Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Old School

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 8, 2009
“Crying over packbacks and bad candy”

While I wouldn’t care to be a young person in today’s society, I sure envy ‘em for what all they have. Those lucky ducks.

Nowadays the first thing a kid needs before starting school is a backpack. I don’t think they’ll let you in the door without one. Backpacks weren’t invented when I was a kid. Probably doesn’t matter, ‘cause the principal wouldn’t have let us use ‘em. -- “You like that thing, do you? Makes school easier does it? Well, you can’t use it.”

No we had to carry everything separate. I had this giant, drab-colored, zip-up loose-leaf notebook. I could carry crayons and a ruler and glue and stuff, but it wouldn’t hold all my books or my lunch. No, we had to carry our stuff loose. That way, when someone tripped us, everything would fly all over the place. Or when they’d sneak up behind and tug on your books, there’d be an avalanche. It was supposed to be funny.

A backpack would’ve been way cool. Can you imagine the first kid who tried it and got away with it? “Hey, Sara’s got this backpack or packback! We haven’t named it, yet. But, get this, she never has to go to her locker. And, best of all, old Mrs. Thumphead says it’s okay to bring it to school!” That’s probably the way it happened.

Molly Reeves was the first person to ever bring a lunchbox to school. I’m pretty sure that’s been documented. It was an Annie Oakley. She was standing on a galloping horse while shooting at something. Annie Oakley, not Molly. Some of you are just too cute for words.

Regardless, I never had a lunchkit. That’s what we called ‘em. Not lunchboxes. I always carried my lunch in a brown paper sack. And, it always had a little wet spot at the bottom, where my pickle bled through. Mom always stuck a pickle in our lunches. I never told her I didn’t want a pickle, ‘cause every once in awhile I’d eat it. You can never know for sure when you might wanna pickle. If I had mentioned it to Mom I would’ve never had one on the rare days I wanted one.

Back then, the only things we had to wrap food in were either wax paper or aluminum foil. Foil was way too expensive, so Mom always bought Cut-Rite wax paper. Cut-Rite started making wax paper right after Thomas Edison invented it. Edison said it was leak proof. He apparently tested it on a lot of different wet things. Everything but a pickle.

Regardless, wax paper was the universal wrap of preference. Up until Alexander “Zip” Conrad invented the ziplock bag. Genius it was! But, it came too late to do me any good. I developed a reputation. -- “Do you know Mark? The kid with the leaky lunch? Well, I avalanched him, and his books went flyin’. Flattened his lunch. Whatta dweeb!”

I always wanted a lunchkit and thermos. All the kids with nice parents had ‘em. One kid in class had that Commando Cody kit with the spaceship thermos. I tried to trade him my Fanner Fifty for it once. He laughed at me. Like I was an idiot. Well, who’s laughin’ now? -- That doesn’t apply to anything. I just felt like sayin’ it.

I wasn’t the only kid with no lunchkit. A few others were bag-toters. That’s what they called us. Lowdown bag-toters. Some of the kids actually twisted the tops of their bags, so you couldn’t tell if they were carrying a lunch or a bag of marbles. Everyone was wise to ‘em, though. You carried marbles in a sock. Not a bag. Those poor slobs.

Now, few kids have lunchkits, ‘cause they buy their lunches. It’s not a nutritious or even a tasty lunch, but it’s so much better than having the stigma of one who brings a meal to school. Kids can’t handle stigmas today. We were so much tougher. “Sticks and stones…” We drew it like it was a pistol. We had to.

Oh, and speaking of dumb kids, I was paying my check at Cracker Barrel the other day when I spied some bags of those orange, peanut-shaped, hard marshmallow candies. (Sometimes they’re pink instead of orange. Cracker Barrel is big on retro candy)

I told the kid who was checking me out that I doubted he sold many of those. He said, “You’re kiddin’. Those things are great.” That’s what he said, the little lunatic. When I was growing up, Dad only bought one kind of candy. Cheap. Apparently peanut marshmallows and orange slices and individually wrapped balls of bad taffy were cheap, ‘cause we sure got a lot of ‘em.

It’s terrible to be in the mood for a good ol’ Almond Joy and have to settle for a lousy orange slice or taffy ball or -- somebody just shoot me – pink or orange peanuts!

“Those things are great!” What kind of sheltered life has that boy led? He’s had so many Almond Joys and Snickers that he actually cherishes an orange or pink marshmallow peanut. He’d probably turn flips for a taffy ball. I feel a cry comin’ on.

Unfortunately, time does not serve for me to mention the fountain pens that would leak inside your notebook, or the 1949 Compton’s Encyclopedias that I used all the way through my Elementary and High School days. No telling how smart I would’ve become had I had a Pentel Hypergel roller ball pen or the Internet. Either one.

No, like many of you, I was raised in The Day. A time before backpacks. A time of paper bag lunches and bad candy. A time when high-top Keds were the Air Jordans of the day. A time when a boy wasn’t aware of how stupid it looked to ride a stick horse. Even at the age of 18.

But, we survived. And, we’re better for it. No idea why, but it’s good to think. Yeah, like I said, I wouldn’t trade places with youngsters today, but I sure wish I had had access to some of the neat stuff they’ve got.

Of course, if my Dad were alive, he’d probably tell me about the time he wrote his homework with a piece of coal on a shovel. Dad had some pretty good suffering stories. He seemed to always come up with one after he brought home a bag of those lousy marshmallow peanuts. Okay, it’s handkerchief time. – Next time.



  1. I have fond memories of my Grandparents ALWAYS having orange slices and marshmallow peanuts! I looked forward to having them when we went on our vacations to North Carolina. Could have had them here, anytime, but for some reason they always tasted better in the mountains.

  2. Great article Moke! Wax paper, fountain pens, paper lunch sacks, man what memories. I remember I used to get to buy my lunch on "special" days at Pomeroy Elementary, like on Halloween, cause they had cheese burgers on that day, and the cheese slices on the burgers were cut into jack-o-lantern faces. Always thought that was so cool and I just had to buy my lunch on that day!
    Also remember that Daddy would have Ma buy a block of cheddar cheese (we called it rat cheese) and green olives, and none of us were supposed to have either of those because they were Daddy's. I used to sneak bites, and they're still 2 of my favorite things to eat with crackers.
    You remember the Dentler's potato chip that came in a long plastic bag and they had a different dinosaur in each plastic bag - that was cool.
    I remember paying 3 cents for chocolate milk at snack time, and if we didn't bring our 3 cents, it was so embarrassing to sit there and not have milk with the others.
    Now, I remember these things, but I think Moke has mentioned them before in an article.
    I would go back to those times for nothin'. They were tough times, the peer pressure was horrible, kids are mean in any era.
    I hated those orange slices and candied peanuts!!

  3. In that 2nd to the last paragraph, I meant to say I would NOT go back to those times for nothin'!!! Would NOT.