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.


11 responses »

  1. Ada Briem says:

    Ah Judy, I remember the Lunch Basket very well. She used to cooked up some super mean lunches in the day. Quite often, when no other means available, your mother would call a cab to ensure the “Lunch” arrived there on time.Your Dad probably always had the best lunches of any at the Mill. I recall the ” samples ” very well. Without knowing better, a stranger reading this would assume they were samples of some sort of a mill related product for sale.One of the most Popular uses of the “Sample” was when the industrious, dedicated housewives did their Friday floor scrubbing. These samples were used to cover the floors until there was no doubt the linoleum, which of course was the most popular kitchen floor covering back in the day, was waxed and completely dry before anyone could set foot on it. Ah, the good ole Newfie housewife.

    • Yes, Ada, those “samples” were really useful. I am going to do another piece on them. They had so many uses. I remember when Mom scrubbed the floor they would be spread out all over the place. I think she put them there, as you suggested, to keep the fresh wax from streaking.
      The Newfie housewife really took her job seriously in those days. In fact it was quite common to look down your nose at a woman who was not a good housekeeper . I know Mom, for one, was not above remarking on the shortcomings of other wives .

  2. Anonymous says:

    I just emailed you a picture of the lunchbox which I believe to be like the one you are referring to. 🙂

  3. What wonderful childhood memories you have! So many topics to write about and so many interesting tidbits to share..Enjoyed this piece immensely. I just remember packing my own lunch to take to the high school and it was usually a mustard and bologna sandwich with a can of pop. Nothing quite as exciting as your dad’s superb lunch!

    • Thank you, Pauline. You took a lunch to school , did you? We always walked home for lunch since we had an hour and a half off starting at noon. And we lived a five minute walk from the school. That break was really good back then. When I was teaching and the lunch was shortened to 45 minutes because the children stayed in the school I found it much more stressful than the time when I could go home, relax and face the short afternoon session. With so many children eating in , it was a necessary change.

  4. Blockader says:

    I have my Grand-Father’s lunch basket sitting here on my shelf. 🙂 I miss the sound of the noon whistle, I never know when its time to eat anymore.

    • I miss the sound also. And I miss the sound of the logs falling. Remember that sound?. Often I write of visuals but sound plays a large part in memory as well as scents. As I write I am thinking of the sound of the train whistle and the rattle as it went by on the tracks in Windsor and faded away in the night.
      My brother has Dad’s basket and I think it may be in storage somewhere as he is out of the country. So nice to know you have kept yours too.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I have that lunchbox somewhere. Maybe it is at Sans? Dad gave it to me and I used it for the years I worked in the mill. It’s the thing I cherish most from my time in the Mill. Mom used to bring me massive cooked lunches on occasion just as she did all those years for Dad. Dad switched to sandwiches. Actually I think he just liked seeing me with the lunchbox -the next generation of Thornes in the paper mill Thankfully I decided to go on to university. I would often go up to Dad’s soundproof box to share lunch with him. He would tell me stories about the mill and the lunchbox. It was great.


    • I thought you had it. You are the right one since you did your time in the mill as so many other young fellows did. And some of them went on to university as you did. The income from their shift work supplemented their student loans and grants.
      I wonder if you know Blockader, Glenn. I think he may be around your age. Just a guess mind you. You might enjoy his writing too. He writes well beyond my capabilities. Check out his blog particularly his post on Leech Brook. He describes it from a totally different and unique perspective.

  6. Dad’s lunch basket is safe. I almost left it behind when we left Cupids but Cecil made sure it came with us.

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