I was born into a family of picnickers. This was probably due to several conditions– one being the fact that the Great Depression made it necessary to seek out inexpensive family entertainment. A picnic was easy. You’re going to eat anyway, right? So, if you can pack up your food and eat it outdoors, it becomes an event, not just another meal.
Another important factor was the lack of air conditioning. Nobody had air conditioned homes at that time. In really hot weather, it was pleasant to eat outdoors in a shady spot where you could catch a breeze. Maybe it wasn’t any cooler than staying in the house, but you at least had the distraction of a pleasant view in the country, a convenient playground at the city park, or the psychological cooling of a nearby lake or river.
If you take into consideration the facts that my mother had grown up on a farm and was accustomed to spending as much time as possible out of doors, that my dad always seemed to feel restless when confined to the house during nice weather (he’d rather be gardening, roofing the garage, repairing the porch railing, or swinging in a hammock). And consider the added advantage of keeping four kids outdoors and out from underfoot, going on a picnic saved wear and tear on both the house and the nerves.
Then there is the added pleasure of a swim in a lake or a cooling wade in a shady creek. In summertime, Mother cooked as little as necessary on those hot July and August days. She might make a big batch of potato salad, boiling the eggs and potatoes early in the morning before the kitchen heated up. We ate pork and beans cold, as they came from the can. There might be cool lunch meat sandwiches, and cottage cheese, with cookies or fresh fruit for dessert. It was easy to pack up such food, add some paper plates and a big thermos full of lemonade, call it a picnic and head for a favorite picnic spot.
More times than not, any hot summer evening during the week would find us loaded into the car with the picnic basket, our swimsuits, and Dad’s trusty sack-swing on a long rope, and headed for Marigold Pond. The sack-swing was a tradition in our family. For picnics at the park or one of the public lakes near Indianola and Oskaloosa, the sack-swing was left behind, but when we went to Marigold Pond or the woods near Whitebreast Creek, it was always part of the regular routine. These two sites were handy to home and frequent destinations during the week when Dad would come home, declare it too hot to stay home for supper, and pack us all into the car.
The drive to Marigold was memorable. The pond was located on a farm just outside of town.
The drive through a hilly pasture was scary and we kids always worried that the car might tip over on the side hill, so we crowded to the high side of the back seat to improve the balance. The pond was spring-fed and boasted a beach of fine, white sand. Someone had rigged up a net of screen wire on two poles that could be used to skim off the green alga and trap it at the narrow end of the pond. The water was always cold, even though the pond was fairly small. We’d swim long enough to cool off then, when our teeth were chattering, we’d warm up in the sun while Mother unpacked the sandwiches, cottage cheese, and beans and poured lemonade. After eating, we’d be ready to get back in the water and rinse off the sand that had stuck to our damp feet and legs.
When we were all cooled down, tired from the swimming and splashing, and satisfied to head for home, we’d run for the car where we’d peel off the wet swimsuits and get into our pajamas while Dad tossed the end of the rope over a high tree limb and hauled on the rope until the burlap bag stuffed with straw was just the right height for swinging. He’d tie the other end of the rope to another tree and push us, each in turn, on the swing. The higher the limb, the greater the arc of the swing. It was much more thrilling than any of the swings on the playground at school or in the park. After we’d all had a turn on the swing, it was Mother’s turn. She didn’t get pushed on the swing, however, she got pulled high up into the treetop until she could almost touch the limb that supported the swing. After Dad had brought her safely back to earth, we girls would each get a turn at riding that elevator all the way to the top. One turn only. Dad had rules (and he was probably tired.)
It would be nearly dark by the time we reached home, full of sandwiches, tired and sleepy from all the exercise, and well cooled down from soaking in the chilly water. Tomorrow we’d probably spend most of the afternoon at the town’s swimming pool, as we did most summer days, but a swim and a swing at Marigold Pond was a treat to be remembered.