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23 March, 2017

I REALLY DO MISS OUTDOOR PICNICS IN THE SUMMER

My dad Ken and I cleaning up our dessert after one of many outdoor suppers prepared by my mother, circa 1945.
In sorting through a massive collection of family photographs, many predating me by a good 30 or 40 years, I recently realized that casual photography is a relatively modern phenomena. Picture taking of yesteryear was more formal and generally recorded rather sober (people had yet to learn to say "cheese") family gatherings of some description. I have also come to the conclusion that good old-fashioned picnics are pretty much a thing of the past...And what a shame!

Growing up in the 1940's, I probably got in on the tail end of the picnic era.  I have fond memories of not only family picnics in the summer months, but of outdoor community dinners and socials on church grounds.  My folks ate "suppers" outside three or four times a week in our backyard in Dresden and went on picnics virtually every weekend, generally along the St. Clair River or at Rondeau Park (then known as Government Park) on Lake Erie.  It was just "the thing to do" in the months of June, July and August.

Summers were truly meant to be lived outside.  Virtually every evening was spent on comfortably appointed front porches where friends and neighbors would drop by for visits and, more often than not, a spot of tea -- hot or iced.

Whether a picnic was a community affair or just a family or party picnic, the picnic basket was the all-important item for the occasion (coolers were very rare in those days as were fire pits and barbecues for on-the-spot grilling). When it was a community picnic, it was essential to bring a well-filled basket since one could usually find some friend or neighbor who was alone or who failed to bring certain eats along.
My mom's metal picnic basket.

The success of a picnic depended in great measure upon the packing. For this purpose two wicker baskets were usually brought along -- one, for the food and the other for the utensils, paper plates and cups for drinking. My mother's favorite "basket" was made of metal with plaid decoration and I will forever associate it with family picnics. Sandwiches formed the standby at a picnic lunch, and there was practically no limit to the variety in which they were created. Also included was fried chicken, a beef loaf, or a cold boiled ham sliced very thin and served with dressing.

My favorite picnic meals consisted of potato salad, deviled eggs, cabbage salad, cold sliced chicken or roast beef, ice tea and lemonade (always made from scratch), raisin or apple (with cheddar cheese) pie and lots of cookies.  In season, fresh sliced tomatoes,strawberries and peaches from our garden were the order of the day.  If we were eating outside at home, my mom would often make a casserole of some description.  Hot dogs and hamburgers were unheard of and there was never any wine or liquor. A table cloth for the picnic table, if you were lucky enough to find one, was a must as were a couple of blankets if you decided to eat on a sandy beach or grassy knoll in a park setting.

Truthfully, today I cannot remember the last bonafide picnic that I have been on.  Generally, I think that picnics are just too much trouble now and air-conditioned fast-food outlets too plentiful and convenient.  In my case, Rosanne is house-bound because of health reasons but when she was able she preferred not to eat outside because of hot temperatures and bugs (those "creepy-crawly things") and I suspect that she is not alone in that kind of thinking today.

But, just think about it...When would a picnic really be a picnic without a few uninvited guests? If you asked ants and flies, they'd probably tell you that they don't crash picnics uninvited. They would argue that it's you who decides to have a picnic on their turf!  It is simply Mother Nature as she should be and it all goes with the territory.

While it is no fun going on picnics all by oneself, I do grasp every opportunity to take a coffee or a sandwich and cold drink out to my porch on nice summer days.  Everything just tastes so much better outside.

...And a nap in the fresh air afterward is glorious!

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