I do a good picnic, if I do say so myself. I started back when the kids were small, even pulling their little red wagon complete with picnic basket filled with tasty treats and family dog to surprise them for impromptu lunches by the pond beside their school. I actually think that made me something of a celebrity, or certainly a ‘cool’ mom amongst their middle-school set.
I still have the plastic plates and cups from those days (purchased originally for Gill’s Strawberry Shortcake-themed birthday) and haul them out at least once during every summer. I have done picnics that run the gamut from the romantic ‘before theatre’ kind with wine to the ‘trekking through the swamp’ ones at our country acreage. When Gill is here during the summer, she demands picnics . We tried this year, we really did. Before she arrived, she suggested an outing to a local area that boasted several waterfalls. It sounded great. It was on the to-do list.
Another option was Point Pelee to do some quality bird watching. A high priority.
Or, perhaps the time-honored tradition of the Toronto Zoo — specifically, to say hello to the baby pandas. Who doesn’t love a good panda outing? Definitely a contender.
And, if all else failed, we could fit in a trip to our ‘country acres’, the aforementioned property that sounds great until you mention the shack, the swamp, the beavers, and the overgrown forest that now prohibits entrance to all but the smallest creatures. Humans need to go equipped with a scythe and chain saw if they hope to enter. But we decided that, if we sent The Pig (beagle) in first, she could clear a path for us — and catch a few beavers for dinner while she’s at it. And we do know a guy with a chain saw. We used to have one but Crazy D lost it. Don’t ask.
Memories of Picnics Past came to mind: trips to celebrate Mother’s Day with sumptuous meals that included homemade bruschetta, crusty baguette with wonderful chunks of local Mennonite cheddar (melting in the sun and high temperatures of an early Canadian summer), fresh berries, spicy deli meat…Final outings for our beloved old dogs, limping on their last arthritic legs enjoying one more time in the woods and pond…sniffing around the boulder under which they would soon join their furry predecessors. We gazed in awe at the flocks of geese and other waterbirds that collect on the pond.
Which of these outings did we choose for Gill’s amusement this summer ?
That’s right. You heard me…none. Time went by so quickly we accomplished nothing in the way of outings. We did have a friend of Gill’s over for a ‘tea party’ on the deck which, due to wasps, morphed into a kitchen lunch. And we did manage several dinners on the deck with Mrs. Beeton as the principal guest. But not so much as one occasion that required my picnic basket (or even the little red wagon).
So at the end of Gill’s visit, I apologized for the lack of outings and picnics. She was bummed.
Her sadness didn’t last long, though. The first weekend after her arrival back in Bristol, she and a friend went on an outing to the seaside.
“Oh, that sounds lovely, dear. The sea breezes, a dip in the water, a lunch on the sand, taking in the sun…”
“Ma, what are you talking about? This is a British picnic; not a Canadian one. It is almost always cold, a brisk wind blowing, rain pelting down, and the picnic (a hot cup of Bovril and wet sandwiches) is consumed quickly in the car with, perhaps, for the intrepid, the window rolled down. Then a rapid departure follows so one can return to the relative comfort of one’s flat. A British picnic is the definition of misery. As I recall, Bill Bryson and Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) both described the dismal nature of a British picnic at the seaside to great effect.”
“Oh, that sounds awful!”
“Well, when you live in England, you learn to ignore the weather and carry on, stiff upper lip and all that. Actually, it started out being only slightly miserable and the forecast was for the Black Cloud of Doom to descend upon the area. We went prepared, as one does, with sunscreen (for the optimists in the crowd), a brolly (for the realists and longtime residents of the U.K.) and four hard-boiled eggs stuffed in a bag (for those who wanted something to eat that didn’t require sitting outside and didn’t taste worse for the wear if eaten in a rainstorm). But miraculously, things cleared and we had a good day. The sun even came out and I got a touch of a sunburn!”
“Well, I’m glad you got your summer picnic, even if it was in England. If you hadn’t had a good weekend, I’d have felt guilty bragging about the hot weather and beautiful swims I’ve had this past week…knowing that your winter will start any day now!”
“Nice, Ma. Nice. Just for that, I’ll remind you, about mid-January, when you experience the laughs and chuckles of the Polar Vortex again, that our spring bulbs are beginning to bloom!”
“No matter…I may well be in the Caribbean or Mexico then…”
“You just couldn’t let me have that one, could you? Thanks, Ma!”