Why are we so nostalgic?
Yesterday I was meandering through a flea market and stumbled upon a shelf of vintage lunch boxes. It took me all the way back to my boyhood when Mama cut the edges off my bologna sandwich, tucking it inside my “Dukes of Hazard” lunch box where it sat beside potato chips, a candy bar and, if I was lucky, Hawaiian Punch in my plastic thermos, the one with a spout.
Mama’s lunches were my salvation from the cafeteria food in elementary school. I was, and am, an extremely picky eater with a very limited range which does not include 90 percent of the home cooking in the Richton elementary cafeteria, no offense intended.
Throughout the years I had a variety of lunch boxes from my light blue Smurf box to my Sesame Street box complete with Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and, of course, Bert and Ernie. As I stood there in the flea market looking up at the little tin lunch boxes of my youth, it warmed my heart to think of all the memories I had shared with my mama selecting Fritos over Cheetos or the occasional cupcake with sprinkles. I can still hear her voice as I grabbed my book satchel and lunch box heading to the curb to meet the big yellow school bus: “Hold it upright so the Spaghettios don’t spill all over your peanut butter sandwich!”
I wiped the dust off a Strawberry Shortcake box, running my fingers along the bright pink handles and remembering all my friends—Vernon Renee, Misty Ann, and Tracey Annette—with their themed lunch boxes. Some of my favorites were from old television shows like “Laverne and Shirley,” “Happy Days,” and even big blockbuster movie hits such as “King Kong” and “Jaws.” My homeroom teacher asked the handful of us who opted out of Tuesday’s minute steak with gravy or Thursday’s meat loaf with onions, choosing instead to bring favorites from home, to put our lunch boxes under our desks until time to assemble in the cafeteria.
We were a select few, but we paraded around the others in line near the steaming vegetables, walking proudly past the cafeteria ladies to our seats to open up our boxes filled with surprises. It was the best part of my day to find a peanut butter cookie or a slice of chocolate cake Mama had hidden inside for her baby boy. I realize we were lucky, blessed even, both to have mamas who had the time to pack lunches and the grocery budgets to support our habits, and I appreciate now what I did not understand at the time—that school cafeteria lunches are the best meals so many children have each day and probably a lot healthier than what we brought from home.
I suppose we are nostalgic for such times gone by because it helps us to travel back to a time and place when the simplest acts of kindness wrapped us in love. Today I keep my memories inside, my soul the lunch box which contains them, as I unpack my tuna sandwich with chips and always hold the Spaghettios upright like Mama taught me.
Contact David at [email protected]