A friend of mine recently told me that old metal lunch boxes are now worth a lot of money. They have become collectors' items. I had not given much, if any, thought to lunch boxes until she mentioned it to me.
We used to have them when I was in grammar school. The lunch box was made of metal, was rectangular in shape and opened from the side. There were two metal clasps that made for easy opening, and inside the box was a Thermos bottle, which was attached to the side of the box by two metal rings.
But the most attractive, the most appealing aspect to the box was the decor on the outside. There were lunch boxes made with images of Mighty Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Batman, Superman, Casper the Friendly Ghost and a host of other cartoon characters.
My mom used to buy the boxes at the supermarket (or, as they may have been called in those days, grocery stores). There were stacks of them in every store from coast to coast
Mom would make the lunch every morning. A lettuce and tomato sandwich that was wrapped in wax paper. She poured chicken soup in the thermos, screwed the plastic lid on tight, and fit it snuggly along side the sandwich. And there were always a few cookies.
We kept the boxes under our desks in school and then at lunchtime we were given the signal from the teacher to take and open our boxes and neatly arrange the contents on our desk. As I remember, we also had what was called an "oil cloth," which we spread on the desk first.
I do not recall the actual lunch taking that long, for as soon as we finished we were allowed to go out to the large schoolyard to play -- which meant running all over the place for about half an hour.
I can still see the Mighty Mouse picture that was on my lunch box. He is in flight, heading straight up to the top of a skyscraper, a big smile on his face, with one gloved hand held tight to his chest and the other stretched above him.
But all things pass. Even with all his prowess and strength, Mighty Mouse could not survive the crushing wheels of progress. Wax paper fell on hard times, too. Lunch boxes gave way to the enticements and arrays of food as offered by school cafeterias. A lot of moms also leave the house early for work and have little time to make and arrange a lunch for their children. Slow foods became fast foods.
I am sure there is more. The whole thing is complicated. There is never one reason for the historical arrival and departure of anything, including lunch boxes.
I have never seen a lunch box in an antique shop. Mighty Mouse and his kin have been banished to the realm of reruns and Internet searches. That one little box I had is long gone but I can still open it in my mind's eye and it holds so many wonderful memories.
The memories were not there when I was a kid. They were being born all within me and around me. There was so much to know, to experience, to enjoy. I was not thinking back then about keeping any of it. It was all just given, day after day, and it was good. Real good.
But now the lid is open, and I must be quiet to savor what is inside. Memories of home, and school days, and my first friends and the magical warmth of chicken soup on a winter's day.
If I had the real thing, my old Mighty Mouse lunch box, would I be any happier or richer? I do not think so. The little box moved on, but left me its treasures -- all my memories, as warm and as good as if they were poured into my heart yesterday.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His e-mail address is email@example.com.