I must confess that I was guilty of lunch envy when I was in elementary school. This was not only due to what my classmates brought for lunch, but also for what they brought it in.
The start of the school year was a particularly trying time because that was when the new metal lunch boxes made their debut. That was a time when every other show on TV was a western, so I was particularly envious of cowboy ones.
Walking into the class cloakroom and seeing the characters from “Bonanza” or “The Rifleman” staring at me from the side of the guys’ lunch boxes made it hard to concentrate on that morning’s lessons.
It could have been far worse, though. All my classmates but six or seven kids, who were from a nearby town, went home for lunch. That meant the out-of-towners would be opening their lunches when the rest of us were going home to eat.
My Mother was a great cook, but that still didn’t prevent me from having Tastykake envy when I saw most of their lunch boxes contained those delicious treats.
I was about half as big then as I am now, so those chocolate cupcakes or Butterscotch Krimpets seemed at least twice as big as they do now.
It’s not that Mother didn’t bake nearly as many goodies as the Tastykake factory on a daily basis; it’s just that the other kid’s cupcake always looks sweeter.
Besides, my brothers’ and my lunches during the school year were usually concluded with fruited gelatin or a piece of fruit. To a kid, those just don’t compare to store-bought cakes unless the gelatin has chocolate syrup drizzled over it or the fruit is a candy apple.
Once in a while, I would try to talk Mother into buying a cool lunch box so I could take food to school. However, there were two major reasons against my argument.
First, we lived across the street and a half block away from the school. Second, in those days, the high school, junior high school and elementary schools got an hour lunch break.
Even if Mother had given in, I probably would have eaten a lunch in school and then come home for a second one — or at least for a second desert.
Come to think of it, not one of the schools in town had a cafeteria. The elementary kids just went home or ate in school, while the older students brown-bagged it, went home or ate at a soda fountain, pizza place or grocery store.
As a result, there were only three of my years from kindergarten through 12th grade when I got to complain about cafeteria food.
All the sixth grades were combined into one building in a neighboring town, so at noon they would just release us kids to walk two blocks with no adult supervision to the seventh- and eighth-grade building and expect us to be back by 1 o’clock.
If you tried that today, half the kids would take the rest of the day off.
Personally, I enjoyed my cafeteria experience for those three years. One reason is that most of the cooks were of Italian descent, so we had some type of homemade tomato sauce and pasta at least twice a week, complemented by plenty of bread and butter. We also had to eat a salad, but you can’t win them all.
The only way they could have improved upon the menu was if they had served pizza the other three days of the week.
At least one day a week, we were treated to a pint bottle of chocolate milk. We had chocolate milk at home, but it was the do-it-yourself kind.
There were only two improvements they could have made in the cafeteria. They could have used cowboy lunch boxes instead of trays and given us Tastykake products for desert.