Memories of a Sunday Picnic. Does Anyone Do It Anymore?

Memories of a Sunday Picnic. Does Anyone Do It Anymore?

A Chevy Impala and Forest Preserve filled my Sundays.

In one of those synchronicity moments, I was thinking about writing a blog about the picnics of my youth when the picture of a picnic table showed up on my Facebook feed. Never one to overlook an omen, I decided to proceed with my picnic reminiscence.

Let’s go back to a sunny Sunday summer day in 1961. I am 5 years old. It’s about 1 pm and I am sitting on the living room floor in front of my dad as he watches a ball game, something I do not yet care about. I am wearing shorts and a tee shirt, Dad is in his weekend wardrobe of a short sleeve white dress shirt and lightweight slacks.

Our third-floor apartment on Farwell, just east of Sheridan, is quite spacious. My sister Linda and I have our own separate bedrooms. Our parent’s bedroom (we could call it a master bedroom then) is furnished with a whitewashed wood bed and dresser set bought second-hand when we moved here a year earlier. The dresser top is covered with cosmetic products, samples Mom has garnered from her short career as an Avon Lady.

A horn beeps impatiently in the street below. I look out the window to see a long, low, red 1959 Chevy Impala, fins flaring. It’s Uncle Poldi and it is time to go. We hustle down the stairs and out the front door.

Poldi, a swarthy Viennese-born engineer, is already impatient. Aunt Paula, also Viennese as is my mother, sits crowded against him on the front bench seat. Childless, they have an apartment in the Rogers Park Hotel, just around the corner. It will be another year before they rent an apartment on Jonquil Terrace.

Dad slides in next to Paula–but not too close, Poldi has a jealous streak. Mom places a wicker picnic basket in the car’s enormous trunk and then joins Linda and me in the back seat. Seat belts are non-existent, as are electric door locks, electric windows, and electric air conditioning. Mom pushes down the schnoppel to lock the door, then turns the crank to lower the window and naturally cool the car.

The car is getting crowded, but we have one more stop to make. We pick up my grandparents, Mama and Papa, from their apartment on Sherwin near the EL. It is one of their last good years before a move to the Selfhelp Home and Papa’s death from bladder cancer.

As the grandparents join us in the back seat I climb onto Mom’s lap to give them more room. Carseats? We don’t…

Twenty-five minutes later (Poldi is a very slow driver) we arrive at the Skokie Lagoons Forest Preserve. We unfold out of the car and Linda and I run to grab one of the wooden picnic tables. The adults unpack the trunk and follow us with tablecloths and picnic baskets. They bring a few folding chairs, too. Not the collapsible ones we use today for the grandkid’s baseball games, but the kind with metal frames and plastic webbing, the kind that leaves marks on your bare skin.

Paula breaks out the reusable plastic plates and utensils and then unpacks her fried chicken (home-made-not from a bucket) while Mom distributes turkey sandwiches on Wonder Bread. Mayonnaisey potato salad appears. Large thermos bottles filled with ice tea and lemonade make the rounds.

After lunch, but before freshly baked brownies, we spritz with bug repellent and hike along one of the many trails. We don’t go far, my parents don’t want to leave the grandparents, dozing in the folding chairs, alone for too long. And even in the shade of the towering trees, it is getting uncomfortably hot. And the brownies call our names.

The drive home is quiet, most of us drowsy, the lingering aroma of chicken and chocolate and bug spray hanging in the air.

I miss those family picnics.

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Filed under:
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Impala, Picnic, Rogers Park


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