Of course, some students “brown-bagged it.” They brought their lunch from home in a poke, which most likely contained cornbread and molasses or a sausage biscuit. Those students gathered at the back of the auditorium close to the Mound Street exit and were monitored by the same teacher who had that day’s hall duty. When the brown bag lunch-bunch finished eating, they could return to the playground until the class bell summoned them back to their studies.
Some students, however, preferred to eat in town. They made a beeline to Howard Drug for Mrs. Hampton’s homemade pies and Eloise Fortney’s barbecue; to Green Miller for one of Waldy’s hot lunches; to Newberrys for a hot dog with chili and a root beer; to Ackley’s Café for hot roast beef or some other favorite downtown eating place.
One especially favorite place to eat was Cornett’s Store, located across from the school on the corner of Williams and Clover Streets. The store was a combination lunch room and neighborhood grocery. It stocked staples for the nearby housewives and penny candy for the children. C.C. (which stood for Christopher Columbus) Cornett and his wife ran the place with efficiency.
The lunch hour at Cornett’s was a busy one. They served hot dogs and hamburgers prepared in their kitchen at home, which was next door and attached to the store. Their well-seasoned chili and homemade soups were served with oyster crackers. Mrs. Cornett, the chief cook, was soft-spoken and motherly-looking in her butcher’s apron with her gray hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck.
Cornett’s hamburger had such a special, unique flavor that years after the store had closed, Creech Drug’s short order fountain put a “Cornett Burger” on its menu. The secret recipe was simple. Just chop onions real fine and marinate them in mustard for several hours before serving. Also, it was necessary to steam the buns before fixing “Cornett Burgers” which did not include lettuce, tomato or pickle. To this day, I prefer my burgers the “Cornett” way with mustard and a thin slice of onion, although I do like the addition of double dill pickle and a grilled bun.
Today’s school children have a closed lunch and are no longer able to go home or visit the restaurants, cafes, soda fountains and drug stores mentioned above. Those places are no longer a part of Harlan’s everyday life, but for those who remember them, they were vital at the time, much appreciated and sorely missed.