Most meals are forgotten after we clear away the dishes. Remembering them longer than that may have as much to do with the circumstances as the food. To borrow a phrase from our real estate friends- it’s all about location, location, location. As a child, my adventurous mother would find the most interesting spots for a weekend picnic. One in particular involved crossing (or climbing through) a barbed wire fence. The locust trees we passed on our way to the chosen site displayed cattle hair that had been snagged on spiny thorns. I remembered hoping the hoofed residents who had left it there wouldn’t mind that we were sitting in their field for a little while, and I especially hoped that they wouldn’t return while we were eating. In contrast, another memory took place on the well manicured lawn in front of an art museum in Kansas City. I couldn’t tell you what we ate on either occasion.
These were simple meals, but some picnics are much more elaborate. For years, churches have carried Grandma’s prized dishes outside the building, or to a nearby park for “dinner on the ground”. With a few hours to kill before the Sunday services resumed, the meal was often followed by a game of horseshoes, softball or baseball.
The menu for these events varies, but the main health consideration is keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Though ice has been sold in bulk for over a century, the invention in the early 1950’s of the ice chest (cooler) revolutionized dining “al fresco”. As my father-in-law would say, Mr. Coleman didn’t just make picnics easier, he made them Possible!
Sometimes, less planning means more fun. When the weather is nice, an exciting day starts with throwing together some sandwich fixins, a few canned soft drinks and a bag of chips, and heading for the hills. In my pantry for this eventuality are several vinyl and cloth table coverings, a stack of paper plates, and a box of disposable plastic flatware. My mom would be sure to remind us not to forget the ants. When watermelon is in season, bringing along one of those deliciously messy fruits ensures that those special guests are invited.
After my parents retired to live full time in a travel trailer, all of our family celebrations turned into picnics. There was always more visiting room outside of their compact house on wheels, so we gathered around the campfire in all kinds of weather, bundled up in coats, snuggling under blankets with hot chocolate. Lot of love to keep us warm.
Back on the home front, there’s something about eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Cheetos while sitting on a blanket that means magic for kids. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon on sunny days in the front or back yard, and on rainy ones in the living room floor. When one of the picnic attendees is a small baby, the older kids learn basic babysitting skills by helping to keep the rolling or crawling infant confined to the safety of the blanket. It’s not just a meal, it’s an adventure.
After one of these special meals is concluded, full bellies lead to heavy sighs, and the cares of the world seem far away, especially if the location is outside of cell phone range. The breeze on your face, the songs of the birds bring a calm that can’t be matched in any restaurant in the world. At this point, the main concern is keeping the kids safely out of the nearest water source, at least until their food has settled. One of our grandsons always searches for a long stick to “fish” with. We’ve got to get that boy some proper equipment.
In other areas of the world, picnics happen mostly in the summer-time. Here in the Ouachitas, autumn is the most wonderful time of the year. Sunshine, changing leaves, weather cool enough for a sweater and a campfire: Ahhh. A taste of heaven. Though fall weather sometimes stretches into December, cold, dreary winter is sure to be just around the corner. Take advantage of every opportunity to plop down for a simple lunch. I’ll wave at you from my own blanket on the ground.