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Wishing for a picnic

By on June 26, 2021 in Columnist with 2 Comments

By Susan Sampson

The social event I miss the most won’t be coming back, even when COVID-19 is crushed, unless I organize it myself. 

I’m talking about those idyllic summertime group picnics. 

For me, picnic season started on July 4, or “Forchuly” the way my immigrant Grandpa pronounced it. 

That was the biggest family event of the year except for Christmas, camping on the banks of the Smith River or in a farmer’s field on the banks of the North Fork of the Siuslaw. 

One year my boy cousins built a raft and launched it into the Smith River. My dad rushed into the water to haul them back to shore before they washed downstream. 

That year all the kids in camp came down with three-day measles. 

We waded in the Siuslaw to catch crawdads with our bare hands and to corral them in rock pens in the river. When a friend named Jack LaChapelle commented that crawdads were edible my dad snorted, “You Frenchmen would eat anything.” 

After lunch, the men tossed horseshoes and the kids waited for an hour to pass — we couldn’t swim for an hour after eating so we didn’t get cramps, even though we only waded. The river was too shallow to swim in. 

We also had to wait at least until dusk to light our safe and sane fireworks, sparklers only. 

When my cousin Patty and I went to Girl Scout camp, we discovered s’mores, so after that, when we finished roasting hotdogs over a campfire, we got to melt marshmallows on sticks to make s’mores. 

Besides family picnics, I got to go to organization picnics. 

Dad belonged to the plumber’s union, and their picnic was one of the best. 

The plumbers filled up the bed of a pickup truck with pop and ice cream bars packed in dry ice. We were allowed to eat as much as we wanted. The food was all potluck — cold fried chicken, red Jello with banana slices and deviled eggs, which I liked, and Mrs. Goodman’s lime Jello with shredded cabbage and sliced green olives in it, and potato salad with sweet pickles, onions and mayonnaise in it, which I would not touch. 

I left home for college and years passed before I attended another potluck group picnic. 

Then I was invited to a picnic for an assembly of employees of the Washington State Highway Department. I eyed the table where all the older women sat, next to their fully frosted perfect three-layered cakes. 

I was so disappointed that after lunch, the men left to play softball and the women broke out cigarettes. Nobody cut into those cakes or offered to share.

Any group picnic I’ve attended since then was catered by professional chefs. 

Their beef tournados and individual strawberry cheesecakes were wonderful, but I understand that an organization couldn’t take the chance of offering potluck. How could the organizers allow us to eat deviled eggs or potato salad with egg mayonnaise that’s been sitting on a picnic table out in the sun? Who fixed that chicken? Did they use all precautions against salmonella?

My best bet for attending a group picnic will be to host it and prepare the food myself. 

I’m dreaming up a menu. I’ll have the classics: hot dogs, cold fried chicken, enough pitted black olives to cap the fingertips of every kid in the group, potato salad with dill instead of sweet pickles, four-bean salad (Costco’s would suffice), baked bean casserole with hamburger and four kinds of canned beans, coleslaw without its lime Jello matrix, and a three-tiered chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I’ll make enough to have leftovers. 

Finally, I’ll add some modern touches, like a big bowl of pico de gallo with tortilla chips, and a bottle of Washington chardonnay. 

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  1. Curene Emery says:

    I want to come to your picnic. Thanks for sharing your picnic memories, seems a lot like mine.

  2. Carol Lucas says:

    Fun memories! I, too, miss the picnics, especially our church picnics at Devil’s Elbow State Park and Youth Group picnics and hot dog roasts at the beach!

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