I have fond memories of when I was a boy living in Lamont, California. I remember the house being dark, early in the morning, except for the kitchen light. Mom would be up preparing breakfast for my Dad. She had the coffee started in the aluminum percolator coffee pot. The brown juice popping into the glass dome, slowly at first and then with greater intensity. The smell of the strong coffee would begin to wander down the hall toward the bedrooms to let us know Mom was at work.
The single light in the kitchen was bright, especially for a sleepy boy like me. At the same time Mom was fixing breakfast, she was also preparing Dads lunch, which consisted of much of the same ingredients as the breakfast items. It seems to me, she would make him a fried egg sandwich and a fried bologna sandwich. The bologna heated in the cast iron skillet with a notch formed from the spatula to prevent the bologna from curling.
The sandwiches would be wrapped in waxed paper and placed in the black metal lunch pail. In the top of the lunch pail lid was space for a thermos for the hot coffee. This ritual of preparation was practiced across America as millions of workers would go to work with food from home to nourish them at the noon break.
When I started to work, after graduating from high school, I worked in a shop. Most of the men in the shop, brought their lunch in a pail like my Dad’s. I bought a new version of the lunch pail, one that was insulated plastic that would keep cold things cold and hot things hot. I never had any hot things to put in my pail, mainly bologna sandwiches, not fried. I learned mayo will make the sandwich soggy if applied to heavily and I didn’t like the effort of slicing tomatoes and lettuce to make a proper sandwich. Ding Dong’s and Twinkie’s fit nicely in the upper half of the pail, instead of coffee.
I grew tired of using the lunch pail, opting to make a quick dash to local restaurant to get a pork tenderloin sandwich or to a Dairy Queen to get a foot long chili dog and strawberry sundae. I had to hurry, because I only had thirty minutes for lunch. During that time, I did learn men were protective and particular about their lunch pail. The unwritten rule was you just don’t mess with another man’s lunch. Some men would unpack their lunch pail carefully, placing their food around them. Some would work straight out of the pail, retrieving one item at a time. Some had fruit or other desserts. Some were quite proud of what their wife packed for them. Others seemed to be embarrassed or displeased.
When I moved from the shop to the office, lunch changed. Most of my co-workers would go out for lunch. That was possible because the time changed from thirty minutes to an hour. With that your range of restaurants increased. You would learn how far your boundary was to travel, eat, and get back in time.
When invited to a sales lunch with customers, lunch changed again. Lunch time was extended again. While you didn’t try to take advantage of it, it was not frowned upon to take an hour and a half, especially if you got a sale from the personal attention given the customer.
Sadly, the noble lunch pail is not used much anymore. Our workers have changed and our work as changed and our society has changed. Not only do office workers eat out at lunch, but the outdoor workers eat out as well. It’s not uncommon to see a group of painters or lawn workers, etc. at the lunch counter with the office worker. Our work as changed from manufacturing to technology. The need to take food to a remote spot in a lunch pail is dwindling.
As a result of all of this, our society has changed. The reader may be saying, “Man, you are over-thinking this thing!” But I ask how many times a week to you purchase a meal? As a society, we are concerned about what chemicals are being giving to cows and chickens and pigs. We are concerned about what is being done to flour and vegetables. We are concerned about what is used to sweeten our soda pop or if our water is pure. We buy chemical supplements to make us healthy because we don’t like the chemical supplements added to our food. Television programs have changed from teaching us how to cook something to competitions of how to beat another cook. Eating is now a form of entertainment. See my point?
To this old guy, I miss the light on in the kitchen. I miss the smell of breakfast being made. I miss family sitting at the table eating together. I miss the fun of a brother trying to make me spew my milk as I was taking a drink.
A sausage biscuit in the microwave is not even close to a great memory.
Ah, the noble lunch pail!