Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lunchtime

The lunch box or (as I once saw it: that holy grail of elementary school lunchtime), eluded me until fifth grade. From kindergarten until age ten, I walked home for lunch. During those years, I only ever brown bagged it for field trips. Everyone seemed to have a lunch box—even other kids who went home for lunch like me, occasionally mixed it up and brought their lunches to school. They obviously had back up lunch boxes. The kind of lunch box you carried said a lot about your personality and interests. They were like tattoos or personal avatars before the era of social media. Grade school bling.

I envied the children who carried their lunches in those delightful 70s/80s lunch boxes (or lunch pails as they were sometimes called). Practically every toy, film or television series graced the cover of those lunch boxes. Advertisers knew how to market to children: use them as mini-billboards.

It certainly worked on me.

I was enamored with brands that displayed the Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake, Peanuts (of course) and Holly Hobby. The Fonz, Mork and Mindy, and Mr. Kotter also caught my eye (to name but a few). 



Not that I'm complaining, walking home for lunch had many merits:
  • The short walk through our neighbourhood filled with trees, birds and pretty flowers (the cherry blossoms were heaven incarnate) were healing and uplifting balms to whatever challenges were faced within those school hallways.
  • The chums my brother and I walked to and from school with were pleasant company as were the bits of candy we shared along the way. Sometimes those mad dashes to the candy store before the school bell rang were well worth the Olympic effort and meticulous coordination required to pull off such a feat within time constraints.
  • The hot meals that awaited us at home were delicious and inviting. Mum was there. Her hugs and love made the trip worth it and as always, lit up our hearts. In fact, it was the only time we properly saw her in the day, as she worked evening shifts at the nursing home nearby. We would only briefly see her in the early morning out-the-door-and-off-to-school rush. We gulped our meals as Fred and Barney cavorted on the TV set before us, then hugs and kisses to our lady love and we were off just as hurriedly as we came.
  • Of course there was that one afternoon when adult magazines were strewn all over the park our group passed through and we stopped to have a glance. Suffice to say, I lost my appetite that day. That was an unpleasant experience but not as unpleasant as the time we were chased by school bullies. We escaped them thankfully. Outsmarting sadistic, stupid and older ass-wipes should be worthy of some sort of childhood civic recognition but I digress. But even that incident was not as terrifying as the time we encountered a rabid dog (or what I assumed to be a rabid dog, as it was clearly bonkers) but that's a story for another day and deserving of a post all its own.

When fifth grade (my final year in elementary school) arrived, and my brother (and main walking partner) attended middle school a few streets away, I was enrolled into the school's lunchroom program. I was nervous but excited. To this day I remember that room: sunshine streaming through the windows, the fragrance of liquid Palmolive on the desktops, the sound of sandwiches being unwrapped, gentle murmurs and chuckles. To my delight, a dear friend of mine (a burgeoning cartoonist and resident smurf addict/expert) had an empty seat next to her. Together we commiserated on choir practice, shared and swapped treats, gently instructed the elderly lunchroom monitor that "D" across the aisle was indeed a girl and not a boy and scribbled our own brand of comics on the backsides of ancient computer paper. It seemed fitting that such joys accompanied my first and only year with a glorious lunchbox: it was orange, came equipped with a thermos and to my eternal joy displayed the families Flintstone and Rubble (pet dinosaur included) picnicking on a lovely roast and a bowl of fruit on the front panel. My brother was given a blue Snoopy lunch pail. I don't believe he used it (being older and all) but he delighted in the fact that it was a Peanuts brand lunch box. We were suckled on the Peanuts series.

If truth be told, by fifth grade I should have started weening off the lunchbox phase. Junior high was a year away, I was a technically a grade school senior but that realization did not dawn on me. Seeing that I had totally missed the lunchbox chapter of my schooldays, I simply had to partake in it, if only for a year. Had I been a multi-year lunchbox carrier, the novelty probably would not have been so gripping. Childhood is just a series of adventures, delights, trials and errors—rushing from one curiosity towards the next. Ever refining who we are and perhaps getting our hands on the latest bling.


images: eBay

11 comments:

  1. The one I remember the most was my Garfield lunch box. I really loved having one and enjoyed looking at the cheerful pic why'll eating my sometimes boring lunches and sometimes weird lunch according to the kids in the class. But slowly eating from a lunch box started to lose its appeal to me. After prolonged school use, its components would start to have a distinctive smell. I suspect that it had something to do with a lack of thorough cleaning and airing.

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    1. It was lots of fun looking at the pic on my lunchbox and enjoying lunch. It really did make a boring lunch better. A good lunch made the day so much better—especially that unexpected bit of chocolate inside! I used to get the weird lunch comments now and then too. Kids can be cruel and just plain idiotic. I only had my lunchbox for one school year. Had I used it for several years the novelty like most things surely would have worn off! :) I loved Garfield a lot back then too.

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  2. Sweet post, Chelly! I can remember as well when everyone at my elementary school carried a metal or plastic lunch box. I had a Peanuts one. Regarding the smell that K_tigress mentioned, I bet it was the plastic ones that eventually absorbed odors that were hard to get rid of. The metal ones, unfortunately, were susceptible to rust. Just the other day I was in a store that carried several new Star Wars and Beatles lunch boxes, and I was so tempted to buy the one in the shape of a yellow submarine. It's nice that you had a mother at home to serve lunch to you everyday!

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    1. Thanks so much Pam! :) Wow, that yellow submarine one sounds fantastic. I have a friend who has quite the lunchbox collection.

      It really was lovely to have mum home at lunchtime back then. I don't know how she did it: worked as a nurse full time, studied part-time in college and was a full time mom. How she made time to make us lunch every day, I'll never know. I couldn't do it.

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  3. Wow Chelly, that was a great look back--you have such a nice way with words too. I carried one too up thru 5th grade, and I can still remember every one of them.

    First one was in '67, Batman & Robin. Then 'Planet of the Apes', then in 1970 a red (vinyl) "Peanuts" & my last one was back to metal, with "Adam-12". I can still remember a week before 6th grade, my mom coming home with new lunchboxes for us kids, she'd gotten me a "Space 1999" one & I panicked and told her I'd die of embarrassment if I went to school with a lunchbox, I was too old for 'em!

    By the way, you know who has an awesome lunch-pail collection? Marilyn Manson, he collects 'em! Anyway, good post Chelly :)

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    1. Thank you kindly Doug! :) You had an impressive collection of lunchboxes. The Planet of the Apes and the Batman and Robin ones sound so cool. Do you have pictures of them? It's an unwritten rule that one cannot use a lunchbox past grade five.

      Wow Marilyn Manson? I'll have to do a search on that for sure. Thanks for the tip. :)

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  4. I only remember having 2 lunch boxes in grade school but there might've been more. The Rescuers was one and a Tupperware brand was the other. On Fridays there was the hot lunch program - there was hot dogs, Ellios pizza, soda, milk, potato chips and Carvel flying saucers( I think that is what they are called.)

    Loved seeing these lunchbox pics. Your home lunch memories sound so nice. I would have loved to have been there with you.

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    1. I would've love it if you were there with me too Lara!! We'd have had so much fun walking back and forth to school together too. :)

      Your lunchboxes sounded so nice and wow a hot lunch program! Pizza at school would've driven us kids into fits of joy back then. I have to look up Carvel flying saucers. Is that Carvel the ice cream company? I'll do a search and see. :)

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  5. memories of sets bought for my son - Star Wars I remember vividly

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    1. Sweet! Loved the Star Wars lunch boxes. They were so popular.

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  6. I had a 1977 STAR WARS lunch Box. I took such good care of that thing even as a young boy. They really were functional pieces of art. I've considered collecting them several times, but I'd go broke, because there's SO many old metal boxes I'd love to buy!

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