A Family Basket Picnic

This is the third article in May of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on May 21, 1905, and is an article on the picnic.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

A Family Basket Picnic

“Oh! that we two were Maying
Down the stream of the soft spring breeze!
Like children with violets playing
In the shade of the whispering trees.”

SO SINGS the English poet, with the scent of the hawthorn hedges in his imagination—the stifling, roaring town oppressing his senses.

The perpetual miracle of springtime awakens in people who talk, write and live prose, unuttered longings for country sounds, country sights and country smells. As a nation we Americans are just learning to spell vacation, after the Squeersian fashion. And when we, too, “know this our of book, we go and do it”—or we think we do. To nine hundred and ninety-seven out of every thousand, “Vacation” means a dead stop in the routine of our daily living, for one, two or four weeks in the hottest season of the year, and “going somewhere.” If that daily living be very plain as to externals and monotonous as to mental exercises, the “outing” is probably to the gayest “resort” of which the pleasure-seeker has any knowledge. There he or she tarries, an unconsidered looker-on, as long as the money allotted for leisure holds out. Then—back into harness for another eleven months and a half!

We take ourselves and all connected with us too seriously. We set for ourselves tasks too long and too heavy. Our Teutonic, Gallic and Latin immigrants could give us profitable lessons in the art of taking duty in broken doses, and diversifying by breathing spells the long pulls, the strong pulls and the pulls all together for which we are noted.

A Holiday Each Month.

I think sometimes that Benjamin Franklin was the truest exponent of the typical American spirit our country has yet produced. He took to the strenuous life early. His proposed grace over the whole barrel is a representative anecdote. We compress our merrymaking into tabloids and swallow them periodically. May invites and June wooes in vain. Vacation, as a business, has its season. Rich people can take liberties with rules, and play when the humor seizes them. Men and women who have their living to make cannot intermit the grind.

That a holiday once a month, even if it be classed with uncovenanted mercies, would make the grind easier, and brace the back to carry the burden jauntily, does not enter into the working man’s calculations. A Sunday off, now and then, he may indulge in, if he be a non-churchgoer. Otherwise, he stands in his lot—i.e., in the groove of the grind. “Holidays are too costly for poor folks.” As a people we know not of cheap pleasure-taking.

To such sober-minded citizens the family picnic may not commend itself, unless they are caught young by the attractions of what I shall try, to the best of my humble ability, to set before flat-dweller and cottager as a delight within the reach of the poor in purse and reasonable in desire.

Saturday is the most approved day for family excursions, if the occasion has been foreseen and provided for. If the father be his own master, he can pack and accommodate work to leave part of the day free. The mother can do the same. The hardest student among the children has what the much-courted fopling in “Patience” stipulated for—“the usual half-holiday.”

An Unconventional Family.

Throwing American traditions to the winds, and forgetting. Poor Richard for six hours, set we forth with the unconventional family after a 12 o’clock luncheon, for the actual country by the shortest route. Each of the party, the west tot not excepted, has a basket or a paper box. The eldest boy or biggest girl has also a shawl strap, the purport of which will be discovered by and by. The destination of the happy crew, decided upon weeks ago, is a secluded grove or shady meadow so near town that little time is lost in reaching it. There must be grass, and wild flowers grow in the grass’ trees and birds and squirrels haunt the branches. Water within easy distance is an absolute necessity. Whatever else was left at home, be sure a box of fish-hooks and a coil of twine form a part of each boy’s outfit. If an unwary shiner or a brainless perch reward three hours’ patient fishing, it will be eviscerated, stuck on a stick and crisped in the smoke of the camp-fire kindled upon the edge of the picnic grounds.

Mamma has brought the magazine she had no time to read at home. The shawl is taken from the strap and spread upon the softest turf where a treebole will support her back; papa stretches his lazy length of limb upon the ground near her, and, his head supported by his crossed arms, looks up through green boughs at the blue sky and thinks (consciously) of nothing.

Wholesome Enjoyment.

Reflect for a moment what it is for an American-born business man to think of nothing, with the open heavens above him, sweet airs wandering over him, the chirp of free birds and the laughter of his joyous children in his ear! He is not making money for that hour, but he is laying in health and happiness, with a store of pleasant memories for the busy weeks beyond the half holiday.

The children spread the cloth, which was the nucleus of the strapped bundle. Supervised by the mother, they unpack and arrange upon the cloth the contents of boxes and baskets—sandwiches, cakes, hard-boiled eggs, fruit and bonbons, chatting like magpies as they bustle over the pleasing task. There are bottles of milk and lemonade, and for the parents, ginger ale, all cooled in the shadiest part of the brook, or in the spring.

A little later in the season there will be berries and gayer wild flowers than the “Innocents,” anemones and wood violets, withering in the hot and grimy little hands that bear them homeward as the sun touches the tops of the trees. And yet later, nuts in hedge-row and wood, and wild apples to be had for the climbing and picking, and

“On the hill the golden rod,
And the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sunflower by the brook.”

Always there will be wholesome enjoyment, the simple delights—exquisite as simple—of face-to-face communion with nature. The blessed old mother takes young and old lovingly to her bosom; now, as in the very oldest days of myth and parable, we, too, arise refreshed from contact with her teeming heart—the same now and for all time.

Our next talk will be upon THE NEIGHBORHOOD PICNIC, with directions for the conduct of the same, including recipes for portable delicacies.

Marion Harland

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