In second grade, my classmate–K–brought the perfect lunch every day. She set her “The Waltons” lunchbox down on the white formica table in the cafeteria then unsnapped the yellow plastic clasp to unveil her masterpiece of a lunch. First, a flowered paper napkin, set to the side. A spoon placed atop the napkin. Then a matching yellow Thermos with a lid that doubled as a cup for the colorful splash of Kool-Aid. A perfectly compact Snack Pack pudding, chocolate or butterscotch or vanilla. A miniature bag of potato chips. And finally a sandwich, on snowy white bread with the crusts cut off and sliced on the diagonal.
I had a Peanuts lunch box that I loved. I had had it since first grade because I remember getting sent to the principal’s office that year after conking Scott Greene over the head with it for breaking in front of me in line. He got sent to the principal’s office too because he HAD broken in line and my job that week was being line leader. Lo, the swift hand of justice wields a Peanuts lunch box.
My Peanuts lunch box carried a perfectly serviceable lunch, with a sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit. A slice of homemade cake if it was near someone’s birthday. The sandwiches were made with that Carl Budding lunch meat that was so thin that you could see through it–now they call it “deli-sliced” and charge extra for it. My sandwich sported Sunbeam bread or–god forbid–Roman Meal. My mom believed in whole grains before anyone else. Sometimes, if Daddy had a client up near Riverdale, he would swing by the day-old bread store and buy an entire toilet paper box filled with Twinkies, SnoBalls, Ding Dongs, fruit pies and jelly rolls. One toilet paper box of treats could fill up the entire upright freezer in the laundry room. Each morning, during lunch packing time, we were allowed to pick out one snack cake and add it to our lunch. The first to disappear were the SnoBalls–a chocolate cake filled with cream, then covered in marshmallow and pink coconut. HEAVEN. If they were hard frozen before I got on the bus, they would be just thawed enough to eat by lunchtime, but the cream-filled center remained an icy sweet core to the whole confection.
What I admired about K’s lunch was the amount of time and attention put into it. Every little scrap of it was thought out and intentional. It took TIME to make. K’s mother didn’t have to worry about getting to work on time AND making a lovely lunch. My mother had three lunches to make and a desk to get to at her office.
I started thinking about K’s Waltons lunch box today while I was in line at Kroger. The kids start summer camp this week and I get to pack lunches. So I found myself filling the conveyor belt with tiny bags of chips, cups of applesauce, boxes of organic strawberry milk, popcorn, popcorn chicken bites, petite carrots, hummus, peanut butter crackers, Snack Pack pudding, sliced ham, string cheese, mandarin oranges, and pouches of Capri Sun water. Holy HELL.
Am I driving myself mad trying to make the PERFECT LUNCH? Yes. Yes, I am.
What was your perfect lunch? What kind of lunch box did you carry?