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?