NEW WINDSOR - Middle school students love to eat. To them, Thanksgiving is food. The history lesson of Pilgrims and Indians has faded. And romantic Norman Rockwell images are not yet imprinted on holiday memories.
But there has to be more than just food to this holiday for these in-between graders, these nowhere-to-go, nothing-to-do school kids.
Thanksgiving has to be more than leftover turkey. Even for them.
At New Windsor Middle School, an aging brick building, circa 1930, some 400-plus students, grades five through eight, roam its halls at lunchtime.
On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, the pace is unusually hectic because grandparents and other relatives are amid, enjoying a return to school years gone-by and a visit with grandchildren.
Step into the school's cafeteria, just like the one you remember. But this one also serves as a weight room. Hungry pilgrims scatter from the lunch line, like ants from a nest, carrying plates filled with slices of turkey, gravy, cranberries, rolls and green beans or sauerkraut.
Ask these unsuspecting diners what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving. (Other than food, that is.) "I'm glad my family can get together," says Aimee Riesner, a sixth-grader from Westminster, who is seated with some of her friends at one of the cafeteria's long, pale-gray tables.
But, clearly, food is on the 11-year-old's mind. While eating a sandwich from a packed lunch, she describes what she expects will be on the menu tomorrow. Turkey. Sweet potatoes. Corn. Stuffing and gravy.
Although she can predict what food will be placed on her Thanksgiving table, Aimee can't predict just how many aunts, uncles and cousins will be seated along its sides.
"I'm glad I can see my family on Thanksgiving," says lunch mate Heather Stevens, a sixth-grader from Westminster. "They live in Pennsylvania, and that's where we're going."
Fifth-grader Sarah Kerr pauses when the question arrives at her lunch plate. "I'm thankful for the food, I guess," the 10-year-old New Windsor resident says. "I can't think of anything else."
But 11-year-old Jamie Cotherman, a sixth-grader from New Windsor, had a long list of thank-yous.
"I'm thankful for everything -- food, my family, things like that," she says, adding that her family will be traveling to Prince George's County for a Thanksgiving feast.
"I'm thankful my dad got a new job because now he comes home early," adds Leslie Argento, a Union Bridge 11-year-old.
A holiday trip to Ocean City to visit relatives and have turkey dinner is high on the list of Ryan Day, a 10-year-old New Windsor sixth-grader.
"I'm thankful for the food, my grandparents, my relatives," he says, while waiting in a long line for the Thanksgiving lunch.
Since Ryan's grandparents couldn't attend that day, he was adopted by those of fellow sixth-grader Timmy Grue.
"They've adopted us," says sixth-grader Aaron Ward, referring to Paul and Mary Grue of Timonium. Aaron was thankful for who wasn't and what wasn't involved in his holiday feast.
This would-be Scrooge of Thanksgiving had little expectations of the lunch before him. But, later he admits, "It wasn't as bad as I thought. I have to eat it or I get in trouble. If I don't like it, I wash it down with milk."
Further north and a little closer to Plymouth, home of the original Thanksgiving, East Middle School eighth-graders Tina Shupe and Ashli Straud are, well, thankful for the bounty.
"We just got done collecting food for families who don't have anything," says Ashli, 13, of Westminster. "I'm thankful we have so much food. The ones we're helping don't have much. That's so sad."
Both eighth-grader Erika Wunderlich and her sister, Courtney, a sixth-grader, are thankful for their families.
Says Erika, "I'm just glad we have family and friends. And that we have this holiday so we can all get together and have a good time."