I carried a brown sack lunch in my bag for ten consecutive years.
At elementary school we all sat in the same spot everyday at the lunch table. The boy who sat across from me, Corbin, had Lunchables everyday. He didn’t eat the cheese and would nibble the chocolate off his Reeses before getting to the peanut butter core. The boy sitting next to him, Alex, had Snack Pac puddings. He would lay his spoon aside after using the end to poke a hole in top. He would then proceed to squeeze the pudding out of the hole and suck it off. One girl got “hot lunch” and I envied her processed chicken nuggets and fake mashed potatoes. Kelsey had a yellow insulated lunch box from Old Navy. Krista had Caprisuns.
I had thick slices of dry homemade bread with Flavorite peanut butter and homemade jam packed neatly in a baggie that didn’t even have a zipper. It folded.
Previous years had taught me to actually let my sandwiches get smashed. This let the dry bread soak up the jam so I could get my sandwich down without a Caprisun.
In more prosperous years my lunches had powdered Tang (bought in bulk) at the bottom of my thermos, waiting to be turned to liquid gold at the drinking fountain. That year it was just the drinking fountain.
Other kids had Go-Gurts. We often had homemade applesauce or pudding in tupperware. Instead of plastic spoons we were given a spoon from the silverware drawer and told to bring it back. Spoons often graced my back pocket during recess.
Before this there were days when I just couldn’t stand to eat yet another dry homemade sandwich. On those days I took one of three options. 1) Trade my sandwich. 2) Return home with my sandwich (and get sent out with the same one the next day…only dryer). 3) Throw my sandwich, and its folded plastic bag, away.
That year I began throwing my sandwich, and sometimes other parts of my lunch, away regularly. Sometimes I would skip eating at lunch and save my lunch until the bus ride home. Sometimes I would just skip eating all together and wait until I got home, leaving the brown sacks to pile up in my backpack until they molded and were thrown away in secret at home. I was embarrassed and sick of my lunches.
One morning my mom packed lunches for us kids and then packed herself a lunch for the six hour bus-ride she would take, alone, to the Seattle Temple and back.
I can still remember exactly what she had in her lunch that day.
Graham crackers spread with peanut butter and a few baby carrots.
That was all she felt our family could afford for her lunch that day.
My lunch had all the usuals and there I was throwing away my lunches or letting them collect mold and scatter crumbs in my backpack while my mother gave me all she had.
I was under the impression mothers sacrificing their own food for their children only occurred in foreign countries or those pathetic Christmas stories meant to make you realize how selfish you were for wanting presents.
I’d like to say that was the day I decided to never throw my lunches away again. It wasn’t. A clear vision of my sixth grade locker with weeks worth of brown sack lunches stuffed at the bottom comes to mind.
I would like to say it was the last time something like this happened. But a memory of my mom getting me French fries with my hamburger instead of getting herself a hamburger (and then lying about it) because she didn’t have enough cash on hand, comes to mind. I sobbed while I ate my French fries. Mixing the salt of my tears with the salt of the fries in my mouth.
But I can say this:
Brown bag lunches have accompanied me through years of side ponytails, awkward maturing years, and into high school. And they accompany me now. Lecture halls, study sessions, and long hours at the library have all felt the company of my brown sack lunches, while I felt their bulk in my bag resting on my hip. Rarely can I pull out a smashed PB&J, the bread now bought in uniform loaves, without thinking of home, of sacrifice, of hard years survived, of love, and of my mom.
And that is why I love brown sack lunches. Because the lessons they have to offer are far more valuable than a Caprisun could ever give.
* I still love Caprisuns. The last couple times I have been grocery shopping with my Mom I have asked for Caprisuns. She still won’t get them. Neither will my kids. And thankfully the “Caprisun Complex” will continue.