Thursday, August 18, 2005

Picnic Hill


We've had a couple of cookouts lately, and this got me thinking back to my childhood picnic memories. We picnicked a lot when we took day trips in the summer, and also sometimes after my dad got home from work. And then there were the picnics we kids took all by ourselves on a nearby hill. I want to share some more of my memories later when I have time to write more. But for now I'll just share this remembrance of our special picnic place. 


 Picnic Hill! Even today, the words conjure up the scents, the sounds, the tastes of a very special part of a ten-year-old’s world. It was only minutes from home, but it could have been on another planet, so far removed was it from everyday life. Even the way there was enchanted. First a stroll down a leafy tree-lined lane, where bees buzzed sleepily on clover blossoms and sun-warmed grass exuded its intoxicating scent, then across a stream by way of a fallen apple tree. We followed the sparkling brook as it wound its way through a meadow of spring-green velvet. It was a miniature stream, a delicious sunlit brown color with smooth rocks visible on its bottom: a perfect place for wading. It simply beckoned to us. But we postponed that pleasure, and followed the brook to the base of Picnic Hill. 

It was high and rounded, exactly like the top scoop of a double-decker coffee ice cream cone. It was dusted with spicy brown pine needles and crowned with several huge old evergreens. Seated on the spongy forest floor, we’d have our picnic. I can’t even remember what we ate, but I do know the neighbor children who accompanied us often had cucumber sandwiches.   Thinking back, I've wondered often about those cucumber sandwiches our neighborhood friends brought along. These were poor kids from a tough background, in the 1950s. Cucumber sandwiches sound more like teatime in England. I've often wondered if cucumbers were just a cheap sandwich filling, or if they were some handed-down family recipe from long ago and faraway. I'll probably never know!

Nor can I recall what, if anything, we drank. Maybe just the magic of being on Picnic Hill made us forget about what we were eating. After lunch, we stretched out in the sun-dappled shade of the pines, closing our eyes and inhaling the balsam aroma. These interludes never lasted too long; there were other pleasures in store. 

 One was sliding down the hill. Those dry pine needles were wonderfully slippery. It was more fun than any metal or wooden slide could ever be. Before starting home, it was part of the ritual to remove shoes and socks and wade in the stream. The water was clear and cold, the pebbles silky smooth, and little fish darted here and there, nibbling at our toes. (The brook was so clear and fast-moving here that we never feared bloodsuckers, as we did in the part nearer our home!) Finally, we sat in the warm grass to replace our footwear for the homeward trip. 

Picnic Hill never failed to refresh me. It was a place apart from worries, from squabbles, from adults. I’m an adult myself now, with children and grandchildren of my own. Picnic Hill is all grown up, too -- so ringed with brush and alders it is almost unrecognizable. Yet in memory I can always go back to Picnic Hill, and be refreshed again in spirit.

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