Dad's Lunch Bucket List

Halene Dahlstrom

The lunch bucket sat on the cement ledge of the unfinished basement gathering dust and cobwebs. When we began cleaning out the house after Mom passed, it was almost trashed. But I grabbed it. I know its story. Well, at least part of it.

The lunch bucket went to work in the Lark, Utah mine with Dad every day for over twenty years, and possibly other Southern Utah mines before that. It was with him when he left every morning, the bottom section three-quarters filled with water for drinking. (No fancy water bottles then.) The top section held lunch, whatever there was at home, usually a sandwich (not always delectable. I know, because I made many of them), a piece of fruit, and on a good day, some little dessert. It came home grimy and in need of a scrub every night, like him.

The lunch bucket was with him rain, snow, sleet, hail, and claustrophobia. I didn’t know until I was older how difficult it was for him to go into the mine every day. But he did it for his family because "that’s what dads do when they have a family to support," even when it’s very hard.

The lunch bucket from the ledge also held the secret to his coping with life stresses and work challenges, like a time capsule into his world. Here is the lunch bucket list:

1 short, black comb. He was proud of his wavy, dark hair and always kept it groomed.

2 pieces of very old, wrapped candy. He called it hard tack, no matter what kind it was. It probably helped with the dust he had to breathe at times.

1 stubby, roughly sharpened pencil, just big enough to fit under everything in the bucket, so he could write on his lunch break.

1 tiny notebook, pages filled with a poem, corny jokes or sayings, and lists of songs he thought others might enjoy hearing. He loved to entertain! Nursing homes, hospitals, church programs, wherever there were people who loved the old melodies who might need their spirits lifted. You Are My Sunshine. Tennessee Waltz. The Yellow Rose of Texas. America the Beautiful. Amazing Grace. When I Grow Too Old to Dream, the grandkids’ favorite, the Riggity Jig, and many more.

And 1 very old harmonica, waiting like a long, lost friend for his return. He was like the Pied Piper around children, and adults couldn’t help tapping their toes.

For over twenty years, the battered old lunch bucket, was his dependable companion. Then the mine was shut down. That era of job security was over. His life changed at age fifty-seven. Part of his identity was destroyed. The lunch bucket went onto the cement ledge of the unfinished basement.

He was depressed. He struggled. But he worked at whatever he could find. Manual labor. Janitorial. Construction. Because "that’s what dads do when they have a family to support", and he did so until a forced retirement at age 71.

But though the lunch bucket was no longer needed, some things never change. There were more lists in other notebooks, other corny jokes for other programs, and always within reach... a favorite harmonica.


“And when I grow too old to dream, your love will live in my heart.”