Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Family Picnics?

Because I grew up in San Diego, there were not many collateral family members around. My mother was an only child, and her parents were only children, and so there were not any family on my mother's side here except for my parents and my mother's parents. All of my father's ancestry, and sibling's families, were in New England, 2,500 miles away. They visited us once in my first 25 years... My father's aunt Emily's family was here, but there were no children my age.

Therefore, there were not massive family picnics or reunions where everybody brought something, cousins played games and hung out with each other, the elders told stories and the youngers listened, etc.

When I was growing up, the closest thing to a picnic we had was enjoying a game of ping pong down in the patio. There was maybe 40 feet between the sidewalk on Fern Street on the east and the fence separating the yards on the west, and only about 20 feet between the tall concrete wall on the south and the apartment building on the north side of the patio. A tall jacaranda tree grew on the east side of the patio, and a semi-circular flower bed dominated the west side of the patio. We had a basketball standard on the east side of the bricked patio. There was precious little space on the patio for anything but a ping-pong table, several lawn chairs and a charcoal-fueled barbecue set.

My dad thought he was the all-pro ping-pong player, all bluster and power, slamming every ball he could reach. My mother was the finesse player, with spins and cuts and her unorthodox two-fingers-on-top grip. My brother and I practiced and practiced against each other for years, and when we finally started beating our dad regularly, he sort of gave it up. Mom would always play us and it took us longer to beat her consistently because she was more patient and crafty.

For our picnics, we would usually have either hot dogs or hamburgers - always cooked to a crisp (my dad never ate anything "uncooked" - steak for our family was like shoe leather!). We would have potato chips and Fritos, fresh fruit, and watermelon. You might say that our picnics were gastronomically deprived!

After Linda and I married and had our two daughters, we would go to the beach with friends, usually from the church couples group or the girl's Scout troop, during the summer and fall and have a great time. We would body surf the waves, build finger-drip towers and elaborate moated sand castles, get all sunburned and sandy, and then enjoy hot dogs and hamburgers, with chips, veggies, fruit, etc. But the best was saved for last - S'mores. Toasted gooey marshmallows (there's a real science to this - you need to avoid great balls of gooey fire) from an open fire pit, with a slab of thin Hershey's milk-chocolate candy bar, between two graham cracker halves. Yummy. The classical San Diego beach picnic. Oh - fireworks if it was a holiday!

I really miss the body surfing, the sand castles and the S'mores. I don't miss the sunburns and the cold water, though. Pretty soon, our grandchildren will be big enough to do these activities with, and we'll make some more family history. I can hardly wait!

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