Friday, November 21, 2008

Flashback Friday: Poor, defenseless lunchbox

I don't know why my dad was driving my sister and me to school this particular morning. Usually we rode the bus or were dropped off by mom, I can't recall which, but I know it was unusual for us to be riding with Dad. Mom must have been at her weekly day of work.

In preparation of another grueling day of first grade, I had eagerly gathered the requisite supplies into my backpack and placed it out by the car. The rest of the family wasn't ready to go, I guess, because I came back inside and sat at the dining room table to wait while they continued bustling around.

Alongside the No. 2's and Crayolas in my backpack was my favorite Sesame Street lunch box. It was one of those old-school metal ones, although at the time it was fairly "current-school," so I liked it for reasons unrelated to its vintage appeal. Plastic lunchboxes were available by circa 1987, so this one may have been a hand-me-down from an older sibling, which may very well be why it held certain sentimental significance.

The lunchbox looked at least something like this:Or it may have been this exact one. In my memory, there was more of a Big Bird emphasis, but of the few results from my image searches, this is the only one that resonates. I think it might be the prominent yellow scheme that fabricated a strong recollection of Big Bird, or perhaps he is just on the other side. In this image, the characters are all carrying the very lunchbox on which they are pictured, and that brain trip seems vaguely familiar.

At any rate, this lunch box was in my backpack, full of a wholesome lunch that my mom probably made before she went to work. Packing lunches really wasn't a "dad thing" at our house. My school lunches always contained miniature portions of food in baggies, like a few Doritos or half of a fun-size candy bar. The staple sandwich entree was often of a variety that provoked raised eyebrows, but I liked them just fine: Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Creme was a favorite, and sometimes plain butter with cinnamon and sugar. But mine was usually just half of a sandwich. I got a carton of Alpenrose milk with my pre-purchased milk ticket, since that can't really be portioned out into a baggie. To top it all off, my mother would frequently write a love note on my napkin, enough to brighten any school day.

Back to the one I was originally describing, my sister was now standing by me in the dining room, geared up for departure. Our dad walked in from the garage, carrying the backpack that I had so responsibly set out by the car. He had the kind of goofy grin on his face that says, the funniest thing just happened! Then he told us that the funniest thing had just happened, and produced from within the backpack my special Sesame Street lunch box. Except half of the rectangular hexahedron was now concave: smooshed flat as a pancake. Apparently my pre-commute organizational efforts included placing my backpack just behind the car, and my dad mysteriously backed the car out of the garage without me there to load up my belongings.

Opening the lunchbox revealed a flattened PB&J, which my dad found especially entertaining. At the time, I was confused by his ostensible amusement at what had just occurred. As an adult, I completely understand how silly the coincedence, and would surely have a hearty laugh at a half-smashed lunchbox today. But at age approximately-six, I was horrified at the Muppet carnage before me. Noticing my sister and father's cavalier attitude, however, I bit my quivering lower lip and feigned agreement through their piercing cackles. I really wanted to cry, but was too embarrassed.

While we transferred the salvaged lunch items into a paper sack, Dad cleverly suggested I take the crumpled piece of steel to class today for show and tell. You know, explain how funny it was that my own father ran over my precious lunchbox with a two-ton vehicle and then laughed in my face. Having so far gone along with the notion that it was all an hilarious farce, I didn't have the confidence not to acquiesce. What better way to heal my emotional wounds than to stand up in front of my unsympathetic peers and talk about it, right?

So off to Phil Lewis Elementary we went, with shattered self-respect concealed within my backpack. At last it came time for class members to show and tell about their treasures. One by one students stood up and proudly displayed their dog's collar, or the giant maple leaf they found in the backyard, or the crystal pendant their grandmother brought home from Austria. Or whatever. I don't remember what anybody showed or told. I remember sitting in my desk with a giant knot in my stomach, the telltate heart of a deceased lunchbox under my chair beating, "Show me! Show me!" But I could not effect the voluntary control needed to reach into my backpack and unveil it. I just couldn't find the humor in the situation, and although I tried, didn't see any way that I could lay my broken heart in front of my classmates without humiliation. So I graciously declined my turn.

I don't know if I ever got a newfangled plastic lunchbox, or if this incident marked the beginning of my brown-bag career. Why was such a silly accident so needlessly traumatic for me? I don't blame my father, because his reaction was not out of place. I've exaggerated it for the sake of good storytelling anyway. The situation was pretty comical, and by not showing my emotional distress, there's no way he could have known I was upset. Maybe if I buy the lunchbox pictured above on eBay, the scars will finally heal. (Just kidding, my life has not been adversely affected by this experience, I promise.)

1 comment:

Bridget said...

Sad!! I can imagine myself reacting both ways - as you did when a kid, but also like your dad did as a parent.


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