As so often happens – either by design or happenstance – my work week this semester is unbalanced, top-heavy. Every Monday and Wednesday, I’m at work long enough that I must pack both lunch and dinner. When I’m finished with Wednesday evening’s class, I feel like I’m done with the majority of my work. I still work or study on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, but they’re “lunch-only” days, and for me, that’s a light load.
I’ve long had the habit of preparing my lunches (and sometimes dinners) the night before. I have done this every school night for years. My lunchbox is always with me when I go to campus; it feels like an extension of my arm sometimes. I’ve tried various types of carriers over the years until I found a little blue lunchbox that suited me perfectly. I used it daily for about three years and was starting to get a little ratty. Then the latch gave up the ghost and couldn’t be repaired.
I tried for months to find a suitable replacement, but nothing seemed quite right.
Until I found this:
It’s a vintage lunchbox, made in the good ole U.S. of A. It’s a bit rusty on the hinges and the handle, but it’s got a solid heft, there are no dents, the seams are straight, and the fasteners are perfectly aligned and tightly secured. I like to imagine it in the hands of a large, burly construction worker who fills it with two or three ham or bologna sandwiches, a couple of Twinkies, and the apple that his wife threw in. In his honor, I’ve named my lunchbox Tiny.
It even has a place for my Thermos:
The lunchbox is perfect. It’s big enough for a day’s worth of food and coffee but isn’t so heavy or cumbersome that it becomes a hassle to carry or store. It’s instantly recognizable as mine in the staff refrigerator, so no one will mess with it or mistake it for their own as they rush home at the end of the day. It’s apparently also a conversation piece and I’ve been asked about it by many people as I go through my day. (Oh, and those bags in there are called Lunch Skins – reusable sandwich and snack bags – and they’re awesome.)
But it’s even more than that. My father worked as a mechanic and every day, he went off to work carrying a box almost identical to this in silver instead of black. His Thermos was bigger and he had to fashion some homemade brackets to attach it to his lunchbox. He never left without that Thermos. Forgetting lunch was one thing, but leaving coffee behind was a catastrophe. I know this all too well, as this was one of the many things I inherited from my father.
He retired when I was barely a teenager, but all through my childhood, I remember that lunchbox and Thermos sitting ready the night before, and coming home with him each afternoon to be washed so it could be repacked later that evening. When he didn’t need the lunchbox anymore, it was put away and I don’t know what happened to it, but I still have his Thermos. It’s too big for my lunchbox and it’s not practical for everyday use, but I won’t let it go. I do use it for road trips, but for my own coffee needs, I bought a smaller, more modern Thermos that I could fit into Tiny. Past and present, working together.
I know I could buy a nice thermal bag that would fit as much food or keep things chilled and neatly packed. It would probably have a strap so it would leave my hands free for opening my car or the door to the buildings I need to enter. It would be easy to wash, it wouldn’t rust, and it would probably come in pretty colors.
These things don’t matter to me. I already have what I need. Together, my vintage lunchbox and my modern Thermos not only keep me fed and energized throughout my long days, but they also serve as a constant reminder of fond memories. My father has been gone for just over 6 years now, but he can still keep me company every day. In lunchbox form.