell “ON YOUR FEET!” Everyone in the mess hall had to stand abruptly and file out, leaving behind full plates of “family style” meals.  It was after a couple of weeks of this constant dining table harassment that the boxes of donuts materialized in our darkened barracks at 2300 hours one night, enough donuts that we each got four —  four delicious, soul-satisfying donuts.  What those donuts represented and how they materialized is the next part of the story.  So, stay tuned for a future blog where I will give you the skinny on the unofficial or dark side of dining in OCS:  Pogey Bait and Pogey Bait smuggling.

 

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