It is Sunday afternoon as I write this and it is VERY HOT! I am in northwestern Michigan, without air-conditioning, and trying to remember what I did before I was fortunate enough to have a home with air.
I remember, many a hot Sunday afternoon, when the orchard was not demanding my father’s time,we would spend time at Lake Michigan, just south of Arcadia to swim, relax, and picnic. My brother and I would be thrilled with the icy coldness of the big lake as we played in the waves that knocked us off our feet. My mom packed our red plaid Igloo Cooler with fried chicken, potato salad, and other tasty delicacies that were special for such a beach side meal. A bonfire would be lit and then chocolate bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers would be pulled out as the sun disappeared below the horizon. A few times we even slept in our sleeping bags under the stars without a tent! It was fun to have such an adventure next to the fire, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore as it lulled us to into a deep slumber.
Our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents would often have an annual summer get together at various locations such as Platte River State Park, Duck Interlochen State Park on Duck Lake, or up at the foot of the Sand Dunes on Glen Lake. We were all farm families drawn to the cool water and the shade of the tall pines to visit and catch up on family gossip. It was exciting to be among the many cousins. After the food was spread out over several tables that were lined up end to end we dove into the plates and bowls of scrumptious foods that had been carefully prepared. We ate quickly and then had to abide by the rule chanted by our parents of waiting 30 minutes before jumping into the water. So to kill time, out would come the bat, ball, and gloves for a friendly game of softball or a not so friendly game of keep away from the little kids, like me. Once the time had elapsed and a timekeeper gave us the ok, we would eagerly jump into the water with air mattresses, inner tubes, swim fins, goggles, and snorkels shared by all.
These past summer memories whirled in my mind, as Jon and I ventured north, to give our new/old boat a tryout on one of Jon’s favorite fishing lakes, Shawano Lake. We had surveyed the lake in early spring just after the snow had melted. It was hard to imagine what this park would be like on a hot summer’s day. But on this day, on the downside of summer, I was greatly surprised with how many people were picnicking in the park. There were several large groups. As we lowered the boat into the water, I wondered about these groups gathered in the park. Were they families from farms, to cool off in the shade of the park with prize winning foods? Or were they having a church picnic, or celebrating a family event? As Jon figured out how the motor shifted and we pulled away from the dock, I pondered the sacred, family lakeside picnic. Its demise, I believe is the popularity of the backyard deck being added to new and old houses complete with the gas grill, picnic table, assorted lounging chairs, and possible pool. People now, frequently “grill out” either with just their own immediate family or with a few friends, reducing the specialness of the event. I remember our family reunions turned into picnics in houses and garages turned into pavilions as the aunts and uncles wanted more comfort. Due to lack of space, as the individual families grew these annual events became more and more scarce.
But on this afternoon on Shawano Lake, the family picnic appeared to be alive and well. The park grills had gray spirals of smoke rising into the trees with the delicious smell of burgers, brats, and hot dogs sizzling over the charcoal. Lawn chairs were scattered near the gleaming varnished pine picnic tables that were covered with gaily checkered oilcloth. Some of the people played horse shoes in the pine needle strewn sand, while waiting for all the preparations to be finished. I smiled at this pleasing scene. This park could be a cover for Saturday Evening Post, as illustrated by Norman Rockwell, of a typical Sunday afternoon of folks eating, playing and visiting in a local county park . My thinking that the old fashion family picnic days were no more, was proven wrong. They still exist in the rural areas of NE Wisconsin.