Friday, June 30, 2017

Great Outdoors

This coming week (in the USA) we'll celebrate July 4th, popularly known as our country's birthday. Traditionally, the day is marked with picnics, fireworks, and in the past, parades. Until I was an adult, I never lived anywhere that had a July 4th parade, but I've read about them.

When I was a little kid, we didn't have grills and such. Our picnics were more organic. I remember one evening my folks took us to a sandy dry wash (that's a dry gully that fills with raging water in the monsoonal season). Dad built a little fire from drift wood in the center of the wash so we could grill our hotdogs over the open flames. The hotdogs (and later, some marshmallows) were speared lengthwise on straightened wire hangers. We knelt on an old quilt mom brought along and held our hotdogs over the fire until they swelled up--and in some cases--turned black. Then mom or dad would slide the hotdog onto a slice of bread. Add ketchup and wrap the bread around the dog and we were good to go. Usually, mom brought along baked beans and maybe potato salad. That was it. Dessert was toasted marshmallows. And we had tea in a gallon jug to drink.

The point wasn't the food. It was the experience. The fire would die down and there in the dark with the faint glow from the coals, we would listen to our father tell us stories while we stretched out on the quilt and watched the glorious dance of the stars above us. Sometimes we would sing songs. But the thing I remember best from such picnics was the unshakeable knowledge that all was right in my world.

Not all picnics were so peaceful. Another time we met with another family for a picnic...cold fried chicken, potato salad, Kool-aid in a big recycled gallon glass jar that had once held pickles, I think. The oldest boy in the other family and I were special friends, only in the way nine and ten-year-olds can be. His name was Kenny and he had a particular interest in wildlife, the slimier, creepier, the better. We once got into major trouble for taking all our younger siblings with us when we went to catch a gila monster (highly poisonous lizard). We didn't catch one, but we did find a tarantula. Unfortunately, Kenny didn't have any way to carry it home so we had to abandon it where we found it.

Anyway, back to the picnic. Our parents sent Kenny and me off to gather firewood so we could have a campfire after we finished dinner. Naturally, we didn't just find some sticks. We also captured a snake. And it says quite a lot about our parents that when we arrived back at the picnic table with said snake that they emptied out the Kool-aid jug and rinsed it out so Kenny could take the snake home with him.

Now days, we have coolers and all sorts of paraphernalia for picnicking, but when I was young, there weren't any such items. When we traveled, lunch was a quick stop by the side of the road, beneath a shade tree if we were lucky. Bread (frequently smashed a bit), peanut butter and jelly or bologna. We didn't travel with condiments because they would go bad. If we were really, really fortunate, my parents might buy a watermelon at a farm stand and cool it off in a handy irrigation ditch. And if that irrigation ditch was one of the new-fangled concrete variety, they might even allow us to strip off our shoes and socks and splash in the water. A dip like that could keep us cool for quite a while as we continued our journey in the heat of a non-air conditioned car.

Back then there were no rest areas or restrooms at picnic areas. If a pitstop was necessary, it was normal to find a convenient bush to take care of business. And most cars had a roll of toilet tissue in the picnic basket. Boys generally had it much easier than girls. Of course, we didn't wear jeans or other kinds of pants. I think the first time I wore trousers was in junior high school when I received my first pair of peddle-pushers. Now...just think about that for a minute. For the first twelve or thirteen years of my life, I only wore skirts or dresses--even when playing or picnicking or traveling.

When I look back, I see our life was simpler before all the 'stuff' we acquire now. I remember, even after I married, the times we took our kids for picnics out in the shady yard where we had sandwiches and cookies and juice or milk. We sat on an old blanket and maybe stayed late enough to look at the sunset. When was the last time I did that?