When WordPress suggested writing about your lunch as a child, I thought they were nuts. Why in the world would this topic be interesting at all? Until I started writing it and realized a flood of memories and emotions were attached to something so simple from my childhood.
All through Elementary School I had a blue Smurf lunchbox. I also vaguely remember having a Brown Bag at some point- the 6th one from the right at the time of writing this and no others to be found online. 😦 While I cannot remember anything in particular about the Brown Bag, I have so many memories from the Smurf lunchbox. I know I carried that stinker to lunch almost everyday for 4-5 years through my Elementary school days.
I remember all of us lining up in alphabetical order to go to lunch every day. I was ALWAYS first in line and I remember being so proud of the fact that my last name started with an A and as an Archer, I beat out an Arnold in line. Hahhaa neiner neiner!!! Those of us who brought our lunches to school every day were to immediately go to our lunch table and sit down, so regardless of our names at that point, lunch boxes meant you sat down first.
Some of my first friends in school sat next to me at lunch time. There was a girl named Shannon who I sat next to, and another girl named Toni. Usually, my best friend Jaci ended up sitting across from us. I remember the other kids in our class thinking Jaci and I were weird because we always liked the cheese sticks they put on the cafeteria lunch platter and when anyone would pass them along we were happy to eat them. I remember the “Stop Light” that was installed into our cafeteria that would go from green, to yellow, and then to red based on how loud we were in the lunchroom. If we stayed in the green all month-long we would have pizza parties. I still recall those few times when we were yellow carded at lunch and how angry it always made me.
I remember my own packed lunches. Everyday while the other kids were opening their fancy ziploc bags that changed colors when closed (those were NEW back then!!!) I had the fold top plastic bags. While they all had prepackaged chips and Fruit Roll Ups as a part of their lunches, I had tuna sandwiches and carrot sticks in my lunch bag. There might have even been a cookie in there every once in a while. When other kids had cans of soda or Capri Sun, I had a thermos with milk. Sometimes there was Kool Aid in there, but it was a rare treat. There was never soda in there because we didn’t have it in the house very much when I was growing up. My parents bought a 3 liter of Coke maybe once a month, and it was a treat in our house that was very slowly and carefully portioned out.
I remember being angry at times that I couldn’t be “cool” like the other kids who had all the “good stuff” in their lunches. I remember getting embarrassed that I was never a kid who was approached for trading lunch time items. I remember getting really upset one year when we were back to school shopping that I couldn’t get a new lunchbox and my Smurf lunchbox was all scratched up. Everyone else had a new lunchbox every year, why couldn’t I have one?
What I didn’t realize then, was that my Mother was showing me ways to save money. My Father was a full-time police officer, but my Mother stayed home with us. When I look back, I realize now that those years of wearing hand-me-down bell bottoms from the neighbor’s kids in the 80’s when everyone was tight rolling jeans, was how much money my mom saved because I was a little out of fashion. Instead of a 3 ring binder with baseball card holders in it for her coupon binder, my mom had a shoebox with her own handmade inserts that were made from a cardboard box pieces and labeled with a Sharpie.
I remember coming home from school on my first bike, that was also a neighbor hand me down, that was repainted and fixed up by my Dad and seeing Mom at the kitchen table surrounded by piles of papers and her trusty spiral notebook. I also know that every night that table was cleaned spotless and we sat down to a home cooked meal. I remember my Mom sitting at my softball games and getting her pale skinned burned on a regular basis just to watch me play for an hour.
I remember a handmade Barbie bed from my Grandpa and a homemade quilt top for that bed that my Grandma made. I remember when my Barbie horse was dropped and the foot promptly snapped off and it was repaired with super glue and electrical tape made to look like wrappings on the legs of horses that jumped fences. I remember tying yarn onto a door and around my hand me down bed posts and sticking a basket on the string so Barbie and Ken could swing through the trees like Swiss Family Robinson Barbie and of course them making it safely over the river to avoid the Peter Pan-esque crocodiles who just might jump up and bite them.
My mom worked hard to make sure we had a life she didn’t have as a child. She made sure we were fed every night and had clothes on our backs, unlike the two shirts she had as a teenager. She taught us to be frugal and to be content with what we had. We made furniture forts and strung real popcorn together at Christmas. We had great family meals and memories. She put up with my smart mouth and my brother’s urge to drink cologne repeatedly (he was quite the climber). I always remember thinking we were “less” than others because we didn’t have all of the fancy stuff other people had. Instead, I can tell you Christmas is not the same as it was back then. Clothes don’t mean as much to me now and honestly, if I still had that blue Smurf lunchbox I would probably use it and remember everything it taught me as a child.