“Nothing is better than a picnic.” ~ Zooey Deschanel
Picnics. Does the reality of an actual picnic live up to its hype? I love picnics—at least the concept of them. Eating out in the fresh air. A blanket spread on vast greenness. A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, a chunk of good cheese, some fine chocolate……………okay now for the not so romantic reality. The reality of most picnics is that they are a lot of work. Time and planning and a great deal of preparation go into something which is supposed to be simple fun with convivial friends and good food.
The first step is deciding where to have the picnic. At the local park? At the beach? In your backyard? And how will you eat–at a picnic table, in lawn chairs eating off your lap, or on a blanket spread on the ground? How many people will be invited and what will be on the menu? Is it going to be potluck, a wiener roast, or a steak barbeque (which these days seems to be limited to millionaires with the price of beef and lack of sales on the more expensive bovine cuts). And most importantly–what about dessert?
The picnics of my youth were wonderful affairs. And do you know why? Because all I was expected to do was show up. Maybe help carry a few things from the car to the picnic site—but all the other variables—who was coming, what was being served, where we were having the picnic were planned by someone else. And that someone else always turned out to my mom.
I never once heard her complain. Not while she was frying up mounds of chicken (she made the best fried chicken in the world). Or while she was making copious amounts of potato salad, fourteen pies (I may be exaggerating a bit here—but only a bit)and all the other fixings that went with a good picnic. She did not complain while she was packing it all up in coolers or wrapping the hot stuff in newspapers to keep them hot.
I have planned a few picnics. I have complained as I made a few salads to go with the inevitable bucket or three of the Colonel’s chicken. I have not been a particularly happy camper in figuring out all the logistics—the who, what, where, when and how of the picnic, nor have I been particularly gracious when it came time to clean up.
I love the idea of a picnic. I love the idea of eating outside. But I do not like heat and humidity. Or bugs of either the flying or crawling variety. I like the picnics that I see the fictional characters of Downton Abbey partake in. But they had servants and cooks. And I believe they may have used crystal and china and silverware at their picnics. Not Styrofoam plates, plastic knives and forks, or paper cups. According to Alice Walker, “Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors” so they are well versed in the practices of the picnic even when picnic weather is not forecast.
I have wonderful memories of picnics when I was a kid. Particularly the one we would have every year to celebrate the Crawford Reunion. (My mom was a Crawford.) It was usually the second Sunday in July—and in the latter years that it was held, it was at Lakeside Park (in Kingsville, Ontario for my blog friends).Tables upon tables had to be corralled so there would be enough to seat the families of my grandpa and all his brothers and sisters and their families. (I cannot readily remember how many but there were at least ten).
We always had a banner affixed with a badge proudly bearing the Crawford tartan announcing our reunion to one and all (and woe betide anyone who tried to take one of the tables under the banner). The reunion itself, for a kid was lots of fun. It was the granddaddy of picnics with lots of people who you were related to in some manner or other, games, and of course, food galore. And when you shared what you brought with the others sitting around you, and they shared what they brought— it was a true feast.
I leave you with a rather romantic view of picnicking from Omar Khayyam who penned this in the 12th century with no mention of fuss and bother, bug spray and sunscreen, or mess and logistics:
A book of verse beneath the bough,
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Ah, wilderness were paradise enow!
What are your best picnic memories?