Our lunch box of memories

This was the text message:

“My Lone Ranger lunchbox lunch every day for 5 years.

2 PB&J’s wrapped in tinfoil and thermos of sweet tea.

No snacks or exotic stuff from my mom.

That was it.”

Felt like getting a message in a bottle from a castaway, and knowing it was much too late to help him. “If I could have just gotten the guy some Fritos, or a Bite-Size Milky Way,” I’m thinking …

But what really got me was “lunchbox.” Had never thought about it much, but I missed the entire “lunchbox” cycle of a kid’s life. I was a ride-the-bus, eat-in-the-cafeteria kid.

Old school.

Never had a lunch box. (Except one time on Halloween when Mrs. Alice in second grade let us dress up and have a party and our parents could come for an outside picnic lunch so I packed one and my lunch box was called “a paper sack.” No idea why I’ve always remembered that. Dressed up like a pirate. Wonder if I packed fish and chips and something to keep me from getting scurvy and rickets?)

In the ignorance of rural youth, I never knew there were Lone Ranger lunch boxes, because surely I would have wanted one. Would have coveted one. A little tin box with a matching thermos, filled with peanut butter and jelly or maybe even “round steak” (bologna) on fresh white bread. What was in it wouldn’t have mattered much. I suspect the box itself was the thing.

I’ve studied and found there were Gomer Pyle lunch boxes. Gilligan’s Island. The Hulk. Happy Days. The Six Million Dollar Man. And — are you kidding me? — Superman.

Ignorance is bliss, thank goodness. I was lucky for what I didn’t know. I hope if I’d have had a lunch box that it would have been The Lone Ranger or Batman and not something stupid like The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.

“Hey, which one of you losers belongs to this Partridge Family lunch box?!,” the kid with the Evel Knievel lunch box was wanting to know.

Sometimes I wonder what Lunch Box Life would be as a grownup.

“Hey TA, let’s go eat a gourmet burger or some enchiladas. I’m buying.”

Me: “Y’all go ahead. I’ll just eat this deviled ham and some moldy Ritz from my Wonder Woman lunch box.”

It would be all about the lunch box for me.

But things happened for me as they were supposed to, because one of the best memories of my wasted youth was the smell of a certain food baking each mid-morning at Lake View Elementary. That aroma was the portal to olfactory heaven. We’re talking — and I shouldn’t even have to write this — yeast rolls, the smell of hope and comfort and joy.

I love the smell of elementary school yeast rolls in the morning.

Mrs. Erline Perritt was the magic behind the memory. Black hair pulled back tight and under a hair net to showcase a round face always smiling. The yeast rolls she made on those giant sheet pans were things of fluffy goodness that could keep you battling through spelling class, knowing that if you could hold out a little while longer, she’d be putting a couple of those on your tray, maybe sneaking you one for dessert.

What smelled better to a little kid back then? A cheerleader’s perfume, maybe? But I doubt it.

Mrs. Erline Perritt. I didn’t need a lunch box. She was my real-life Wonder Woman.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu