Laura Ingalls Wilder Carried the Lunch Pail...I Carried a Lunchbox
When I started First Grade in the year 19.... uh...and something... I wore a dress with black patent leather shoes and white socks to Mrs. Castleberry's class, and I carried the fabulous Barbie lunchbox you see top left. It was made out of shiny black plastic, but it had the same design as the one here. I spent many lunchtime hours looking at every detail of Barbie's dresses and imagined my own Barbie waiting for me at home in her little plastic casket--er--carrying case. I hauled my lunch in that box until it was fairly ragged. By then, I was ready for something more...you know... hip and groovy.
So my mom bought me a Monkees lunchbox (as well as one for the middle sister who was only a year behind me in school). I had a serious jones for the Monkees. I watched their show every week. I cut their images out of the back panels of cereal boxes. I listened to their music. I wrote about them in my diary.
The next (and last) lunchbox I carried, before permanently graduating to the brown paper bag, was a plain one in a color I can only describe as "ballet pink". By then I was growing weary of the limitations of the lunch inside a box.
But it's the Monkee's lunchbox I've thought about the most over the years. It made me happy to open it so that the lid folded down like a little airline tray so that I could set out my lunch in an orderly fashion while the back stood up like a tiny cupboard in front of me. Up and down the cafeteria tables you could see everyone else who brought their lunch eating in a similar fashion. Lunchboxes bearing the images of Deputy Dawg, Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. Kids ate from kits that advertised Army men or television shows like Rat Patrol, Combat, Time Tunnel, Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or Flipper.
The lunch itself was, however, the most important part. My mother knew the limits of my palate and packed only the things I liked...which must have caused her endless frustration. I literally would have eaten the same thing every day had I not eventually learned to like something other than lunchmeat or jelly.
My comfort food lunch was: a bologna sandwich on white bread with mustard. Fritos. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (or Oreos) and a thermos of Nestle's Strawberry Quick. Sure, I would accept egg salad or ham and cheese. Occasionally, Lays were substituted for the Fritos, though we were a dedicated Frito family and I proudly sported a yellow Frito Bandito eraser on my school pencil for longer than I care to disclose, even though his erasing skills were somewhat questionable.
Blindfold an adult and give him/her a test of smell recognition and First Place would most likely go to an elementary school cafeteria. Five years, 20 years, 40 years down the road...they always smell the same. The smell from the inside of a kid's plastic lunchbox, however, takes a very close second. You can scrub out the inside with soap and water, air it out in the sun and buy your lunch for a week to give it a rest, but the inside of a kid's lunchbox will still smell like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, if that's what's been inside it more often than not.
Back in the day, it wasn't unusual to have one's thermos undergo a system malfunction and the contents within spill all over the inside of your lunch --thus creating a dairy-based funk that was difficult to get rid of. It lingered for weeks. Those were sad days, and the only thing worse than no milk at lunch was when you unwittingly dropped your lunchbox while getting out of the car. This caused the fragile silver/glass lining of the thermos to shatter on command. Unscrewing the lid of the thermos and witnessing the silvery shards of liner pouring into the cup was like having a disco ball throw up in your Strawberry Quick. In short, a tragedy of humanity.
Which leads me to the point of my post. How did you carry your lunch to school? And when the bell rang to go to the cafeteria, what was inside that made your heart soar?