There are certain signs that tell us for certain that the season has turned. For instance, I know it's truly summertime when you can wake up in the morning, toss on a T-shirt and walk outside without worrying about losing any important body parts to frostbite.
Another reliable indicator that clement weather has returned is the widespread outbreak of picnics.
According to my wife, scarfing down a Whopper and fries in the sunroom of the Burger King does not count as a picnic. Neither does attending Hotdog Days at the local farm store, even though it involves actual picnic food (Hotdogs and a soda! For a quarter!) and lunching outdoors. Sort of. Shouldn't eating in big, airy building count?
Dining outside in the warm, glorious sunshine is one of the small joys of life. Having a picnic signifies that many things are going right: not only do you have portable food, it also means that the temperature is such that you can sit outdoors without turning blue.
Having grown up on the farm, I found it difficult to see what the big deal was regarding picnics. If a "picnic" is defined as "partaking of a meal while out-of-doors," we had picnics almost daily during the fieldwork season.
Usually this involved Mom driving out to the headland in our 1959 Ford station wagon. Dad and I would perch on the lowered tailgate of the station wagon and feast on such traditional field picnic fare as scrambled egg or dried beef sandwiches, or perhaps zesty Swedish meatballs and gravy, or maybe a pot roast that was so tender it would fall apart in a gentle breeze. Whatever the meal, it was all washed down with a gallon of boiling coffee that was strong enough to scour a mirror shine on a steel plowshare.
We would munch our victuals as our old "Johnny Popper" tractors idled patiently nearby. It was not uncommon, if we happened to be close to the farmyard, for our dog to trot out to investigate. We would toss bread crusts to him, and he would wolf them down with startling speed, ignoring the greasy fingerprints we had left on the bread. Perhaps the grease enhanced the taste.
We field picnicked under all conditions, from blistering summer heat to billowing, bone-chilling snow squalls. So you can understand my confusion when I was told that I should be excited because we would be attending a family reunion/ picnic. I ate outside all the time! What's the big deal?
The big deal was that approximately 40 of my cousins were also at the picnic. We had so much fun tearing around the park, we nearly forgot to eat.
Another unexpected bonus to this family picnic was the fact that the park where it was at featured a swimming pool. After we ate were we were informed that, according to federal law, we couldn't go swimming for half an hour or we would "get cramps and die." I had no idea what cramps were but had a deep respect for the dying part. I also didn't know how to swim and thus had no problem obeying that particular mandate.
When our two sons were young, my wife would often suggest family picnics. The spot chosen was usually a nearby lake, which meant both swimming and fishing opportunities.
Organizing such an outing required a level of logistics similar to that of Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. Food had to be procured and packed. Soda and other beverages were obtained. Fishing gear was dug out of the basement and disentangled. A supply of angleworms was excavated and stashed in an old coffee can.
My wife handled all these tasks, save for the worm acquisition.
After what seemed like days of preparation and anticipation, we would motor off to our chosen picnic site. The boys, disregarding our warnings about scaring the fish, would immediately begin to chuck pebbles into the lake. Figuring that the fish ship had sailed, I gave them lessons on the fine art of skipping stones.
Finally, all was declared ready and we tore into the food. Everything somehow tasted better. I don't know if this because of the outdoor setting or the fact that I had neglected to wash after handling the earthworms.
So we dined on the lakeshore and soaked up the sunshine and sent some hapless night crawlers to watery graves. I was secretly relieved that we never caught any fish. Who wants to eat a creature that eats worms?
Those picnics with our boys stand out as extremely pleasant memories. And it isn't just because of the food and the company. It's also because I never had to worry about anything freezing off.