In March of 2003, I went into third grade classrooms to give students and teachers an idea of what to expect when they came to visit the Education Center at McNary National Wildlife Refuge. Accompanying me were several mounted bird specimens. I visited 4 classrooms before lunch and had an hour and half to wait before presenting to the fifth group.

Well it was the lunch hour. School lunches were available to guests. I bought a school lunch. It had been years since I last had lunch at school and I expected to see some changes.

One I did not expect was milk in a squishy plastic bag. From the cow to milk bottles to cardboard cartons to a little plastic bag brought back an image or two, let me tell you. First of all, we did not carry milk to school when I was in third grade. We drank water from an outdoor pump.

At this modern school, I enjoyed chicken nuggets, tossed salad, pasta salad, orange pieces, and animal cookies. But I had to ask the kids how to get into the squishy milk bag. I had visions of milk pouring all over the table on which were wet bar towels apparently needed for just such spills. Helpful kids encouraged me to pinch the plastic between my left thumb and forefinger then stab the pointed end of the plastic straw firmly into the bag. Oh wait, hold my finger tightly over the open end of the straw or it would squirt out at me. Two tries. I wasn't a quick learner.

But as I sat eating off a plastic tray with a plastic fork, and watching kids scurrying about I couldn't help but think about my school lunch when I was that age. That's what old people do.

In 1939 my lunch was packed by Mother in waxed paper, plastic wasn't invented yet. In 1939 my lunch was put into a syrup pail. In 1939 I carried the syrup pail and walked a mile to school.

You have no reason to know what a syrup pail is. Karo was one company that sold many cans of corn syrup and molasses. Staleys was another. Syrup hasn't been packaged that way for years. But it was then. In a very sturdy tin pail that was recycled as a lunch pail or a container for gathering berries, eggs, lard, or whatever material needed to be carried or stored in a safe container.

A syrup pail is a round cylinder like a coffee can but with a wire attached, called a bail, for easy handling. Five pounds of syrup is heavy and needed a sturdy handle. The cover was inset very tightly and the empty container was useful for many things. A piece of yarn tied to the handle identified mine among nine others in the little country school. The attached bail came in handy to attach to a belt when both hands were needed for climbing trees. I carried a little lunch up a tree or two just for fun. Both hands were needed for picking berries, a task usually forced upon me with most rewards that of eating the berries.

There you have it. That was recycling over 50 years ago. Now you can identify an antique.


Naomi Sherer