Long before the days of plastic lunchboxes with Disney characters and superheroes plastered on them, we carried our lunches to school in a no-frills metal box. My first one was dark blue with a dome top. The handle was metal as were the two clasps that locked in my peanut butter sandwich, Granny Smith apple and Oreo cookies. There was a little slot on the side to hold a piece of paper with my name on it.


Lunchboxes came with a thermos, but I don’t think I ever used mine. When I was young as now, milk was my least favorite dairy product. And the idea of shaking the thermos to mix the cream with the milk did not appeal to me. Farm kids would have known what I was doing, but town kids wouldn’t have had a clue. Chances are they would have laughed and driven me deeper into the protective shell I built around me at an early age.


Eventually my old blue box succumbed to a number of rusty dents and was relegated to the bottom shelf of an unused cupboard. My new lunchbox was green. Naturally I removed the thermos and put it away. I painted my initials on the side slot where my name was supposed to go. I used red nail polish and congratulated myself on my creativity and a job well done.


I was still in grade school because once out of sixth grade, a paper bag replaced the metal lunchbox. However, nothing replaced peanut butter sandwiches. They were quick and easy to make and hands down beat competitors like tuna, salmon or egg salad. Those three fillings left a lingering aroma in the room. Kids who took hot lunch ate in the cafeteria but I remember eating at my desk as did classmates who brought their own lunch. There’s something unpleasant about trying to concentrate on history, geography or science when the smell of tuna fish is still in the air. Eventually the aroma of chalk and blackboard erasers overtook the food smells and we returned to our studies with unbridled relish.


Dad was a laborer at the Soo Locks and like other blue collar workers, carried his Stanley lunchbox with him. His thermos was always filled with hot tea regardless of the season, but the sandwich fillings varied from the standard peanut butter. Mom might pack a meatloaf, fried egg or steak sandwich. There was always a piece of pie for dessert. Dad said he got his fruit from whatever filling was in the pie.


I don’t know what happened to his black Stanley lunchbox, but I gave my green one to my Grand Marais buddy. He still uses it today as a mini toolbox, a testimony to its endurance and his resourcefulness.