How Boomers Kept Their Bread

As far back as there have been permanent human settlements, and the earliest breads, there has been a need to store bread to keep it fresh. The human solution for storing all types of things has always been to create a container of some kind — and so it was with bread. Somewhere down the line somebody came up with the idea to make a box that bread could be placed in; the box needed to be enclosed to keep out pests, yet contain enough air circulation that condensation would not form and, therefore, the bread could resist mold.

Breadboxes in the 1700s were made of pottery or wood. In the early part of this country’s history, wood became the choice of materials for the boxes. New materials such as aluminum, stamped steel and the first plastics started arriving in the 1920s and ’30s, so by the time the Boomer Age arrived after World War II, breadboxes had experienced a long history with nary a change in its basic configuration other than its manufacturing material.

Looking back, one might imagine the post-war 1950s and ’60s — prime-time boomer years — as the culmination of the breadbox’s heyday. Every home had at least one, since it was considered as necessary as it was a couple of centuries earlier. Kitchen counter space, a luxury-added feature of the 1950s (before then the kitchen table served as counter space and work surface), now sported must-haves of the decade in the latest designs: toaster, blender, flour and sugar canisters, and a breadbox. Some of the more modern households added an electric coffee pot, too. “Bigger than a breadbox” became a well-known phrase of comparison measurement since it was common knowledge that a breadbox would be slightly larger than a loaf of bread.

Yet two things had changed when it came to the use of the breadbox for the parents of boomers: First, consistent, shelf-stable bread was able to be purchased from a grocery store instead of only at a bakery. Preservatives extended the viability of the product more than the few days’ lifespan of fresh bakery bread as far back as the 1920s and ’30s, but still the breadbox became the family repository for the baked staple. The War also had its effect on bread — and breadboxes. Since all metal was being rationed, breadbox manufacturers had little choice but to experiment with plastics or use traditional wood materials to make their products. Through it all, the breadbox survived.

The second change in the use of the breadbox is closely tied to the first. That is, since a majority of bread now came pre-packaged in stores, the question arose as to whether to remove the bread from the package before placing it into the bread box. Since most store-bought bread came sliced, it may have been more practical to leave it in the package, or it may have been the “modern age” mind-set of our boomer parents that separated their generation from that of their parents. In Mister Boomer’s house, the bread was always left in the package when stored inside the breadbox.

Every home in Mister B’s neighborhood had a breadbox on the kitchen counter. The homes of every school friend also possessed breadboxes. Some were made of wood with the word “bread” painted on the front, while others were plastic and sported decals of flowers or symmetrical designs. Still others were chrome or painted metal.

Mister B recalls two bread boxes in his boomer youth. The first was probably a hand-me-down from his grandmother. It was a sleek, stamped, chromed-metal rectangular box with rounded corners and a black, hard plastic base. The front of the box was a door that had a hinge on the bottom to allow it to open to the maximum space for loaf transfer. It was kept in its upright and locked position by a tear-drop shaped black plastic lever in the center of the front panel near the top, held in place by a single screw. On either side of the lever was an embossed decoration consisting of three or four vertical, rounded linear shapes that extended from the top about two inches down. A series of four small louvres were shaped out of the sides for ventilation. Inside, a smooth sheet of metal covered the plastic base, while the sides were unpolished gun-metal gray that revealed the spot welds that connected the side panels to the rear panel. For years this breadbox, taller than a loaf of Wonder bread by about half the height, sat to the right of the sink, next to a beige plastic clock radio. Then one day Mister B noticed it had surreptitiously been moved to a secondary, smaller counter, next to the flour and sugar canisters. There it remained from then on.

Mister Boomer cannot recall what happened to that Art Deco breadbox of his early youth. It could have been another instance of “out with the old, in with the new” when his parents replaced it with a stamped metal breadbox, painted white with a red front door. The metal was thin and dented easily, so through time, it exhibited chips, scratches and bent edges that would need adjusting every now and then just to close the door. Somewhere in the early days of the 1970s, the breadbox disappeared from the counter, never to return.

Ask a kid today what a breadbox is, and many will not know the answer. Though they are still being sold, breadboxes are no longer considered a mandatory accessory in the kitchen. How about it, boomers? Do you still keep your bread in a breadbox on a kitchen counter, and if so, did you purchase or inherit it?

Boomers Go Fly A Kite

This year’s relatively mild winter belies the winters of boomer days when, by this time, we would have been desperately awaiting spring. Most of the snow would have melted, but the ground and trees were brown, and the sky was grey. A sharp wind was blowing, shaking our reality as the dot of sun beckoned us to play, while its rays struggled to warm our frozen landscape.

One of the first outdoor activities the neighborhood would engage in at this time of year was kite flying. The blustery winds of a Midwest March were perfect for launching our paper and wood flying machines, even if the bite of the cold numbed our fingers in the process. Boy or girl, regardless of age, could participate in the activity. For boomers, kite flying was another in a series of outdoor activities that required very little cost or training.

The neighborhood store readily sold kite kits for ten cents. Another ten cents would buy a ball of kite string, and you were in business. We could easily raise the money the same day we decided to “go fly a kite” by picking up a few discarded pop bottles (it was ALWAYS called “pop,” not “soda”). We’d quickly race back to our houses to rinse any accumulated dirt from our finds by using the faucet on the outside of the house. Glass bottles still wet, we’d rush back to the corner store. At two-cents apiece, it never seemed to take that long to accumulate the cash. All we’d have to do was follow the path that teenagers took on their walk home from our high school.

In the store, a cardboard box with the top third cut off sat alongside a glass display case that held a tempting assortment of candy bars, neatly arranged row by row. On this day, the money in hand wasn’t for sweet treats. Mister Boomer would browse through the selection of kites, looking for a color to “speak” to him. The paper kites were wrapped around wood strips and slipped into long, clear plastic bags. On the glass counter was a cardboard display of string balls. Kite selection and string ball in hand, the transaction was completed, and off we’d go to the nearest kid’s house that had a garage. It was easier to assemble our kites out of the wind, and we stayed a tad warmer in the process.

The kite itself was easy to assemble: Two wooden strips were joined by a piece of metal bent around them like a staple. All that was required was to turn the shorter strip perpendicular to the longer to form a cross shape. Each end of the strips had a slit notched into it. Unfurling the triangular-shaped paper kite, it was ready to attach to the strip by way of pre-placed pieces of string that conveniently slipped into the notches on the pliable, thin wood strips.

At this point, the kite took shape, but wasn’t flight-worthy yet. Down the central spine of the paper face were two dots that indicated the place to pierce the paper. Using a pencil tip we would do just that, then open our ball of string and slip the end through one of the holes. On the backside, the string was knotted. Flipping back to the front, the string was let out to give it a little slack between the two holes. A scissors cut later, the other end could be threaded through the hole and tied off like the previous end. This central string was the main line to which we could we could tie our ground-based string.

Flipping the kite over, we could see the paper was not as taut as we preferred. Mister B can’t say if this was a neighborhood or regional thing, or if it was the proper way to make a kite, but we’d tie off string on one horizontal end of the wooden strip and stretch it across to the other side, forming a bow by pulling the string before tying it off. Now the paper fit tightly over the wooden structure.

Next, a quick trip home to raid the basement rag bin. Boomer families kept rags for cleaning, but they sure came in handy when you needed to make kite tails. Strips of cloth were tied to a longer strip at regular intervals, creating Bow-tie shapes along its axis. Then it was tied to the bottom of the kite to act as a rudder tail and counterweight in the wind.

How you prepared string for your first flight was a personal choice. You could let it unwind from the ball as it came from the store, but most kids in Mister B’s neighborhood chose to tightly wind the string around a twig. If you found the right one, it would have a couple of knobs that could contain the string between them while offering space to grip the twig on either side when two hands were needed to steady the kite in flight.

Once the prepped string was tied to the central string, the kite was ready. Mister B’s block had far too many trees and telephone wires for kite flying. Inevitably, kites, trapped like live creatures rustling in branches and wires, were testaments to the hubris that got them there. Instead, happy to avoid a Charlie Brown kite-eating tree moment, we’d head over to the nearby schoolyard where the baseball field offered an unobstructed free range for flying.

While Mister B enjoyed the process of building the kite, he never became an expert flyer. First there was the launch: running over the uneven terrain and learning to time the release at just the right moment for your paper triangle to catch the wind. Then there was the stability factor. Here is where you’d see if you had indeed built a flyable kite: A tear in the paper, tautness too slack or too tight, cloth tail too long or too short, and your kite would not stay airborne for long. Once it was in the air, though, it was a thing of beauty.

Mister B recalls one time when the conditions were just right, and he launched a promotional kite he had received from the neighborhood Sinclair gas station. Fifty-plus feet up as he carefully let out more string, the kite seemed to hover in a sea of gray, its green dinosaur logo on a white triangle of paper holding strong in the breeze. The kite seemed to fly itself, and for one moment, Mister B’s spirits climbed up along the string and into the spring sky.

What memories do kite flying bring to you, boomers?