Assuming there are roughly 180 days in a school year and that I went to school for all 13 years and never once purchased a school lunch, my mother packed approximately 2,340 lunches and sent me off to learn.
But packing lunches in the 80’s wasn’t nearly as stressful as it is today. Back then, this is how it went: In the beginning of the year you went to the store and picked out your favorite cartoon character that was printed on the front of a small box. Inside the box was a matching thermos. Your mother either filled the thermos with SpaghettiOs or chicken noodle soup, or took it out in order to pack you a sandwich. There were three options available, all on white bread: peanut butter and jelly, bologna, or salami which was delicious but made your entire locker smell like an Italian meat house.
Why did the smell permeate the halls? Because there were no fancy plastic containers designed especially for sandwiches. They were wrapped in a baggie, foil, or even wax paper. Those garlic particles could waft through the air with the greatest of ease, especially since there were no ice packs back then, either. How we ever survived eating room temperature food is a miracle akin to drinking hose water, I suppose.
There were potato chips and cookies and an apple and because we didn’t really care about the environment so much, the infamous juice box that I know probably single-handedly filled a landfill with. My mom would packed them all in carefully with love and a little note, and I would take my lunch in my hand and head to the bus stop.
Along the way, I would swing the box around and around for no reason, and so did my friends. Why it was fun to make big circles with our plastic Smurf lunch boxes I really don’t know, but we did and we loved it. If you didn’t have an actual box, the paper bag worked just as well. Swing, swing, swing, and then smash into your book bag and then into your locker.
The mighty power of centripetal force would take those preciously packed items and form them into an entirely different form of lunch. Crushed chips and cookies, smashed sandwich, and worst of the worst, leaking SpaghettiOs. But we ate it anyway and we loved it, and everything else went into the trash.
And as I sit on the eve of another year of packing lunches for my own children, with insulated boxes, ice packs, reusable containers, the pressure of packing a variety of exotic foods that are healthy and will survive in top condition until lunchtime, I can’t help but wonder if they swing it around or smash it into their bags and if deep down they really just wished for a bologna sandwich on white.
Originally written 8.21.16