I can’t look at a picnic basket these days without experiencing a wave of nostalgia. As the lantern symbolizes the miner’s trade , the lunch basket does the Grand Falls papermaker’s. My father had the same lunchbasket for the twenty three years that I held his surname and for years after. And it was as sacred to him as rosary beads to a Catholic.
You don’t see lunch baskets like that these days. But a picnic basket is the closest cousin. Dad’s lunch basket was perhaps fifteen inches long ,nine inches deep , oval shaped and woven . The top had a solid wooden cover that was hinged so that you could flip it open. Inside it you would find a white enamel bowl, a tin cup , utensils and a small container for milk to go in his tea . These items stayed with the basket and were reserved solely for it.
My mom would have lunch ready before the mill’s noon whistle . In fact that was when we had our big meal of the day. So the mid day meal was always called dinner. And what we ate at home, Dad would get in the mill if he was on the day shift. So if we had fish, fat and potatoes, Mom would put some in the tin bowl, place a plate on top of it and wrap it in samples to keep the food insulated. Samples were folded pieces of newsprint that the men brought home from the mill. Once the dessert was packed and some bread or tea buns added Mom covered it carefully with more newsprint to hide the contents. Perhaps on occasion a bun was missing which necessitated the covering of the goodies. Not that it would deter a hungry papermaker from foraging.
Packing the lunch basket well was a source of pride for my mom. She loved it when my father would tell her how one of the men raved about his lunch. She was an excellent cook deserving of praise. It was a matter of pride for Dad too. Having a “good woman” at home was something to brag about. And papermakers loved to play pranks on one another . It wasn’t unusual for Mom to find a love note on some of the paper wrapping when she went to clean out the basket. My father wasn’t one to write such things but he would get a chuckle from it too.
Sometimes my mother asked me to deliver the lunch basket. That meant a seven or eight minute trek downtown. Back then that was a long distance. Today it is a hop , skip and a jump. But I would do it, sometimes grudgingly, well most times actually. What a disagreeable child I was! I would bring the basket to the front entrance of the mill and inside the double doors a bench stood against one wall. That is where I placed the basket along with others that had been sent in. Once in a while my father would come out while I was there and pick up his basket . That was nice because he was always happy to see me. But most of the time someone else would fetch the lunches and carry them to the machine room.
At the end of the shift , the basket held the empty dishes. The food was gone. But there would be a new paper sample to wrap the lunch for the next day.