Kah-chlunk! Way back in elementary school do you recall the sound of those lunchbox thermoses breaking? It was an “Uh-Oh” moment, terminating the anticipated pleasure of enjoying whatever beverage brought from home at school lunch break.
During my first few years of parochial school in the 1950s I toted the lunch my mom made packed in a brown paper sack. My lunches were always, Monday - Thursday baloney sometimes with Velveeta cheese sandwiches (Gag!) and on “meatless” fasting Fridays either PB&J or a cheese, mayo & mustard sandwich. All of course were made on plain white, balloon bread wrapped perfectly in waxed paper.
Gradually school chums began toting pastel colored, or plaid patterned square metal lunch boxes furnished with a stumpy thermos filled with soup or a beverage. A tragic pitfall, those thermoses weren’t constructed to industrial let alone child-use strength standards. It was common within days or weeks that the thermos would break. It was routine to hear the sound of a metal lunchbox or a thermos falling on playground asphalt and with a muffled tinkly, sloshy sound the glass lining of the thermos breaking into bits & chunks. Or the disappointment of twisting the lid open to discover a slushy soup of glass shards. The mention amongst lunch mates suggesting accidently ‘chugging down’ such a concoction was utterly horrifying, evoking exaggerated ‘gagging reflexes’. The forlorn victim salvaged the remains of their lunch and trudge to a garbage can to toss away a useless thermos. If desiring a lunch beverage, one resorted to ordering a pint of milk for a nickel (sometime even chocolate flavored!) during the morning Roll-Call count (But Jeepers, did those milk cartons make for cool competition seeing who could manufacture the loudest ‘Whump-Pop’ when stomping an empty carton with the heel of their shoes!).
In 4th grade the thermos furnished in my blue lunchbox didn’t survive beyond Halloween. The lunchbox survived through June battered and rusted and kind of rank smelling on the inside (Which couldn’t compare to the future fragrance emanating from Gym and hall lockers at Presidio Junior High). Lunchbox manufacturers soon became crafty marketing pop-culture images of popular cartoon, movie and tv characters on lunchbox lids which soon begat colorful book backpacks. Thermos manufacturers knew they had a good thing, a broken thermos might mean a kid’s parents purchased a replacement ready again to slip from a child’s grasp.
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The Western Neighborhoods Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.