Well, I waited all winter for this, and it’s finally here! Picnic time! In some ways I can’t believe it, because only last week I took my snow shovel from under the carport and put it in the cellar, but it’s actually true. As most people know, winter here in Vermont is only separated from summer by about three minutes of spring-like weather, so I might be excused for not tucking that shovel into its summer, basement home more promptly. Anyway, I am very happy that it is picnic time!
When I was a child, summer family picnics were almost a ritualistic project. These days things are a bit more ‘disposable’ and ‘instant’ than they were then, but people still enjoy picnics. Back in those far off days of my youth, picnics were complicated, and required more equipment than the Israelites packed up for forty years of wandering in the wilderness. (If you think I’m kidding, you should have seen my mother’s lists of things to bring.) Also, at least as far as our family was concerned, picnics never happened at home. We did have a picnic table in the backyard of our central Maine home, as I remember, but we never used it for a picnic. In fact, I’m not sure what we did use it for. Our picnics always involved traveling, usually the hour or so it took to get to the beautiful Maine coast. Our family get-togethers, even the ones on Sunday, after spending the morning in church, nearly always happened within sight of the Atlantic, which was fine with me.
In those distant days of the past, cars were big, and it was a good thing that they were big, because families were big, and picnics were big. You could pretty much have made a small apartment in the trunk of my dad’s 1960 Chevy Impala. That’s no joke, or at least it’s not a big joke, not as big as that trunk. My point is that for a big family picnic, we would pack that trunk so full that a stuffed olive wouldn’t have a chance of making it in there in one piece, without removing the pimento. Such trunk-packing was no picnic, if you know what I mean.
For our family, it just wouldn’t have been a picnic without three or four picnic-table tablecloths, even though we would only be using one picnic table, (it was always safer to have a few spares) and for each one, some of those nifty plastic (yes, we had plastic back then) clips to hold the tablecloth down, just in case the wind came up, which it always seemed to do, just as Dad was trying to light a charcoal fire. Oh yes, then there were those wonderful charcoal briquettes. Back then those things weren’t as user-friendly as they are now, if memory serves, and no one had gas grills. Oh no. In those days you couldn’t just light a match and flip it into one of those charcoal grills. Those briquettes had to be coaxed to life. First you had to pour about a gallon of lighter fluid on them, and quickly light that, before it evaporated. If you were lucky, the briquettes would catch on fire, and in three or four hours they were hot enough to grill something. I think all of that is because charcoal is somehow related to wood, and coal, and the dinosaurs, I think, and they weren’t nearly as ‘aged’ when I was a child as they are now. At least, that’s my theory.
Along with the briquettes, if you were grilling, you had to bring the grill, in case the picnic area you went to didn’t have those ones that are mounted on a steel post, and cemented into the ground so that picnic area grill-thieves wouldn’t steal them. Also, if your mom was like mine, she usually thought the grills at those places were dirty or something, after cooking ‘other people’s’ food, and not worthy of her family’s burgers and hotdogs. And then you needed the grill utensils, and aluminum foil, which we called tin foil then, and the lighter stuff, and newspaper, and short sticks, and matches, (of course,) and long sticks for roasting marshmallows, in case you actually got the coals going in time to cook meat and still have time for marshmallows before the sun went down, or a storm came up. Oh yes, it might only rain a little, or get cold, so you needed sweatshirts, just in case, and cleaning supplies to wipe down the table, the utensils, and the kids with. (In our family there were six kids to wipe down.) All of this stuff, and much more, including paper plates, napkins, and cups had to get into that trunk. If there was not room for the food, we six kids got to hold grocery bags of it on the car floor our feet were supposed to be on, and/or on our six laps. I think that is why my folks had six kids. You know, six kids; six laps to hold picnic food on.
No picnic would be complete without ants. Believe it or not, for many of our family picnics we actually invited our own ants. There was Ant Mary, Ant Ruth, Ant Myrtle, Ant Alice, Ant Marion, and several other ants I probably don’t remember. (I know. Bad pun.) Our family and our picnics evolved in Maine, so we called them aunts. We still do, and we are right. Just check the spelling.
In all of this ranting about family picnic memories, there is one thing I remember more than all of the rest. I remember getting together with family members we had not seen for what seemed like years, and sitting around those rough old picnic tables, feasting on those hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, salads, and corn on the cob. My ‘ant,’ I mean, my Aunt Mary always brought her special deviled eggs, and one bunch of us or another would contribute a huge watermelon, every time. After we ate, we kids would go climb rocks and trees, or find some other way to get bruised, as the ‘old people’ sat and drank strong, camp-stove coffee from those new-fangled Styrofoam cups, while reminiscing about picnics of the past. Those very special days, as complicated as they seemed to be to prepare for, were wonderful times. I wouldn’t trade the memories of them for the world.
This summer, be sure to give your kids the special, lifelong memories found in the simple pleasures of a family picnic. It doesn’t matter if you have a traveling, trunk-filled, complicated picnic like ours used to be, or if you just go through the drive thru for a bag of burgers, and eat them at the playground. You just can’t have a bad time at a picnic. You could even invite your ants.
“George’s World,” a new 740 page collection of George’s columns from The World, is available at xlibris.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore. “The Smoke And Mirrors Effect,” George’s first novel, can be seen at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Happy Reading!