A feast in a paper bag

Shopping for groceries recently I noticed a lot of pre-packaged foods for sack lunches.

The thought of sack lunches triggered some great memories and I quickly concluded that the stuff in the supermarket couldn’t hold a candle to what I found in the sack lunches my mother packed when I was a kid.

For several years we lived within a quick walk of our school and I enjoyed going home for the noon meal. We called it “dinner.” Back then lunch hours were actually an hour long and many small town kids enjoyed the luxury of eating their noon meals at home. Occasionally, however, we took a sack lunch to school. During my junior high days we lived on a farm and Mom packed sack lunches for us kids each day.

We didn’t have those cute little paper bags designed for sack lunches. My lunches traveled in a previously used paper bag. If a smaller sack was not available, a large grocery sack rolled down to size quite nicely.

Mom’s idea of a sack lunch was much grander than some. Most of what we ate back then was homemade, including the bread from which our sandwiches were made and the jelly which was spread on it.

A normal sack lunch, as I recall, included four sandwiches (four slices of bread,) a piece of cake, two or three cookies, carrot sticks and, perhaps, an apple or orange.

Can you believe it — I actually got tired of all that homemade food? My friends’ hot lunch food looked tempting at times and, I noticed, my sack lunch fare appeared equally tempting to some of them. You can guess what happened we bartered. My homemade goodies were worth a great deal on the hot lunch exchange.

Fortunately, this school allowed the sack lunch kids to eat with the hot lunch kids. A school I attended earlier segregated the two groups, something I never understood. Call me paranoid, but when I was a kid I thought it was some sort of prejudice toward the kids who couldn’t afford hot lunch. You don’t suppose the policy makers worried that some chubby kid would trade his homemade food for hot lunch food and create anarchy in the lunchroom, do you?

One noon I ripped into my sack lunch and took a big bite of a sandwich only to discover that it was all bread. No butter, no jelly, no peanut butter, no cheese, no baloney. I checked the other sandwiches. Sure enough, just plain bread there, too. Not one to pass up a meal for any reason, I ate all four naked sandwiches.

Later in the day I discovered what had happened. My great-aunt Annie Tante Aintje, we called her was visiting our home at the time. Tante Aintje loved to talk and she and my mother were so immersed in conversation that morning Mom forgot to put anything on my sandwiches.

One of the last lunches Mom prepared for me was equally memorable. It was the day I graduated from high school and my first full day on a summer job. Mom had packed a box lunch for me literally a small corrugated cardboard box full of lunch. There were the customary sandwiches, cake, cookies, carrot sticks and fruit plus two Thermos bottles one filled with soup, the other with milk.

It seemed like a normal lunch to me, but when I carried it into the office a couple of my co-workers chuckled and wanted to know which army I was going to feed. After that I ate my lunch in my car.

After receiving my first paycheck I began treating myself to lunch at a nearby drive-in restaurant, foolishly thinking that restaurant food was better than the lunches Mom packed.

It didn’t take long to admit I was wrong but by then I realized Mom had enough to do feeding Dad and the other five kids so I never asked her to pack a lunch for me again.

I looked over the pre-packaged stuff in the supermarket the other day and quickly decided that it didn’t rival the feast of goodies our mother packed into our sack lunches even the naked homemade bread sandwiches.