Days of Lunch and Imagination


Image Source: Collectors Weekly

I never got bored during summer vacation, and I never wanted to go back to school. Those brilliant clear days at the end of August meant a return to regime and order and new teachers and hall passes, and I still feel that tug of apprehension this time of year. But there were perks, mainly of the material variety.

As the days of summer dwindled, we always got new clothes for school. I now realize that not all kids in my school had this luxury, and that it was probably a bit of a sacrifice for my parents. But we never went without.

We always got new pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks and the rest, of course. And my grandmother frequently got us new backpacks from L.L. Bean.

Best of all, though, was lunch-box shopping. These were the days when the lunch-box and thermos set was be-all end-all, and the options were seemingly limitless: metal or plastic; sports or TV; rock n’ roll or cartoon. My favorites from my collection over the years, in no particular order:

1. The Six Million Dollar Man (metal)
2. Snoopy as Joe Cool (plastic – I often had mac & cheese in this thermos, and I would pour it out whole so it looked like a nuclear yellow cylinder of brain
3. Emergency! (metal)
4. NFL (plastic with hologram sticker: lean it left for all AFC team helmets; lean it right for all NFC team helmets)

I always wanted a KISS lunch-box, but never got one. I guess my parents had their fill with all our KISS records and had to draw a line somewhere. (Or maybe they realized what a suck band KISS was and tried to subliminally push my ear in better directions. Fortunately, this worked.) Regardless, I always had a great lunch-box, and wish I still had them all, seeing how dramatically their value has risen over the years.

Once the bell rang for the year at Jordan Acers Elementary, in Brunswick, ME, my creative cup ran over.

I used to draw all the time, often just the shapes of my every-day life, like an Amoco sign. My mom told me a teacher said that one of my drawings was so good she “couldn’t get over it”, and I remember picturing my teacher trying to jump over the drawing and not being able to clear it.

During recess I would stick my ear to the support pipes on the swing-set to hear the squeak and echo of the chains. In my head this cacophony sounded like a party, and I evidently mentioned these swing-set-people soirees to a teacher, because I remember my parents being called in about it. Were they marveling at my creativity or questioning my mental state? Who the hell knows? But the party continued every recess, and to this day I still hear music in sources as mundane as an air-conditioner unit.

Jordan Acers was my educational and social world through third grade, when we moved to Florida. My friends included Anthony Favreau, Kris Kirker, Katie Goodwin and Ellen Domingos, all of whom I’m blessed to have reconnected with via the almighty Facebook. We played kick-ball at recess, went roller-skating at the Brunswick rec center after school and had Star Wars and Batman theme parties. And we all probably swapped around the contents of our lunch-boxes.

I never wanted to return to school when the summer ended. But when I did, I always had new threads, creative opportunities, great friends and awesome lunch-boxes. And that was more than I needed.

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150 comments
  1. Ahhh the material bribes, oops I mean supplies always brighten up the beginning of the school year. I remember the “Joe Cool” lunchbox well…badass, very badass indeed.

    • Right?!? Y’know, I never thought of it in terms of a “bribe”, but it all makes total sense now…

  2. free penny press said:

    Are you my brother? Everything you described my brothers had..Loving that lunchbox!!!

    • Children of the 70s unite!

  3. This post is so good I can almost smell it. That’s right, I said smell it. The inside of those lunch boxes eventually took on a certain peanut butter and jelly, apple core, smashed cookie, Hawaiian Punch, bread crust smell. Remember? I had the coveted Peanuts lunch box. It always made me happy.
    Love this post!

    • Oh GOD, YES! The old banana and PB smell! Totally! I’m there now!!

      Katie Goodwin just told me she thought she had Holly Hobby, and that instantly jogged my memory: she did!

  4. haha! Some people hear things in the swing set support pipes, I have an insane recall for smells. Yeah, throw a banana in there for good measure.
    Holly Hobby! LOL!

    • You’re alright, Grips. You’re allllllright.

  5. Great post! I believe I had a Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox and thermos. Holly Hobby rocked and she still does! ;) My little one will be starting 6th grade tomorrow and he has his Eagles lunch box all ready along with a slim metal thermos with a dragon on it. I’m sure he’ll be exploring the pipes too as he’s all boy!

    • Thank you for bringing your man up right, Java! There is hope…

  6. My most, most favourite? The Lone Ranger and Tonto….I was a cowgirl don’t ya know…!

    • Giddyap!

  7. unfetteredbs said:

    Emergency!!! haa thanks for the flashback Brian.. awesome(smiling away)

    • Gage and Roy! I still have my Emergency! helmet!

  8. Metal lunch boxes were so much sturdier than the plastic ones. Do you still have the Lee Majors lunch box?

    • I still have the thermos, actually.

  9. Le Clown said:

    Brian,
    Freshly Pressed my man!! Congrats! And I do hide a vintage mint Empire Strikes Back by: not light, no water, no touching. Hours of fun.
    Le Clown

    • No touching? :(

      • Le Clown said:

        Brian,
        Nah, no touching you. It’s too early for this, Brian, and you haven’t brushed your teeth yet.
        Le Clown

  10. Nicely written. I went to school in India. My lunch box was a three-tier carrier containing different courses of a meal. And the box wasn’t pretty. I didn’t take much grief for it because almost everyone had something similar. I hated going back to school after summer too, but what cheered me up was that I got new textbooks. I would finish all the stories and poetry in my English textbook before the school year began—such a geek.
    Also, LOL at ‘getting over it’ and ‘listening to swing set for the squeaks.’ Nice post. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    • Sounds like an awesome lunch box! Thanks for telling us about it, and for stopping by!

  11. liverloverlass said:

    Augh! I love KISS!

    • HAH! Fair enough. ;) Great to have you here, thanks!

  12. craigontoast said:

    As a child of the 80’s growing up in a small coastal town in Australia, you just took me back to my school yard days. I’m still smiling, thank you

    • Glad to help. *grin* Thanks for stopping in!

      • craigontoast said:

        i’ll stop by again :)

  13. reminds me of my end of summer vacations.

    • Feel that bite in the air…

      Thanks for stopping in!

  14. It makes me really sad that lunchboxes aren’t what they used to be. Can you even get lunchboxes anymore? All I recall seeing these days are lunch bag type things.

    I had a plastic Jem lunchbox.

    I always looked forward to the start of school. At the end of August I’d organize all my new school supplies, put my name on them, etc. Big nerd here. :)

    • Jem! Truly outrageous!

      They have all kinds of lunchboxes now, I’m happy to report. But we had the best ones. Great to have you here, thanks!

      • haha!! Truly truly truly outrageous.

        Good news about the lunchboxes. You’re right though, we did have the best ones. That goes for most everything, cartoons, books, toys. Sigh.

  15. I had a Bugaloos lunch box! Beat that! :D

    • Winner!!!

      • Yeah, agreed a pretty sweet lunchbox worthy of the win.

      • I lucked out. *grin* Great to have you here, thanks!

  16. This is awesome. Mine were all comic book character- or My Little Pony-themed.

    • Nice! Way to mix it up!

      Great having you here!

  17. mdprincing said:

    wish I still had my collection. my fav’s were Fat Albert and Evel Kneivel

    • Fat Albert?!? Now I want that one!

      • mdprincing said:

        yup, steel with a thermos hey, hey, hey

      • Niiiiiiiiiice

      • A runner up if I may say.

  18. I had an unappealing metal lunch box in school back in India. It worked out good for me though; the lack of any aesthetic appeal kept people away from raiding the box for delicious home-cooked meals. My favorite part of summer vacations was getting all the stationery and smelling the newly printed books!
    Nice post. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • Thanks and thanks for stopping in! I like your style: put ‘em off with lack of aesthetics and keep the good stuff inside! And now I want a curry…

      • haha! sure! But, that won’t look good either ;)

      • Good point…

  19. This was a lovely post. Full of details and nostalgic but not sentimental. Reminds me of a water bottle I took to school all those years ago.

    • Thanks! Glad to have you here.

  20. Wonder Woman. I had a lunchbox with Wonder Woman on it, as well as some other superheroes, but none of them were as great as her. And none of them also matched my Underoos. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    • I LOVED MY UNDEROOS!!!!!!

  21. Brian,
    Way to GO buddy!!!
    Congratulations!!! :)
    Lis

    • Couldn’t have done it without your support! Thank YOU.

      • Dear Brian,
        Have FUN today!!!
        Yay!
        Love, LIs
        xoxox

  22. Tom said:

    So cool! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sure!

  23. Okobe said:

    Great post!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you’re here.

  24. I own a Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox currently! Before kids I used it as a purse and would carry a margarita in the Thermos; now it sits on display on a high shelf in my living room. I bought it for $25 at a junk shop in a small town in Wyoming. You’re not from Wyoming, are you? I may have your old lunchbox.

    I love picking them up for a steal at thrift stores — I’ve never wanted to spend hundreds and order them online because it’s all about the “finding”, y’know? In metal ones I have a Knight Rider, He-Man, Dukes of Hazzard, Strawberry Shortcake, The Muppet Show, and, of course, The Six Million Dollar Man. I also have a plastic The A-Team one that I love. Thanks for getting me excited about something I used to collect back when I had disposable income, lol!

    • A Lee Majors margarita purse? You, ma’am, are my hero! Welcome aboard!

      • Tip of the cap to you as well, sir! Thanks, lol! :)

    • Dis-pooooseable innn-cooome? *staring blankly*

    • Wow! What a great collection!

  25. Love it! These are things some of us appreciated pre- iphone, itouch, ipad andhandheld gaming systems, ya know! Thanks for the memory trip!

    • Yeesssssssss!!!! Glad to take you there (with me!).

  26. hmm.. I miss lunch boxes. Back in the good ‘ol days when you could actually build a decent cyborg for 6 million dollars…

    • Right?!? What would the budget be today? And could our Six Billion Dollar Man kick ass in a leisure suit? Unlikely…

      Great to have you here!

  27. Congrats on being freshly pressed and finding a bunch of 35+ year old’s to talk about the good ol’ days with, ha.

    • Thankya!

  28. I had a UFO lunchbox. Remember UFO? It had a skyscrapper that rose up out of the ground for mission control, and a big moonbase. They were always fighting UFOs with these ships that looked kind of like a helicopter body with a big missile stuck on the front. Weird show, but cool at the time.

    I loved the Six Million Dollar man until the episode with big foot as an alien. That sort of bummed me out. I did enjoy the rotating ice tunnel though. They had that thing at Universal Studios for years. You’d go through it in a tram car and it would make you dizzy.

    • Niiice! I vaguely remember UFO, and that episode. Glad I could take you back there.

  29. Ninja turtles. Always had a crush on April O’Neil as a kid.

    http://grabyourballssports.wordpress.com/

    • Hah! Awesome.

  30. makais said:

    Reblogged this on Makais Blog and commented:
    nice lunchbox

  31. Lily told me this post was freashly pressed. What took those people so long?? Congratulations, Brian. I can’t think of another person who deserves this more than you. Actually, I can’t think of another person in your league. I know, I’m incredibly kind, but you and I know it’s true. *wink*

    • You’re killing me! But no WAY I could have made it without your support. Thank you.

      • On top of all that talent you’re humble, too. Stop being so great. : )

  32. I had the lunch box AND the “action figure” (don’t dare call it a doll). Loved the show, the lunch box, the dol … I mean action figure … and how when you looked through the back of Steve’s head, you had an enhanced view of something blurry and far away — sort of like looking through the viewfinder of a Kodak pocket instamatic. Hated the liverwurst sandwiches I got in my lunch, but opening that lunch box, especially on Fridays when I knew the show was coming on that night, was pure joy. Now, if I could only find a Hell’s Kitchen lunch box… Thanks for jump-starting my memory.

    • No, definitely not a doll.

      I totally forgot about the back-of-the-head viewfinder! Great call! Come on back and refresh my memory anytime…

  33. As a former teacher, and dreaming student, I love your post! Many of my students didn’t always have the new gear for school, but I always tried to give them a little something on the first day (usually an art supply of some sort as I was an art teacher) so they felt like they weren’t missing out. Most of my students would run out of the room, forgetting their sketchbooks, pencils or whatever it was that I gave them, but a good twenty would carry it around like the prize of a lifetime and I still saw them carrying it by the end of the year. They were probably students just like you described yourself, creative dreamers and I miss them still everyday! Thank you for this beautiful and insightful post!

    • I’m now beaming at the thought of being in your class! You are awesome, thank you so much for sharing and visiting.

  34. I had a Strawberry Shortcake metal lunchbox. Oh, how I loved it!

    • Welcome to the Awesome Lunch Box Club!

  35. My Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox and baloney on toast (can’t explain) go hand in hand for me. It’s a bittersweet day in elementary school when you start feeling like it’s cooler to brown bag it…why were we in such a rush to move on from cool lunch boxes? Great post, congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    • You do realize that I now practically require an explanation for baloney on toast??? And I hope you’ll get out that Strawberry Shortcake box and give it some love. *grin*

      Thanks for stopping in!

      • It’s gross, I know…but I can in fact explain! It must have been that my mom thought the bread would get too mushy during the morning so she toasted it, but it only made it worse…bless her!

      • Excellent answer…

  36. I’ll be honest… I almost bought a Star Wars lunch box yesterday. I don’t pack lunches. But I felt like it was a natural back-to-school accessory. I stopped myself. Stumbling across this post though, I’m now wishing I spent the $7.99…

    • DO EET!!! Go back and get it!!!!

  37. I loved getting a new lunch box! I own 3 of the 4 on your list. Joe Cool was one I carried. The others are part of my midlife collection – I like television themed ones best. Thanks for posting this and reminding me of one of the joys of the end of summer. Congrats on being FP.

    • Awesome, man! Happy lunch(box)ing!

  38. WordsFallFromMyEyes said:

    Ah, I was a teen, and I was in love, and he was The Six Million Dollar Man!! You SO took me back!

    • Yeeessssss!!!

  39. Reblogged this on ALABADO SEA JEBÚS.

  40. mono said:

    What a great post :-) You know, I cant remember a single one of my lunchboxes. I have no idea what they were. I remember that they were metal, and sometimes the thermos would break. And I was a big fan of the 6 million dollar man, but I don’t think I had the lunchbox… Congratulations on being fresh pressed!

    • Thanks and thanks for stopping in! Nothing worse than a broken thermos, though. Have some of my brain mac & cheese…

  41. I had an HR Pufnstuf lunch box until I out-grew it and began using a Partridge Family one! :)

    • Hah! Good move: HR Puffinstuff is a wee bit creepy. (And Bonaduce was still sweet and innocent.) Thanks for stopping in!

  42. I didnt have a lunch box at all, just sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, stuffed into a paper bag.
    However, do not shed a tear for me because that paper bag was then stuffed into my brand new leather school bag, which was awesome beyond all measure of belief.
    I wish I still had those bags, they are really popular now!
    Wendy

    • Leather school bag?!? Why I never! You would’ve been queen of recess at my school!

      Great having you here, thanks!

  43. Reblogged this on Under The Radar.

  44. tokyo5 said:

    I had the KISS lunchbox … and they’re still my favorite band!

    I had an Evel Knieval lunch box at one point too.

    I have been living in Japan since 1990 … lunchboxes here are quite different.

    Please visit my blog.

    • Crazy! I’d love to hear more about Japanese lunch boxes.

      • tokyo5 said:

        Well, first of all, they aren’t “boxes” like American school lunch boxes. They’re smaller all two stacked compartments…one have rice (often with a topping such a fish eggs or sea-weed), and the other compartment will have things such as broccoli, scrambled-type eggs, small meat balls, and/or chicken, etc.

        Some pre-schools and some high schools in Japan have the students bring a lunch box from home everyday…and some have them eat school lunch.
        But almost always, elementary schools and junior high schools have the kids eat the same school lunch.

        Businessmen bring a lunch box that their wives make in the morning, too.

        I wrote a post comparing Japanese and American schools:

        http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/japanese-vs-us-schools/

      • Fascinating! Your post was a great read, thanks.

  45. “Those brilliant clear days at the end of August meant a return to regime and order and new teachers and hall passes, and I still feel that tug of apprehension this time of year.” Excellent sentence that sums up feelings well. I too feel that little pull of apprehension in late August. When I start to see yellow school buses doing routes, I get an overwhelming feeling of compassion for the kids on them, forced to go back to school for another year.

    This was such an entertaining and fun post. You find deeper meaning in things like lunch boxes, new clothes, and the music of the playground. You expressed your thoughts clearly and entertained me as a reader. Well done and thank you for sharing!

    • Hey, I really appreciate your thoughts, thank you so much.

      • Glad to do so. Thank you for the follow!

  46. Stacie Chadwick said:

    You are such an atmospheric writer Brian. Well done and congrats! =)

    • You’ve been a constant cheerleader, m’dear, and I thank you for it.

      • You deserve it. =)

  47. Karen said:

    The Bionic Woman rules!

    • No argumnent. *grin* Great to have you here, thanks!

  48. What a great post! I can remember those days well too, but for me it was new pencil crayons that I looked forward to. I still love nice pencil crayons – they are great for drawing!
    Thanks for visiting and following my blog!

    • Ahh, nothing better than a pile of fresh pencil shavings on your desk…

      Thank you! C’mon back.

  49. LaVagabonde said:

    Oh, the coveted KISS lunchbox! Then there was Shazam! and the matching Underoos to go with it! Sadly, neither of which my brothers had. It’s funny, I know I had a metal lunchbox, but I can’t remember which one! I can so remember the smell of freshly unwrapped Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs, though. Then it became cooler to have brown bags. Lunch boxes were so 2nd grade. Thanks for the nostalgia!

    • Now I want a Ding Dong!

      So glad I could take you there! Don’t be a stranger.

      • LaVagabonde said:

        Be careful to remove all of the foil wrapping or you’ll end up getting a shock.

        I just remembered which lunch box I had: Land of the Lost! That was my favorite show – those scary Sleestacks!

      • Land of the Lost! Awesome!! I was a bit more into Johnny Quest, but LotL was pretty bad ass. Good stuff. Now, if I could only remember which Underoos I had…

  50. 100poemsformyex said:

    I wish they made lunch box’s for kids where we could have drawn the girl we had a crush on. It wouldn’t look great or be flattering, but it would be sweet.

    • Intriguing idea…

  51. Fun topic. I can’t even remember all these years later my Must Have lunchbox

    • Oh, I had to do some mental groping myself. Good thing for the interwebs.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  52. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! :)

    • Thank you so much! It’s a thrill and an honor. And it’s been so great discovering so many great sites like yours.

      • Thank you :) I look forward to reading more of your blog!

  53. Thank you Brian, always a pleasure to read your posts. : )

    • Great having you here! I really appreciate it.

  54. OMG – THAT six million dollar man. I remember the series well when it first ran (ahem); but I guess at age 12 my critical faculties were less developed than they are today. When I saw an episode recently I couldn’t believe the level of corn. And yet the accessories that went with it – like that lunchbox (and I seem to remember a few other things) are so evocative, and not just of that show, as you’ve shown us. Thanks for sharing – and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • The level of corn really started with the leisure suit, then extended to the jump suit. Hard to get past that. But the stage was set for the brilliant crime-fighting mullet of McGyver…

      Great having you here, thanks!

  55. I love your vivid imagination and lunch boxes. I too remember the days of metal lunches; they never seemed to hold much more than a sandwich and a snack. Maybe we ate less then.
    Really enjoyed your post. Congrats on the FP.
    Cheers,
    iRuniBreathe

    • Thanks so much for commenting! We definitely ate less then. Not a bad thing, in my humble opinion.

      • I agree with your opinion. ;)

  56. Love this post! I used to get so overjoyed and excited about getting new school supplies. I did love to pick out a lunchbox, but I have to say that I was more thrilled about choosing my binder that I would use for the entire school year. Lots of fancy Trapper Keepers and what not. I have always had an affinity for unicorns, so quite a bit of my stuff was covered in pastels, lightning and unicorns.

    That lunchbox rules. I still have a Strawberry Shortcake one and a Peanuts one, both metal.

    • The Almighty Trapper Keeper!!! Brilliant invention, that.

  57. originaljerseygirl said:

    Ahhh, this reminded me of a fantastic Star Wars lunchbox I had! Can’t find it anywhere on the net now, which is a shame, it was a great lunchbox!

    • It’s got to be out there! Keep digging and post when you find it!

  58. Great post – the worst for me was we generally got an unpredictable (i.e. rainy) summer in Ireland, and there would be this burst of Indian summer while we were stuck indoors in the classroom in our scratchy uniforms, watching the blue skies and opportunities lost outside :-)

    • Guh, that sounds miserable! In a romantic kind of way.

      Great to see you, thanks!

  59. WHOA. I am *SO* late to this FP party! You are the second close friend of mine in the last week to be Freshly Pressed! Congrats Brian! You really, really, really deserved this honor, and so, so much more! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay! Doing a happy dance!

    • Could NOT have made it without you! Thank you so much!

      • Oh, my friend— if I could take a little credit for your awesomeness, Brian? I totally would. But, alas, I cannot. You are an awesome writer and person all on your own merit! *Resuming happy dance!*

  60. I used to have metal lunchboxes with matching plastic mug as a kid! This blog brings memories.

    • Awesome! What bands? And thanks for visiting! Great to have you.

      • Cartoon characters actually! Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and He-Man! Lol

      • Love!

  61. lool! amazing!!! i had a care bears lunch box!!!!! it was the fuckn best. i also had a chilly willy (the penguin from woody woodpecker) thermos.

    also, i’m now 22 and i still own a pink crayola crayon shaped thermos. i adore it.

    thanks for the memories! x

    • I friggin’ LOVE Chilly Willy! Awesome!

      Thanks for stopping in!

  62. Boy, does this bring back memories. Brian, you must be the same era as me, grade school in the 1970s? high school in the 1980s?

    • Absolutely correct! Great to have you come back with me.

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