Wednesday 10 August 2011

Memories of Picnics Past

When I was a very small girl, our family picnicked with Grandma and Grandpa at least once a year, in Stanley Park.  We picnicked in the same spot every year, on the great, green expanse of lawn that sweeps down the hill to Lumberman’s Arch.  It was the perfect spot.  The saltwater swimming pool was in our line of vision, the petting farm and train to our left, the aquarium and zoo to our right. 

Grandma’s picnics were not like our own. Ours were quite casual: cold chicken and potato salad, and maybe some potato chips, along with a jug of Kool Aid. Hers were Edwardian in their scope and formality:  A red, yellow and green plaid wool blanket was spread on the ground and then Dad and Grandpa, laden like Sherpas, humped all of the picnic gear from the car to our chosen picnic spot.  There were chairs for the grown ups, a small table for cooking on, a Coleman stove, pots and pans, a tea pot, a large container of water and an enamel tub for washing dishes, dish soap, a dish cloth, some dish towels and linens, and—best of all—the picnic basket.

I was fascinated by Grandma’s picnic basket.  It had a cloth lining and places to hold real dishes, which were kept in place with leather straps, secured with little brass buckles.  There were compartments for cutlery and for individual glasses and the food itself was either packed in pudding basins covered with plates or wrapped in perfect, waxed paper packages, folded just so.  Nothing bad could ever come out of so perfect a basket.

My dad and Grandpa would wander off for a walk, sauntering about nearby and talking about man-stuff, while Grandma and Mom set about preparing lunch.  The stove would be lit, vegetables cooked, the dishes set out, and the men summoned back to eat.  My brother and I sat on the wool blanket, the grown ups in their chairs, and a proper Sunday dinner was consumed. 

Potato salad and cold chicken were often on offer, but so were boiled potatoes and carrots, warm roast beef, and soft, white dinner rolls with butter.  Our picnic dessert was always Mom’s pie; golden crusted and made from seasonal fruit.  It called to me siren-like while I worked my way through the mandatory serving of good-for-you vegetables. 

We ate like kings, and queens, and princess, and prince, feeling not a little sorry for those families around us who were making do with sandwiches.

After our meal my brother and I would fidget on the picnic blanket, waiting for the grown-ups to finish their tea.  Once it was done, Dad and Grandpa would take us to the zoo while Mom and Grandma did the dishes.  Then, dishes cleaned and order restored, everything would be returned to the car before the whole family set out to enjoy the golden afternoon, the park, and all it had to offer.

When I got a little older, we moved to the island.  My little sister was born here and Grandma and Grandpa moved here too, not long after her arrival.  Our picnic venue changed from a blanket on the grass in Stanley Park to a picnic table at Bright Angel Park.  Dad and Grandpa carried their Sherpa loads down the stairs and across the suspension bridge to the picnicking side of the river.  There were no petting farms, zoos, or aquariums; just long, sunny days, the river, a tribe of children, and a perfect rope swing.  The meals themselves remained much the same though, and my grandparents a constant, affectionate pillar in our lives.

They say you can’t go back and, physically speaking, that’s certainly true.  My grandpa died when I was seventeen.  My grandma survived him by more than twenty years—outliving my father—but now she is gone too.  I am the age my grandma was at the time of those first, long-ago trips to Stanley Park. 

My heart, though…My heart is a different matter.  I have but to close my eyes to feel the scratch of wool on the back of my knees, and the weight of my grandfather’s hand, gentle and comforting, resting upon my shoulder.  I can see my grandma, always in a dress, preparing our Sunday meal on the Coleman stove.

These memories are part of me in the deepest sense.  They have helped to make me who I am and to shape how I see the world.  They’ve helped me to know what it is to love and to be loved.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

This post is featured on Premeditated Leftovers Gallery of Favourites 1/6.  Find it at

Premeditated Leftovers


Alea Milham said...

This brought back so many memories of my own family picnics! Although we often go on picnic as a family, I am wondering why we don't do it with extended family - I think we may need to correct that this summer. Thank you for sharing your post with the Gallery of Favorites. You may also want to share it with Too Timid and Squeamish who has a round up called "Scene from a Memoir I haven't written yet":

Aunt B said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Alea. They are happy memories for me. :)

Thank you for the link. I'll go there now.

April J Harris said...

What wonderful memories! This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it with the Gallery of Favorites.

Aunt B said...

Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :) It was a pleasure to share it.