My inspiration for this week’s article began innocently enough when I packed up several skeins – well, actually four boxes worth – of accumulated yarn to send to my sisters in Tennessee and West Virginia. A friend helped me stuff the yarn into cardboard boxes from my junk room, tape the boxes to within an inch of their lives, and ship them off. I am happy to report my sisters are now the new owners of a whole bunch of old yarn!
For reasons unclear to me, I started thinking about those boxes I had used for shipment: two from QVC, one from Amazon, and a slightly-tattered Huggies box, whose presence in my house I cannot adequately explain. I remembered that Pete Seeger song from the 60’s: “Little boxes on the hillside/little boxes made of ticky-tacky…” and just had to find the lyrics on my Kindle so that I could sing aloud all four verses about conformity in suburbia. I thought about the Dr. Seuss character refusing to eat green eggs and ham in a box or with a fox, Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, and the box of 64 Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener Mother once bought for my younger sister. I also remembered some extra creative people in my life who think way outside the box because they have no idea there even is a box.
There are old-fashioned boxes such as jukeboxes and boom boxes as well as ice boxes and recipe boxes. Jackie Kennedy undoubtedly kept her pillbox hats in hat boxes. The panel on What’s My Line? always wanted to know if something was bigger than a bread box, and many a person – including yours truly – has been called a chatterbox. When I was very young, box boys at the grocery store packed our bologna and bananas and jars of peanut butter in boxes they then carried out to our car.
At various junctures in my life, boxes became an essential part of moving into dorm rooms, apartments, and houses. And we have all witnessed children tossing aside expensive, new toys to play for hours with the boxes in which the toys arrived.
My mind then moved from cardboard boxes on to brown paper bags, which I do not see as frequently as I once did. Those box boys? They started packing our groceries in paper bags.
At home we saved all our paper bags folded up in the pantry to use in other areas of our lives. Mother lined waste baskets with grocery bags of the paper type, and eventually we took our newspapers to recycling centers in paper bags. I often cut up brown paper bags to wrap packages for mailing, and paper bag covers protected school textbooks much longer than those fancy ones some of my students bought. There was often a transition period when kids traded in their Dukes of Hazzard lunch boxes for more low-key brown paper bags. Occasionally a library sold a whole grocery bagful of used books for a really cheap price.
Paper bags in various sizes were just the thing for art projects. Small bags made fun hand puppets, and the larger ones with holes cut out for eyes became great masks when worn over the head. A few hearts and a couple of doilies could transform even a lowly paper bag into a great Valentine’s Day card holder.
I am not sure how many checkout clerks give the choice between paper or plastic anymore, and I no longer have a stash of paper grocery bags in my kitchen. I do, however, appreciate any modern brown paper bag with sturdy and convenient carrying handles.
Finally, my extended thought process led to newspapers. Life is difficult these days in the newspaper world. Reading the UDC has been a lifelong habit of mine, and it saddens me greatly that the economics of it all has decreased the weekly number of editions to five. As we all know, TV and the internet are providing us with the news nowadays, while Facebook and Twitter – to name just two – have replaced the social functions of local papers.
But in the years before we switched to online editions for environmental reasons, we always had a ready supply of newspapers for any number of household tasks. Newspapers provided protection during messy jobs like painting and shoe polishing. In lieu of expensive shelf paper, Mother lined each level of our chest of drawers with newspapers. Not that I do it regularly, but I learned that wiping windows with newspapers during the washing process prevented the streaks so glaringly evident on sunny days.
Any sane parent would spread out multiple layers of newspaper before Easter egg dyeing and pumpkin innards scooping commenced on the kitchen table. Newspapers are still a must for papier-mâché.
I also recollect a really far-out use of newspapers in a dormitory room during my college years. For some celebratory reason, a girl found her entire room – top to bottom and side to side – filled with crumpled newspapers. Hey, it was the 60’s.
A final image formed as the wacky journey through my mind came to an end: a box, wrapped in a flattened-out brown paper bag and filled with scrunched-up newspaper pages as packing material. Seems like a fitting tribute for a trifecta of indispensable items we still too often take for granted.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.