The Triumph of The Lunch-Box Sociable

THE subject is the box-lunch sociable. But this is how it came about: The members of my high school class of 1926 decided to reunionate again, and I told 'em if they'd come to my place I'd buy the lobsters and put on a feed. So they did, and when I went to the wharf to pick up the lobsters, Harlan took my clamhod and went down onto his float. ``Pick me out a dozen good shedders,'' I said, and Harlan said, ``Eyah.'' When Harlan came back up the ramp, I said, ``They look fit for the purpose at hand.'' Harlan said, ``Eyah.''

And as I opened my checkbook to pay him, the telephone on the wall rang, and Harlan reached over my shoulder to answer it. ``Eyah,'' he said. When he put the telephone back he said, ``Talk about being in the right place at the right time!''

``This is it?'' I said.

``Eyah. Phone call just said price of lobsters has gone down 15 cents.''

So my Dorothy made blueberry pie and a big, fresh garden salad, and I had sweet corn, and the lobsters were sweet, and the day was beautiful, and midway of the exercises somebody said, ``Hey! This is more fun than a box-lunch sociable!''

When you were graduated from high school 63 years ago, it's not much of a strain to remember many things since forgotten. I hadn't thought about a box sociable for a long time, and now as we all had another ear of corn we began, ``Remember the time ...?''

Each girl would put up a lunch in a box carefully disguised so nobody could guess who, and each boy was expected to bid off a box at auction and share the lunch, and the evening, with the lass whose name he found on a slip of paper after he opened the box.

You took your chances on the lunch, but also on the girl, and sometimes the principal satisfaction was that you were contributing to a worthy cause, since the money paid for the boxes usually went to the library. True, 25 cents made an expensive supper back then, and if a box went as high as a half dollar it was safe to assume the buyer knew full well which girl he was about to get.

The auctioneer at these box sociables had to be witty, and was expected to practice chicanery and deceit. Well, if Neddie was sparking, say, the red-headed Glover girl from The Landing, the auctioneer could hold up a box and imagine he saw a red hair under the ribbon around the box, and he would call, ``Aha! Neddie, here's the one you want!''

If Neddie was beguiled and bought that box, he faced two possibilities: (1) he got the red-headed Glover girl from The Landing as he desired, or (2) he was paired with somebody like Mrs. Meehan, who was the mother of 10 children, a chaperone for this sociable in the church vestry, and the piano player for the evening's games.*

True, the mother of 10 children could be expected to provide the best box lunch of all, whereas the red-headed Glover girl specialized in cucumber sandwiches with peanut butter and store-bought cookies.

The girls, in honor-bright honesty, were bound to remain anonymous, but ... if a young lady wanted her own true love to get her box, a telltale nod when her box went up could speak volumes and her boyfriend would know. But this could backfire. Suppose your very special dear one were fickle, and decided at the last moment to dine instead with somebody new - then her telltale nod would not be for her box, at all, and you would find yourself eating with Mrs. Meehan.

Several years ago they held a box sociable over on Martin's Point, and since it wasn't for any charity we paired off by drawing names from a hat. I looked at my slip of paper and it said, ``Didi.'' Didi turned out to be an exceptionally comely young matron who was my finest box sociable companion of a long and significant career. I had never encountered such amiability and gustatory competence.

Didi and I, after we found out who each other was, retired to a table in a corner of the room, and while others munched in the manner of box lunches, we banqueted. Didi opened her several baskets and hampers, and began by lighting a perfumed kerosene lamp with paisley shade. We began with soup. She showered me with tasty delights, right through to the peach shortcake. She brought out a bowl and whipped cream right there. And do you know? I haven't seen Didi since, but she lingers vividly in my box sociable lore.

*Games at box sociables, after supper, were Seven-In-Seven-Out, Winkum, Guess-Who, musical chairs, and sometimes Run-Rabbit-Run.

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