Janesville26.3°

Lunch Box Lessons

Print Print
James Martin
August 29, 2012

I went on a field trip to Walmart today.  Since beginning my medical retirement, I have tried to avoid Walmart.  I am scared.  It is not the twenty acres of covered shopping that scares me.  It is not the long aisles, nor the friendly associates.   I am afraid that with my Hawaiian shirts, rarely shaved face, alabaster legs, and funny gait,  I will find myself featured on peopleofwalmart.com.  Maybe I should get a hat and sunglasses disguise.

As I was meandering, and avoiding surreptitious paparazzi, I stumbled upon the back to school lunch-boxes.   Sponge Bob, sports teams, and assorted other boxes and bags filled the aisle display.   I looked hard, but did not see my childhood lunch box; no Planet of the Apes boxes with matching thermos. Now that was a cool lunch box.

I found some on eBay, but I am afraid to buy one.  They didn't smell that good to begin with and I can only imagine what they smell like 35 years later.  No matter how well you cleaned it, the pungent odor of Monday's egg salad combined with Tuesday's peanut butter and jelly, mixed with Wednesday's bologna with mustard and extra mayo, plus Thursday's liver wurst and Friday's tuna, could not be eradicated.  It was as if the smell was concocted in some 1970's horror movie, otherwise known as Lewis and Clark Elementary.

The thermos was always included, but of little use.  It is not like I was a coffee junkie, yet. Maybe soup? Seriously....mom was going to get dad off to work, two kids up, fed and ready for school, and lunch made (including hot soup for the thermos) all before the microwave was common place.  No wonder she smoked.

And it is not like the thermos was particularly effective.  Keeping hot things hot and cold things cold was beyond the engineering capabilities of 1970's lunch boxes.  So when you cracked open that thermos you found tepid soup or every kid's favorite, warm red kool-aid.  

Do you remember the first generation of kool-aid? That was back before it was sweetened; nothing says lifetime employment for dentists like four cups of sugar mixed with a packet of kool-aid.  All I remember is the red kool-aid, probably because it was impossible to get that stain out when it spilled.   Those stains became a rorschach test on our carpet; in this stain I see dog footprints evaporating as they wander through the deep puddle of kool-aid and in that stain I see my mom getting the spanking spoon because of the other stain.

But the best part of the lunch box was what they contained.  Not just the sandwiches and chips, not just the twinkies or ding dongs wrapped in that strange foil, and not just the carrots and celery that always got thrown away (contrary to adolescent promises that they weren't).    What made them special was that they were a piece of home that I carried with me; what  made those lunches special was that they were made by my mom, just for me.  

The tepid chicken noodle soup in a Planet of the Apes thermos is not a big deal to an eight year old, but the memory of it thirty-five years later is a big deal.  And that is what I learned from this trip to Walmart.  It is not the big things that are the heart of our memories, but the little quirky things that make the memory special.  


James Martin is a former attorney and graduate of Gonzaga University and Marquette Law School. He lives in Spring Prairie near Burlington. He has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He is married with 6 kids. James is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the Gazette staff or management.


Print Print