By Larry Scheckel

Tomah

(Monroe County)

The 28 children in the one-room Oak Grove Ridge school outside of Seneca in the middle of Crawford County always looked forward to noon lunch. It was the 1940s and 1950s and Mom would make the school lunches for me and my brothers Phillip and Bob, and later my younger sisters Catharine, Rita and Diane.

In a typical lunch she packed thick slices of homemade bread around layers of jelly and peanut butter, wrapped in wax paper. Sometimes those two slices of bread held a slab of Spam. I loved that stuff! The sandwich might be augmented with an orange and a brownie.

Dad and Mother had nine children, so she made six loaves of bread at a time. Yes, she had the old-fashioned bread box filled with flour, purchased in 50-pound or 100-pound cloth bags. In that flour bin sat a hand-operated sifter.

I have vivid memories of Mother kneading the dough, rolling it over and over in flour, placing the dough in bread pans, opening the big door of the wood-burning oven, and placing six bread pans inside, then closing the door with a hot pad.

Some kids brought their lunch in syrup cans or cleaned-out paint cans. They had a nice handle and could be used in the summertime to pick wild raspberries or blackberries. Other kids used a paper sack saved when groceries were purchased at Johnson’s One-Stop Shopping Center or Kane’s IGA, both stores in Seneca. Virgil Fradette owned a bright red rectangular lunch box with a Hopalong Cassidy motif on one side. I later learned those type of lunch boxes were made by Aladdin Industries out of Nashville.

We took soup in a glass jelly jar with a screw-on lid. A half-hour before lunch, some of the older and taller boys or girls would set several pans atop the potbelly wood-burning stove. They would pour 2 to 3 inches of water in the pans. Close to lunch time, each kid would get out their jar of soup and heat it up by putting it in the pan of water.

There would be great excitement when a jar was set into the water without the lid being loosened. The air inside the jar heated up, expanded, and the jar would explode.

That was our hot lunch program in the winter time when the wood-burning stove was needed and we ate inside. Spring and fall, we’d take our lunch boxes outside and sit on the concrete steps, or cistern skirting, or along the sunny south side of the school. Sometimes we traded lunch items.

Roy Rogers lunch box

My favorite lunch container was a metal box about 6 inches by 9 inches and 4 inches deep with a little handle on top for carrying.

The entire lunch box had that cowboy Roy Rogers motif, with Roy and his horse, Trigger, Dale Evans and her horse Buttermilk, Bullet the German Shepherd dog, Roy’s sidekick Pat Brady and his Jeep, Nellybelle. The lunch box sported a half-dozen or so colored pictures showing Roy riding his horse, rounding up cattle, Dale Evans and the logo of the Double R Bar Ranch. My favorite picture was Bullet licking Pat Brady’s face. Our black and white dog Shep would do the same thing until he got run over by a passing car on Oak Grove Ridge Road.

Of that whole Roy Rogers bunch, I admired Pat Brady the most. I got a Pat Brady coloring book for Christmas when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I later learned that Pat Brady served with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in Europe in World War II. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. He was decorated for bravery and earned the bronze star and two Purple Hearts. He rescued some of his Army buddies when the top of their Army tank was blown off near Metz, France, in November 1944.

I used that lunch pail for third and fourth grade until the two hinges tore loose. I could get by with one bad hinge, but not with two bad hinges. Later I got a lunch box that was black with a dome top and a thermos bottle fit into the dome top, held by a wire latch. The inside of the lunch box was painted white. They were durable, sturdy and the vacuum bottle held about 2 cups, and the lid, usually red, acted as a drinking cup.

Whenever I see a potbelly stove, I have fond memories of us school kids on Oak Grove Ridge placing our wide-mouth glass jars of soup in a big pan of hot water at 11:30 in the morning and savoring the contents at noon.