No matter what transport travelers took as they went north during The Great Migration, they had to be prepared to take their own food. Money was green, but the indignity of having to purchase food “to go,” or to purchase food through the back door of an eating establishment was intolerable for many of those who traveled by car. Champ and Delie run into this issue when their bus breaks down and they have to figure out a way to feed their traveling group of hungry children.
Later in the story, when they cross the Mason Dixon line, they are able to go to the newly built traveling town of Breezewood, Pennsylvania. There are able sit at a table and be served their hamburgers, French fries, Coca-Cola and apple pie in a restaurant. Delie understands that Champ did not exaggerate, and there is a different way of being treated outside of the South.
But for the sisters who traveled north before her on the train, the shoebox lunch existed as the way to avoid any indignity that travelers might face. Really, the shoebox lunch was a sign of love and well wishes for the traveler. Foods that did not easily spoil were put into the box: fried chicken, a sturdy layer cake or pound cake, hard-boiled eggs, maybe some cut-up raw vegetables. Each item would be wrapped in wax paper and laid in the box. Sometimes a message of well-wishes would be included there or some surprise trinket.
For train travel or car travel, traveling north or for visitors returning to the south, families would pack these lunches until the start of the 1970’s. In a recent documentary on PBS about soul food, the director/producer spoke about his childhood and being excited about the lunches they would pack before they traveled South to visit relatives in the late 1960’s.
It didn’t occur to him as a child that these lunches were a way for his family to avoid stopping in places where they might not be welcome. His parents’ attempts to keep the family safe and to avoid an unpleasant confrontation or situation were all a way of showing love and good wishes as well. Regardless of the means or direction, the packed shoebox lunch helped many travelers maintain their humanity and dignity.
When you travel by car, what road food do you take with you?
I knew about shoebox lunches but I didn’t know about the notes or surprise. I think God’s grace hovered over those boxes, allowing many folks to appreciate those lovingly prepared meals, rather than making them difficult to eat due to the circumstance. BA, before allergies, we did the fried chicken, deviled egg, pimento cheese sandwich thing. And we stopped at Stuckeys for their chicken salad sandwiches once in a while. But the point is we could stop and buy divinity, use the restroom and purchase those sandwiches.
I think people have, sometimes, put in some token of support or thought as their loved ones traveled elsewhere. I used to do it for my dh, but I’ve slacked off in the past few years. However, not everyone does it, and surely not everyone in The Great Migration did it. Some did. But I think of these travelers in special circumstances, leaving all they’ve ever known to seek opportunity. It was a special chance to express love and encouragement. Thanks for stopping by!
I love that I’m learning history through your blog, Piper. And there is so much to learn! History is full of amazing stories. Can’t wait to read your books and hear the whole story about the Bledsoe Sisters!
I’m so glad that you’re learning on my “baby blog.” I hope it grows up to look like your fab website! And trust me, I will be very vocal about the Bledsoe Sisters, however they come forward someday! Thank you for stopping by!
And that comment was for you, Jacqui!