Tennis shoes and a baby boomer’s memory

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We love baby boomers’ childhood memories. And this one, from Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, is a dandy. It’s about Tennis Shoes for Lunch.

With my plaid uniform and navy blue cardigan, my Popeye the Sailor Man lunch box (with matching thermos inside) made a nice accessory. I also carried a brown paper bag containing my tennis shoes. It was P.E. day.

PF Flyers

PF Flyers

While I didn’t know P.E. stood for Physical Education, I knew it came around once a week, and it called for tennis shoes. After lunch, like Superman, I’d change from my black and white saddle Oxfords into my blue PF Flyers (which everyone knew made you “run faster and jump higher”).

Erin's first grade class.

Erin’s first grade class.

My love affair with shoes had begun by first grade. The only problem was, even though I was five-going-on-six, I had a little trouble tying them. But I was working on it. With luck, my friend who spoke only Dutch would tie them for me. Then, like in the Madeline book, we’d walk across the street in two straight lines, to the church parking lot.

Erin O'Brien

Erin O’Brien

At my desk in the back of the row, I unwrapped the cellophane and ate my half-sandwich, then the banana, and the two cookies which I saved for last. Then I put my lunch box back in the closet and grabbed my paper bag. I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw when I opened it.

Instead of my blue PF flyers, there was a whole sandwich, not a half, a banana, four cookies instead of two, and a pack of Kent cigarettes! Quickly, I closed the bag. I looked around. My 58 classmates were oblivious, eating their lunch or tying their tennis shoes. I needed a moment to process what had just happened: I was five-going-on-six, in first grade, and I’d brought cigarettes to school.

Kent_cigarettesI opened the bag again. The cigarettes were still there. And the four cookies. I knew I had to surrender the contraband, and there was a very small window of opportunity in which to do this. Not that I could tell time yet. But I was working on it. Additionally, there was the added terror of getting in trouble for not having tennis shoes for PE day. My troubles were mounting. Would I get a pink detention slip? Would Sister call the police when she learned I had a pack of cigarettes?

I opened the bag yet again, but not all the way. To the casual observer, it would appear that I’d brown-bagged it that day, although I was known for my Popeye the Sailor Man lunchbox. I reached inside, beyond the pack of cigarettes, retrieved the bag of cookies, and rolled the edge of the bag shut. After I’d eaten two of them (for my dad would certainly notice if all of them were missing), I walked up to the front of the classroom to where my teacher was standing. I opened the bag one last time so when she bent down she’d see it was true when I whispered, “Sister, I have my daddy’s cigarettes.”

Erin's Popeye lunchbox.

Erin’s Popeye lunchbox.

Then I wiped the cookie crumbs off my lips.

I didn’t bother to mention the cookies.

5 Comments

  1. You made me snort coffee out me nose! Cigarettes? I did not see that coming! I laughed out loud, and didn’t stop smiling for a good 5 minutes!

  2. Erin, I just loved that story. It took me back years as my parents use to smoke cigarettes too. I use to love seeing the smoke come from my Dad’s nose and I’d think to myself..”How’d he do that?”
    Keep writing, I love your stories.

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