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No “Lone Ranger” lunch box for Butch!!!

My school started a hot lunch program just after WWII, and when I entered first grade in the fall of 1954, the school kitchen was located in a small room in the basement. A lunch cost 25 cents, and milk, which cost 2 cents, came in little glass bottles. We had to carry our plates back upstairs and eat our lunch in the classroom. However, in 1957 the school added on a modern kitchen and cafeteria with lots of seating room. We had some great cooks through the years . . . from the early 1950s to 1971. Some of these ladies were Glee Beauchamp, Grace Brown, Nellie Miller, Fern Holt, Maurine Parker, Florence Carson, Marie Caldwell, Mary Horn, Gladys Free, Margaret Gick, Blanche Wise, Deanie Farley, Della Irvin, Helen Mullen, Dorothy Crowe, Maribelle Redmond, Margaret Goldsby and Jeanne Paddack. I always thought that the school cafeteria ladies prepared great meals, just like home-cooked. I LOVED their chili, salisbury steak, sloppy joes, and meatloaf . . . just to mention a few. But there were also times when I took my lunch from home, which usually was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple. The 6th grade teacher, Raymon Brown, also sold popsicles and ice cream bars for a nickel in the “subway” during lunch hour.

In the 1930s my Dad carried his lunch wrapped up in newspaper. I carried mine in a paper sack, until a cousin gave me his old lunch box…a dome-shaped, plain black one. Some of my classmates had lunch boxes with pictures of TV cowboy stars, such as Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry . . . or other TV and movie characters such as Howdy Doody, Popeye, Superman, Mickey Mouse and Davy Crockett . . . to name just a few. There were also many other types of lunch box designs . . . space rockets, school bus, farm, etc. This was a big business back in those days, and companies such as Alladin and American Thermos increased their sales significantly when they started designing lunch boxes for kids.

Two of my favorite shows in the mid-1950s were Superman and The Lone Ranger. One of my classmates had a Superman lunch box, so I decided that I wanted a Lone Ranger lunch box to have something that no one else had. My brother liked the Roy Rogers TV show, and my folks bought him a Roy Rogers Double-R “Chow wagon” lunch box. One of my sisters told me she had an Annette Funicello or Lennon Sisters lunch box. So what neat lunch box did I receive when I was in grade school? Zilch. I was stuck with the plain black one . . . Not fair!

When another sister was born in 1960, I tasted some of her Gerber’s vanilla baby pudding one time. I loved it, and in junior high I started taking it in my lunches (after peeling off the label with the Gerber baby’s photo on the front). And when my folks bought me a thermos, which was vacuum sealed, I sometimes brought hot dogs or Smokey Links in my lunch and made myself a sandwich. A boy in my class had the same idea, and one day he decided to shake the thermos before opening it. When he removed the cap, the hot dog shot straight up like a rocket and struck the cafeteria ceiling tile before landing on the floor. No problem . . . he picked it up off the floor, stuck it in the bun and gobbled it down.

I didn’t take my lunch very often when I was in high school. The hot lunch price in the 1960s was only 30 cents, and the cooks would often let us have second, or even third helpings for a dime. If I did take my lunch, I just used a plain brown bag. But I did notice that the elementary school kids had a variety of colorful lunch boxes, such as Barbie, The Flintstones, The Addams family, Gunsmoke, the Beatles and many others. Some of these new lunch boxes were made from plastic or vinyl instead of metal. When I became a teacher at my old school in 1972, some kids still had colorful lunch boxes, but by the 1980s, I noticed that very few children carried a lunch box. Kids today use insulated cloth zipper containers, usually carried in their backpacks.

Hot lunches at schools . . . meals prepared with love by dedicated cooks, or enjoying my lunch from home, was a special time each day. The lunch hour was actually ONE HOUR, not like today when children are rushed to finish their meals. We could visit with each other, and then play outside or in the gym. A few kids who lived in town actually walked home and ate their lunch. There were never any “food fights” or horseplay, as the principal always assigned a teacher to monitor the cafeteria. In grade school I yearned to have a Lone Ranger lunch box, but it was another reminder that you can’t have everything you want. OK, you 1950s, 1960s and 1970s students . . . what do you remember about your school lunch time, and what type of lunch box did you have? (Let me know in the “Comments” section.) And by the way, some of those old lunch boxes are worth quite a bit of money!

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.