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Lessons from a lunch bag

My childhood friend and I sit on a blanket of pine needles in the shade of the tall tree. We are in third grade, and we are having our lunch break. We open our sandwiches to see what's in them. I gaze with wonder as Shirley opens hers.

"What is that on your sandwich?" I ask, unwrapping mine and balancing a carton of milk on a stump.

"Peanut butter," she replies, smiling happily and getting ready to bite into it.

"But what's that on the peanut butter?" I ask. "Those four little black things?"

"Oh," she replies, closing it quickly as she takes a big bite, "those are my raisins."

"Raisins!" I say. "But there are only four. Where are the rest?" I was not terribly diplomatic at that age.

I open my own sandwich. The other kids bend in for a good look. "Mine's peanut butter, too!" I exclaim. "And look, I have raisins, too."

But the difference is obvious. My raisins lay like a blanket, all squashed together, spilling out of the edges. Here and there a little peanut butter oozes between, barely visible. A smooth layer of mayonnaise on the other slice of bread holds it all together.

I glance at my friend. By now she has taken another large bite from her sandwich. Surprisingly, she seems quite content.

I close mine and take a small bite. I try to chew quietly and inconspicuously, but there are so many raisins it takes a while. I silently thank my mother for doing the raisins right.

My carton of milk has reached the slurping stage, and I am making great noises when I glance over at Shirley. She is making almost as much noise digging into her crunchy lunch bag.

"Is there something else in there?" I ask. My lunch is always just one sandwich. That and a nickel for milk. Curious, I lean over her to see what she has found.

She brings out a folded piece of paper. "My dad always writes me a little note and puts it in the bottom of my bag after he makes my sandwich," she says.

"Your dad?" I ask. "You mean your dad makes your lunch?"

I had never heard of anyone's dad making her lunch. Almost, I had never heard of anyone's dad doing anything in the kitchen - or the house. Dads go to work. Moms stay home. Moms make lunches.

"Yes," she answers, "My dad always makes my lunch. He makes my breakfast and dinner, too."

"But what about your mom?"

"My mom works," she says, as if that were the most ordinary thing in the world. "She has to get up very early and go to her job. My dad stays home and takes care of me and my little brother. He says that's a really big job."

I stop slurping. I stop asking. This is something I will have to turn over in my mind, like figuring out just where to sit on the teeter-totter to keep it balanced and understanding why it is that some people don't like me asking them questions.

I have just about given up finding out what is in the note when she up and hands it to me. "Here," she says, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to have a note in your lunch bag, "you can read it if you want."

I definitely did want. I beamed a thank you and carefully unfolded it. It was smudged a little with peanut butter but printed in large letters easy to read:

"I hope," it said, "you enjoy your peanut butter sandwich today. I am sorry there are only four raisins. Your little brother must have gotten into the box yesterday. I'll put more on next time.

"Love you,

"Dad"

I feel very strange, almost like I want to cry. I don't know why. I think I need to talk to my mom. I think I need a note in my lunch.

Barbara Sartor is a writer in Dunedin.

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