“Waxing Poetic”


My grade school lacked a cafeteria, so we all packed our lunches. We all owned little metal lunchboxes which, no matter how well you cleaned them, always held onto an odor of overripe banana. The only thing provided by the school was a little carton of milk, costing a penny.

I made my own sandwiches and rotated among peanut butter and honey, bologna and liverwurst.(I loved liverwurst. Since no one else did, I usually could make a sandwich when I wanted it.) Sometimes when peanut butter and bologna were both gone, I made honey sandwiches. One dreadful morning when my mother hadn’t been able to get to the grocery store on Saturday, I had a margarine sandwich.

But this post highlights that trusty product, waxed paper. I never had heard of Saran Wrap in those days. No one I knew had either. Nor had they invented little plastic “sandwich” bags. Only waxed paper was going to keep my sandwich intact until lunch. Waxed paper doesn’t “cling” like plastic wrap. It folds and then unfolds, allowing said sandwich to slide into the banana or the bottom of the less than ideal lunchbox.

The solution? Basic origami was required to get a sandwich to stay put. I was not particularly dexterous, and often couldn’t remember how to fold the paper in any orderly manner. I was in awe of classmates whose sandwiches were wrapped in a way that they stayed intact.

I guess waxed paper is still around. I use it to line cake pans occasionally. I think my roll is ten years old. I don’t miss it. For me it still conjures up that stale lunchbox smell.

23 thoughts on ““Waxing Poetic”

  1. My sister’s and I just had a laughter filled discussion about; you guessed it sack lunche. No metal lunch boxes at our place, a banana goo stained sack and if mom ran out of brownies bags she substituted with a bread sack. Stinky McIntosh apples too.


    1. My mother “wasn’t going to waste good money on brown bags!” Those apples were always gross. We did like to twist the stems and count out the alphabet to see who we would marry. Tough to keep twisting if you had your eye set on someone with a name starting with W!


  2. Ha! You are right about the banana smell. I always had sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, too. Today I use it to wrap canvases when I ship paintings.


  3. Interesting post, Elizabeth. I also had to make my own sandwiches for lunch at school. They were nearly always peanut butter. My parents were far from wealthy and there were four of us so it was peanut butter or bovril (which I don’t like much). We didn’t have wax wrap but just put our sandwich in a plastic box. We didn’t get fruit either. It was very plain. My boys don’t eat lunch anymore. I don’t like that as the school day is long but it is a waste if I make it for them as it comes home untouched.


    1. Plastic boxes hadn’t yet been invented. I am amazed that your boys go that long without lunch. My daughter needed a mid morning snack throughout school years. She still does.


  4. Lots of nostalgia here, Elizabeth. When I was at primary school (aged under 12) we always had cooked school dinners – that could be the subject of an entire post! But from secondary school onwards we had packed lunches though not in metal lunchboxes like yours – ours were plastic. At primary school we had school milk – in small milk bottles which froze in the winter so the frozen milk popped the foil top and climbed upwards and which curdled in the summer. It took me a long time to start enjoying milk as a drink once I was older!

    When we wrapped sandwiches it was in greaseproof paper, which I think is called baking paper in the US. I don’t think my mother had waxed paper at home at all.


    1. One of my favorite series of history books is “Everyday Life in…” I realized that many young people don’t know about “Everyday Life in the 50’s and 60’s” Hence the series. I would love to hear about the cooked school dinners. Amazing bit about the milk. Perhaps you mean parchment paper?


      1. Yes I think it probably would be parchment paper. School dinners were not great. My pet hate was the watery, lumpy mashed potato which I struggled to swallow. Ugh! I remember it now! We had some delicious puddings though. Spotted dick, which was a heavy steamed pudding containing dried fruit and was served with a spoonful of crunchy dark brown sugar and a pat of butter. (Though I’m sure it would have margarine not real butter.) Another favourite was gypsy tart. The filling was probably made with condensed milk and sugar. I loved them! School dinners have changed a great deal here since then. Thankfully!


        1. My first two years of school I did have school lunch. We had to eat every bite dished out and a monitor checked our trays before we handed them in. I still remember struggling with rutabaga. Who thought rutabaga was a great choice for 6 year olds? Great discussion of the puddings. I have run into spotted dick in novels and never had any idea what it was. Now that you mention margarine, I remember my mother adding the yellow color to the white blob.


  5. Elizabeth! What a delightful memory you have evoked for Mother’s Day! Wax paper, and its noon time contents. No liverwurst, though. Try and sneak a bite before lunch – rattle, rattle. We did not save “used” wax paper, but my Mum always wiped up aluminum foil when it came along. Thanks for the smiles.
    (MarileeWein.com – put b/c my address is conflicted, such that an error of non-exist may pop up)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They made us put our lunches in the “cloak room.” What an old fashioned word. We also saved aluminum foil once it came along. Thanks for sharing these memories.


  6. Your post and the comments are a treat setting me off on an I Remember trip. And here’s my contribution: in winter my mother would cycle to school at lunchtime with a billy full of hot homemade soup on the handlebars (and a tin mug) for the six of us, all at the same primary school at the time. Yum!


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