Monday, October 19, 2009

Inside Picnic

When it rained the adults of the family would cram around the cherry table expanded with four extensions. The damp and warm bodies crowded together in the low ceiling all purpose room of the cottage. A collage of summer colors circling an incandescent lit table mounded with food. Laughter drowned out the sound of the drumming rain on the roof.
The children were delegated to a separate table moved in from the rain swept porch; partially in defense against squabbles of “I wanna’ sit with the grown-ups!” All of us cousins were ordered there. Elbow to elbow we defended our small piece of table territory waiting impatiently for the picnic that had been forced indoors.
The plates that had migrated to the summer place were a magical collection from years of full sets owned by the different relatives; a respite before their last stop, the final journey being to the dump. We all had picked out a favorite pattern on a specific plate or cup and woe to anyone who tried to jump our claim on that piece of china. The mismatched table settings were not considered rejects. The riotous variety of patterns and colors added to the special feeling about those cottage meals whether in or outside.
The food was typical 1950’s picnic fare and each aunt had their favorite recipe that was anticipated all week by other family members. Aunt Marion’s doctored canned baked beans, Aunt Marge’s potato salad, Aunt Edna’s jell-o with fruit and my mother’s carrot pineapple jell-o salad. Dozens of hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled by my father in the granite stone fireplace built by my Uncle Alfred’s brother. All the usual accompaniments were there as well, relishes, pickles, mustard and ketchup. A myriad of half empty jars marked the progress of the summer season.
Silverware travelled back and forth between my Aunt Edna’s cottage and my Grandmothers. No one knew whose was whose as the knives, forks and spoons travelled back and forth with every weekend’s picnics. They resided during the week at the cottage where they were washed and dried. Plates were worn down to a dull scratched surface unable to reflect the high sun of noon or the evening meal sunsets of rose and tangerine. My cousins and I even had our favorite patterns of silverware that we looked for amongst the piles set out for use.
The jumble of mismatched flatware and dishes just was. No one cared or questioned where it all came from... some very expensive, some dime store variety. Like flowers in nature, all the colors, shapes and patterns blended not clashed when clustered together for use. The family was that way, different yet the same. The clashes were set aside, blended for harmonies sake. Like the variety of chairs that were placed around the extended cherry table, a peace table for the sharing of food. The sacred act, breaking of bread, makes us one with one another.
The sideboard of veneered oak stood groaning under the weight of the overflow of casseroles, bowls and serving plates filled with the summer menus. The deserts were stored on top of the cabinets in the kitchen away from sweet toothed predators. Usually the rained out crowd limited the pathway space around the table so that a few end sitters were runners filling the requests for wedged in dinners. The meals weren’t as rushed when it was raining. More time to fill up the nooks and crannies with what everyone had been up to during the last week. Too wet for the adults to swim, sail or fish, my cousins and I ached for action and movement. Sometimes crawling under the far corner of the table we bolted for the door despite the rain cooled air.
The cherry table sits in my basement now, the leaves stacked up in a corner. It’s too big to be in my kitchen or my living room. Alone it sits heaped up with boxes and other cellar offerings. My mother refinished six of the chairs, caning the seat herself over the summers before her stroke. The chairs are scattered throughout my house like my cousins scattered across the country. An end of an era, a time for reflection and memories since my parents, Aunts and Uncles who have gone on before me must have reflected over the changes they went through. Generation after generation, time moves steadily along leaving a few favorite plates or spoons, a chair or two and a table big enough to seat twenty comfortably.

EMM 5/21/98

No comments:

Post a Comment