As an elementary school student, it was the highlight of my day! The lunch bell would ring, we would file into an orderly line, and the teacher would lead us into the lunchroom. This was before the advent of the hot meal served at school, so each of us smartly carried our lunch pail and sat down at one of the long tables.
Our metal containers laid out in front of us, we would wait to see who would go first. There was an uneasy anticipation as the clasps were released and the lunch pail lids were slowly raised on their hinges. Would it be the treasured baloney and cheese sandwich on white bread or would it be the deadly antithesis; the dreaded tuna salad on wheat toast? Heads bobbed as we tried to sneak a peek into one another’s lunch box, surveying what the other kid’s parents had packed for them.
I gazed admiringly at one of my most valuable possessions; the official Daniel Boone lunch pail. Across the lid were Fess Parker and Ed Ames; already established as my television heroes at the tender age of six. The insulated thermos depicted Daniel, his Bowie knife in hand, wrestling a ferocious bear. I have to wonder if Mister Boone would have been so eager to defend me from that bear; had he known that the very next year he would be replaced with the official Wild Wild West lunch pail!
The child across from me had just pulled a Chocodile from his GI Joe lunch box! I struggled to figure out how I could make an egg salad sandwich sound appealing enough to get a trade with him. I really did not want to end up having to throw in my cheese puffs too! Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of salesmanship in my life.
He who hesitates is lost. That point had just been driven home as the Chocodile went to a girl who had just offered up a pudding cup and a baggie filled with Bugle corn chips! I looked into the vast cavern of my lunch pail; there was no trade fodder left! I sighed and began to nibble away at the mixture of egg, mayonnaise, and pickle relish.
Throughout the lunch period, my gang of fellow adolescents and I chatted away. I found myself extolling the virtues of Daniel Boone and how he could easily beat Maxwell Smart in a fist fight. We shared tips on how to best knock a marble out of a circle. There was the usual strategic planning session on which kid’s house we would play at after school.
As time passed, the magic moment crept closer and closer. Those teachers unfortunate enough to be assigned lunchroom duty for the week would make their cursory inspection. Satisfied that each of us had eaten a satisfactory and nutritious meal, we were dismissed from the room. Of course, that was after they tortured us with a cruel game called “The table that behaves best gets to go first!”
Freedom! At last, we were out on the playground. Yes, by noon our stomachs were yearning for whatever surprises our parents had packed in our lunch pails. But the true allure was knowing that we would get a half an hour of playtime! Tetherball, four square, jump roping, swings, and slides became our amusement park! We delighted in the kinship and competition that came with each diversion.
All too soon, the lunch period came to an end with the rude sound of the school bell. We each trotted over the stack of jackets and lunch pails, and then lined up outside of our respective classroom doors. There we awaited our teacher, who would lead us back in.
Lunches today are quite different, if we take them at all. Now the noon hour is consumed by endless errands, or getting caught up on emails and voice mail. We drive through a fast food restaurant and wolf down a pile of grease while talking on the cell phone and driving with our knees under the steering wheel. The only time we eat lunch with our workmates is when there is a birthday to celebrate or a short timer to send off to a new job!
The lunchroom was a training ground for all of us. We learned social skills, communicated honestly with our friends, and took time out of our hectic days to play. Perhaps it is time for all of us to go out and pick up a lunch pail for ourselves. You cannot miss me in the lunchroom. I will be the one with the Who’s Line is it Anyway lunch pail. Hey, wait a minute; is that a Chocodile in your lunch box?