Neatly packed in a perfect order, an apple in one corner, a juice box in the other, a peanut butter and jelly, or ham and cheese sandwich, stuffed just-right inside of a clear plastic bag, placed right underneath another loosely-filled plastic bag containing what looked like a single handful of chips. Their lunches always looked so much better than mine. They were presentable I thought, always inside of the latest aluminum lunch box with the right cartoon characters on the outermost lid.
Mine on the other hand was wrapped in aluminum foil, stuffed inside of a plastic or brown paper bag, whatever we happened to have at the house that morning, accompanied by an apple, a banana, sometimes a mango, which by the way parents is really difficult to eat on a field trip, I can’t tell you how many times I had to resort to licking my fingers and arms to get all the stickiness off of myself, like a damn cat or something, a durazno,una pera or any combination of these. When I’d take my lunch out and unwrap it kids would always peer over and see what I’d brought, not because they were curious but because our lunches always came with a strong smell. Usually it was of gorditas made by hand, stuffed con huevo, chile y frijoles, which I’m sure you know, the longer they sit the stronger the aroma they give off. It was so embarrassing to me at the time.
To avoid being asked the inevitable “what is that?” by my huerito friends I’d always try to sit as far away from everyone else, by myself, where I could devour the flavorful goodness from my mother’s kitchen as fast as I could, right down to the very last single bean. When the maiz portion of the gordita was gone I’d take my fingers and scoop all of the chunks of eggs and beans still lying on the aluminum foil in my hand and greedily stuff their still-warm goodness into my mouth. It’s no wonder I came to be such a husky child in my youth. I wasn’t jealous of their lunches anymore by this point. Then, despite my continued embarrassment as the years went on, I began to notice other kids, los hueritos mainly, would come sit next to me no matter how far I’d go and ask me for a piece of my gorditas, or want to trade lunches all together. I never wanted to, but sometimes mamá would pack an extra serving for me and that was always fair game for my quickly-developing system of barter at that young age. They’d give me their chips, their Twinkies, their chocolate cream cakes, or even their juice boxes in exchange for just a small portion of my aluminum-wrapped, brown-paper-bagged, warm, homemade lunch, and I was always much the happier with a full stomach from what I considered the best of both worlds.
Soon enough I had lost all my shame, in more ways than one, and eventually we did get the right kind of lunch boxes – mine had The Thundercats on it – but I never again felt like my lonche was less than their lunch.