Newburyport Adult and Community Education

241 High Street Newburyport, MA 01950 — Tel: 978-465-1257

Writers Contest

Topic: The Family Picnic
Due date: New Deadline July 1

Judge: Elizabeth Barrett
Form: Short Story or Essay
Length: 500 words
Entry fee: $25.00
  • First Prize: $150 cash & $100 gift certificate for classes & work published on Web site and in fall catalog
  • Second prize: $100 gift certificate toward classes & work published on Web site
  • Third prize: $50 gift certificate toward classes and work published on
    Web site
WritingContest2

Meet Our Contestants & Winners of 2013

 

First Prize

Renee Le Verrier
Done

Food Court: check. Friday afternoon: check. Hanging with Lenny and Max: check. Sweet.

Lenny mentions a party. The sweetness factor takes a nose dive. I have plans, this being an "other" in the "every other week" visit-with-Dad deal.

Dad suggested a cookout. Maybe it won't be as lame as the movie he snored through or the walk that ended more like a stumble.

"Cooper," Max says, pointing past me. "Your mom."

I dodge a stroller and cross to the sunglasses rack. She peers into the mirror and talks to my reflection.

"Are you ready?"

I shrug, picturing Dad at the park. It's not pretty. His button down will be minus a few and his idea of picnic food will be a cooler full of beer.

Mom turns to face me. "He's looking forward to seeing you."

It's The Talking To she gave me the last two drop-offs with Dad. I catch a "love" and "way divorce works" before Lenny steps up from behind. He knows where I'll be.

"Text if you need to." He smacks me in the arm and drifts off. I follow Mom out to the car.

She pulls into the park and I see Dad's outline in the shade of the pavilion. Mom does her stare, the one where her eyes seem to reach down into my heart.

"He's a good man with a bad habit." she says. "Call me when you're done."

I try not to slam the door.

Pee and old grease smells waft up from the trash barrel beside Dad. Man, this bites: strewn wrappers, used straws, ketchup packets, Dad's big toe poking through a hole in his slippers.

Seriously? I look up at him. That's when I notice his tell-tale, half-mast eyelids, the mark that he's here but not really. He shuffles to the picnic table. I sit on the opposite bench and don't talk. Within minutes, he's on his way to horizontal.

He's now three-for-three on the visit deal. Hell, he's fifteen-for-fifteen if I count years. I'm done: done counting, done counting on him. I step out of the darkness and head toward the lights of town.

Cafes beckon with sidewalk signs listing their specials. Lenny texts me but I ignore it. Peering in a card shop window, I wonder if there are any with, Dearest Dad, Check Yourself In or Don't Drink and Have a Son. I reach into my pocket for the real reason I'm hanging on Main Street: the address I'd scribbled down.

The door to the place is propped open with a rock. I follow the coffee smell into a room that is so a TV show, complete with actors standing beside a circle of metal folding chairs and a red-checkered tablecloth stacked with pastries.

A red-haired kid says, "This your first time here?"

I nod at him and blink. He's real.

So is this Al Anon meeting. The kid hands me a powdered donut and I watch white dust float between us.
 

Second Prize

Liam Wilbur

Last year, and for years before that, birds chirped in the brush; their springtime songs were effortless and lyrical. Pines and fresh grass, those eternal scents of temperate forest, wafted on calm breezes. Below silent trees, life began emerging in earnest. Clearings filled with sounds of critters poking forth, busy with the gathering of food. This year, nature's cycle follows form, matching a motion set long before humans trod these grounds.

Walking down a small path in the deeper forest, one might come to a gnarled stump. Long dead, it has since slumped over in exhausted resignation to fate. When the last layers of snow melt, an elderly piper-man in a plumed hat rests here to play. His tunes are jaunty, flitting up the octaves with irreverent disregard. Last year the birds chirped in response, contributing their own arpeggios. The piper sits

again this year, playing for anything that can hear, and the birds join.

Annually, for the past decade, a small caravan of cars has entered the park to unload cargoes of children, adults, and baskets heavy with provisions. Every year they have forged a trail known only to them, leading up a winding hillock that is crowned by a stone amphitheater. Here the band has always unpacked, laying the space with beer, sandwiches, salad, and famous Linder Lemonade. Nobody could say when or by whom the recipe originated, but year upon year, brimming pitchers arrived and were consumed.

This year, the Linder caravan rolls off road and onto grass, where the forest begins to claim territory. They park in the same spots they always have, on tire-marks worn gently into dirt. Doors pop open, and the Linders file into sunlight. As in years past, the dogs are first out, running excited circles around each other. On their heels come the children, and the adults follow, hefting coolers and blankets.

This year, however, there is no sports chatter, and no teasing of the teenagers. The adults are unusually somber. They trudge up-hill solemnly and spread out, but unlike previous years, no-one has brought Frisbees and footballs. The dogs sit, panting, uncomprehending. Their raucous games of catch

will not come. Last year, sprawled around blankets, conversation had been loose, easy. This year, it is terse. The topics are trivial, but discussed with the gravity of warring ambassadors debating peace accords. Nobody tastes the food they eat. Beer and wine are not imbibed with casual, thirsty pace, but instead with an urgency that bespeaks pain.

Two years ago, Private First Class James Linder arrived to picnic, looking martial and commanding in starched dress uniform. Last year he joined them on his father's Wad, hair slick with desert sweat, face sunburnt and sallow. The waters of the Euphrates running through Falluja's dusty center glinted light through the window behind him. He smiled then, and seven thousand miles away, the Linders smiled too. This year, James Linder is only in the memories of those who had loved him. The birds sing on, oblivious.
 

Third Prize

Ruth Kerr
Fish Picnic

"Hmmmm yum..."

The smell of rainbow trout cooking tantalized our taste buds. We were hungry! Dad had cleaned our catch; cut up onions; sprinkled the fillets with salt and wrapped them in tight tinfoil packets to cook on the fire. My sister Judy and I had gathered the twigs and branches that were now orange red embers, perfect for cooking our personally caught fish. Logs and boulders were our chairs. Woodsman Fly Dope blended with the aroma of forest, burning wood and cooking fish. We always slathered ourselves to prevent black flies from biting us. Whenever one bit my sister or I, prodigious swellings occurred that could make an eye disappear or an arm look like a camel hump was growing out of it. A little opening in the woods by the rocky bank of the Sugar River was our picnic area. Creaking in the whisper of the wind, the movement of poplar, pine and birch branches made the afternoon sun freckles (as Judy and I would call them) dance on the forest floor and over us like fireflies. It would make us giggle.

Dad interrupted our giggles, "Shhhhhh, listen..."

As a Maine woodsman, he grew up with wilderness as his playground. Judy and I listened. Blue jays, orioles, chickadees, sparrows shared their songs with us and Dad had taught us to identify each one. The rat-a- tat-tat of a woodpecker echoed about us. Then we heard it. A sound like electricity coming out of a broken power line or so we imagined.

"What is that Dad?"

"A Cicada, it is a big bug. Drying out his wing ...hasn't seen the sun for seventeen years." He then checked the fish. "Fish is ready. Let's eat girls." Dad handed us each a packet of cooked, crispy -skinned fish and onions. A slab of mom's homemade bread went with it. I pressed it to my nose and inhaled its earthy aroma. Cool water from the old canteen with a Marine insignia quenched our thirst.

As we ate, in the distance we heard the river current traveling over smooth stones, reminding us of the hours before as we had sat on a warm, pink, granite rock watching water bugs and flashes of shiny trout teasing our red and white bobbers. We watched Dad in his chest high waders standing midstream snapping his line with his own unique rhythm. His fishing vest was a treasure trove of fishing flies. I would sit for hours and watch him take thread, pheasant feathers, deer tail hair and a hook and create life like intricate bug sculptures of wonder. Sometimes I would help.

It was time to go home. Our bellies were full. Our socks and sneakers had dried to a fine shade of silt and no longer squished when we walked. As I look back at those days, I realize though my dad was not a hugging man, the days of Fish Picnics were Dad's way of hugging his girls.
 

Listed in order received

Cassandra Patel

We start up the hill in single file, as the path is not wide enough to accommodate even two walking abreast. The wooded climb is not unfamiliar, although it has been twelve years since we last completed it. In those days, there were five of us.

Keron is leading the way. This has not changed; even when we were children he would run ahead, blazing the trail for the rest of us. Now, he is taller and broader, and his footfalls are less those of an erratic child and hit the ground with the swift and graceful certainty of a man.

Next is Leila, Keron's younger sister by four years and the baby of the family. I note that she, too, is occupying her old spot in our formation; she is second from the back, which was necessary to keep an eye on her when she was young, but is just a vestige of old habit now that she is a sophomore at BU.

I am last, which is the place Essie used to assume so she could keep an eye on her four grandchildren as we bounded up the hill towards the meadow overlooking our small town.

We remain silent as we reach the top of the hill. All of us are feeling the absence of those with whom we last made this climb. One of those absences is achingly permanent, the other is even more painful because it is by choice.

Essie used to take us up this hill on sunny Sunday mornings for little picnics consisting of mini muffins from Bella's Little Bakery. After we had polished off the last of the muffin crumbs the four of us would get up and run around in the way only young children can, while Essie sipped her coffee and watched us. To the casual observer we would have looked like kids playing, but it was something more magical than that. We were forming those curiously strong bonds that take hold in friendships formed in childhood. We were all best friends as well as cousins, and in naively earnest moments we would excitedly dream about being grown-ups so we could buy a house big enough for all of to live together.

Today is distinctly different from those days. The sky is stubbornly overcast, but doesn't seem to threaten rain. We are grown up and we are missing Lissa. While Keron, Leila, and I have remained close. Leila only visits on Thanksgiving and failed to show up today. Instead of whiling away a carefree morning, we am-here with a purpose.

We soberly eat our muffins, reminiscing on old times in between bites, then turn to the small Mason jar that I carried up the hill. We thought that this would be an appropriate place to leave a part of Essie. The meadow holds happy memories of simpler times. It saw the beginning of cherished friendships, for which we have Essie to thank. Slowly, carefully, we remove the lid and begin to sprinkle the ashes. They are at once caught by the breeze and swept away.

Melanie Bennett
Saturdays, 1955

"Go out for a walk," Mom would tell my dad, "and take her with you."

My mother worked in a factory all week. She had five kids. I was her youngest. On Saturday afternoons she wanted everyone out of the house. She wanted to do her housework "in peace". The other kids were old enough to fend for themselves. I needed looking after.

The walk with Daddy was three city blocks up Orange Street and over to the Cary Square Club. A private men's club at the corner of Washington and Blossom. My dad was the bartender and president.

The club's windows were bricked in for privacy. There was a solid door with a peep-hole window. If someone knocked, a member looked out to see who was there before opening the door. My dad didn't need to knock. He had a key. He unlocked the door.

Inside, smoke drifted through the air. The lights were dim. A dozen men would be hanging out, smoking cigarettes, playing poker. My dad would go behind the bar, unlock the cash register and hand me a roll of nickels. Across from the bar stood a group of one- armed bandits. Illegal slot machines. I unwrapped the roll of nickels and began to play. Reach up, put a nickel in the slot, grab the chrome lever, and pull it down. If the spinning reels of lemons, bells and bars lined up just right a bunch of nickels came clanging down into a small trough. Jackpot. I'd take the winnings and put them in my pocket.

When I'd used all my nickels, I skipped over to the piano. My small hands danced on the black and white keys. I composed joy filled little melodies. An older gentleman listened and smiled. He'd give me a dollar to keep playing. My dad kidded that the old man liked to listen because he was hard of hearing. One of dad's friends would give me a couple of quarters to stop playing. The men liked my dad. He was quiet and good-natured. He told jokes and funny stories and listened to theirs when he tended bar.

I'd scramble up onto a bar stool. Daddy put ice in a highball glass, filled it with coke and handed me a bag of Planters Peanuts. I'd twirl around on the red naughahyde seat. I'd savor the salty peanuts and sweet, fizzy coke. I was enchanted by the snazzy Mr. Peanut who stood two feet tall on the shelf next to the five cent cellophane bags. He had a peanut body with black sleeves and black tights. He wore a monocle, top hat and cane, white gloves and spats.

At the bar I learned my letters from the blinking neon lights of beer sign advertising. Narragansett, Knickerbocker, Haffenreffer, Schlitz. The lights reflected off the rows of fancy glass bottles that enclosed golden whiskeys and bourbon. Seagram's 7, Jack Daniels, Old Grand-Dad, Jim Beam. The club was a secret, magical world. The slots, the piano, the neon lights. Sitting up at the bar close to my dad and Mr. Peanut. A small family picnic.

When it got near to suppertime, I held Daddy's hand and we walked back home.

Henry Kruschwitz

It's springtime and (he family is out for the day. Their destination isn’t very far, or very grand. A particular spot discovered years ago by happy accident. A place that, on certain Saturday afternoons, belongs to them and them alone. I shall not tell you the way for it is not my place to say: others may only be invited. I shall describe it for you. A grassy hillside just far away enough from anywhere, half way down by a solitary oak tree. The view is beautiful, both of and from. You would not recognize it from afar, you only know once you've arrived.

When they arrive, they lay down the blanket and begin the feed. PB&J for the twins, Watermelon slices for the older sister, quarter of a BLT sub for dad and a chicken Caesar salad for mother. The twins scarf down their sandwiches and move on to seconds and juice boxes. The older sister takes her time to savor the taste. Mother eats her salad daintily as she is expected to. Dad stuffs his cheeks with every bite and chases it down with beer. Their favorite part is desert: homemade chocolate-chip cookies.

After that the children go off to their own little worlds. The twins run down the hill to play. What game is it? Not even they could tell you: it changes every time. Sometimes they make-up a story, sometimes they play tag, sometimes they explore the creek bed winding down into the woods. Their sister occupies herself with a book and her parents love her for it. So few read in their free time, and classic poetry no 1ess! They worry soon she will be lost to texting but she knows otherwise. Robert Frost is for picnic time and always will be.

Now the parents are practically alone, just like they used to be. He still looks at her the same way he did when they were dating. And it still makes her feel like the only girl in the world. It was back then when they found this place. Lost on the back roads, just trying to get away. It became their special spot: whole afternoons with just each other and some music. This was where he finally proposed. He smiles and she blushes as they recall what else occurred. They became a family here in more ways then one.

All too soon the picnic is at an end. The sun goes down in the sky regardless of their content. They have to get home before dark if they want to cook supper. It was a good trip: no bathroom emergencies, no tears or name-calling, no rain and no bugs or sunburns. Now it's back to the car and back home to the world. The twins sleep beside their sister as she stares out the window. 'Will she take her family there?' Her parents wonder. May be, but for now it's just them and that's enough. It will be for many more picnics.

Kary Robertson

Salisbury Beach. Mama (she won't let us call her Ma yet), Daddy, Grandpa, Jimmy, Billy, and me.

Debbie doesn't count because she's not born yet. We squished into the hot no air-conditioning VW bus. There should be more room but the umbrella, towels, blanket, pails, and red and white metal cooler take up a lot of space. We drive round and round. Daddy wants to find a free parking spot but then pays at the reservation parking lot because there are bathrooms.

Lugging the beach paraphernalia and the heavy so heavy cooler filled with ice (now melting), we march to the beach and set up. The miracle of the ocean welcomes. Put on the Sea & Ski. We're redheads with freckles. Years later, the smell is perfume to me. Billy in his "Milk Drinking Champion" t-shirt and diaper runs, runs everywhere. Even I think he's cute. I call Jimmy "Chicken of the Sea". The cool salty wetness knocks us down. The shells smack us in the legs. Daddy, will you take us deeper? It's scary. We're brave. Who cares about eating? Mama does.

Why are we eating home tuna fish sandwiches? Can't we buy chicken BBQ, pizza, French fries? Daddy puts a stop to that with a look. Grandpa wants a beer. I don't like the way he looks at me. He smells when he has beer. Mama lays the food out on the blanket under the umbrella. Jimmy and I drink the A&P version of Kool-Aid while Billy in his tied-on safari hat drinks a LOT of milk. He's going to need that diaper changed. Jimmy and I will NOT be around when THAT happens. Mama takes out cookies that are like Oreos. They are so so good. I would be so so happy if she would let me eat mine in the water. Nope.

Daddy goes for a swim while we Sea & Ski up again and digest. He is so brave. He's my Daddy. I'm so proud of him. I want to swim like him. He's like Humphrey Bogart. I know he was in the Second Wave at Omaha Beach. How could they count them?

Mama waves for him to come in. She doesn't trust the water even though she is from Arbroath, Scotland which is on the Black Sea and where they eat fish smoked from back yards. She is the love of my life but I want her to let me go back in the water and swim like Daddy.

I don't want to ever go home. In the VW, we open up the cooler and have snacks, fall asleep, and wake up at home. We barely fall out of the car and stumble up the stairs.

That night, red, the blisters threatening to bloom tomorrow, soaking in a tub of Epsom Salts, happy but overtired and a little cranky, I don't even hate my grandfather. I can't wait to eat tuna fish on the beach again. Maybe next time we can have Twinkles.

Sandra Golbert

Inviting a Latino family to a typical American picnic is like serving a rabbi pork chops at a seder.

Today, there are twenty-three family members at four wooden tables in the sand under the shade of swaying palm trees and another table groans under the weight of enough food and drink to feed the proverbial army. Chicken salad, ham, salami, bologna and cheeses to make sandwiches, condiments, cole slaw, potato salad, three-bean salad, bags of potato chips and a tub filled with iced Coke are displayed and eyed with distrust by the family.

The complaining begins at once.

Tia Consuelo whines, "Why aren't there 'real' forks and knives, who ever heard of using plastic 'tools' to eat food? And paper plates, ugh. "

Abuela Maria is almost in tears, "Why cold beans, where are the hot rice and beans? Do Gringos call this a meal?"

Tio Luis mutters, "I like to eat meals in a real chair, with arms and legs, not on a wooden bench. We'll all have splinters in our asses by the time this is over".

Why is all the food cold? What is this many-colored grass (coleslaw)? These round pieces of meat look weird (cold cuts!), what are they? Potato chips are for watching television, where are the tostones (fried plantains)? Coca-Cola? Where's the coffee?

The kids, having been introduced to American cuisine at school, are delighted and, for a change, no complaints are heard at their table. They inhale ham and cheese sandwiches and, ignoring the salads and cole slaw, fight over the bags of chips.

I married into this motley crew about 6 years ago and have yet to feel that anything I do is, to them, acceptable. In their eyes, the only redeemable act I have performed has been to have the good taste to marry their son, nephew, cousin, etc..

The complaining has died down as hunger has overcome the distrust of the menu and little by little, the conversation has become more about weather, family news, gossip ( did you hear about Carmela's baby? He was born 3 months early. Premature, ha).

Occasionally, however, murmurs and comments can still be heard about the choice of having an American style meal

I have been saving the surprise for months and now, I go to our car and bring out the guitar I've played since college. Eyes roll and low mutterings begin as they expect Gringo music, like, God forbid, country western laments. Never mind that most Latin songs are also about heartbreak and low-down men or women....

The moans die down for they are, despite their distrust of my intensions, a very courteous troupe, and I start to strum the guitar and begin to sing "Besame Mucho".... in Spanish. Astonished quiet and then heads begin to nod to the music. When I finish the song, a few seconds of silence and then, thundering applause.

I think I've won them over at last, green bean salad and all.

Frank Barron
A Day at the Lake

It was 1959, my junior year at Mission High School in the Roxbury section of Boston, when I enrolled in a lifeguard training course at the local municipal swimming pool. To my amazement I passed the course, but I never really expected I would need to use what I had learned.

However, in July of 1960 when I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from high school, my parents decided we would spend a beautiful sunny day at a lake picnicking and swimming. I don't recall the name of the lake, but I knew we had never been there before. When we arrived I began helping my mother spread out the picnic items. I am the oldest of four and I was always the one to help out. Next in line was my sister Patty, three years younger and about as impetuous as she could be.

Apparently Patty couldn't wait to get into the lake. She went racing by me, galloping into the water. She ran as far as she could then threw herself into a vigorous dog paddle. She stroked for a few yards then stopped to stand. That's when Patty discovered what none of knew about this lake. Just a few feet from shore the bottom dropped off drastically. When Patty tried to stand, she sunk like a stone. She apparently fought her way back to the surface and began screaming. That's when I became aware. I heard, "Frankie! Frankie, help me!"

Oh my God! I thought. I dropped the picnic basket I was holding and flew into the water. Three of four strides in and I threw myself head first over the surface, stroking full tilt as I hit the water. As I came up on Patty she was splashing wildly, choking and gasping, "Frankie! Frankie! Help me! Help me!" I had such momentum that I came up too close to her. Patty lunged at me, grabbing me around my neck. The last thing I saw was the absolute panic in her eyes. She landed on me with a force that plunged us both beneath the surface. For just an instant I panicked. Surely we would drown! Then in an instant the lifeguard training flashed into my head. I knew what to do!

I began working my arms, propelling us toward the bottom with all the force I could muster. How deep is this thing? I thought. Finally, as we reached the bottom and I knelt in its soft muck, I felt Patty release her hold on me. She finally realized I was no help. Through the murky water I watched her struggle frantically for the surface. I rose along with her, behind her. As she broke the surface she broke into a furious dog paddle. I swam up behind her, ready in case she faltered. "Go Patty, go! You can do it!" Through her sputtering and splashing I heard her gasping words, "Yes! Yes I can!"

Susan Doane
A CHANGE IN PLANS

When I was around 9 years old my parents took me to a nearby forest reservation to have an afternoon picnic. On the way we talked about its man-made beach with its 'not too big' swimming hole and concluded it would work well enough to cool us off later despite its size.

We had lunch as soon as we arrived so we could get to the beach early and still have time for dessert later. Once at the beach I enjoyed the water for a while then settled down to play in the sand. This is when the boy sitting next to us befriended me. He looked over and said 'Hey, do you want to build a sand castle?' So we did. We played quietly and became absorbed in our construction. We had brief conversations about moats, guards, and turrets. After a while the boy looked over to me and plainly said, 'I have a brain tumor. It's behind my eyes. I'm going to have surgery next week and I may end up blind'. He paused for a moment then said, 'Pray.for me.' I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. He then stood up and said he was going down to the water; he asked if I wanted to go. I excusingly said, 'No, I think we might be leaving soon', then I watched as he headed away.

Not long after this while I was meandering along the water's edge I noticed a group of adults gathering, and then beyond them I saw people straying near the edge of the woods calling out a name. Suddenly someone came running out of the woods panting and shouted, 'He's not at the picnic site',- we still can't find him!' By this time I saw that the group of adults had formed a human chain by holding hands. They lined up by height becoming taller as they got towards the middle; they then spanned the width of the swimming hole and began to walk in. As the tallest man became about neck-deep nearing the center of the swimming hole he yelled something out and then submerged. People on the beach all ran towards the edge of the water.

The next time I was able to see the man he was stumbling onto the beach carrying the boy I had been playing with.

The boy, my friend, hung limply across the man's arms. He laid him down on the sand then breathed into his mouth; water came running out. Then more breathing into his mouth, and then pushing on his chest. The boy's mother was now on her hands and knees next to him, head down sobbing, then hysterically screaming to him. She was finally helped up and led away staggering as she cried with her face in her hands.

That was over 50 years ago and all I can remember of that day. I never came to know the boy's name, but I can still hear him saying his last words to me, 'Pray for me', and I still do.

Paulette Demers Turco
The Golden Ring

The carousel ride at Goddard Memorial State Park was the highlight of our summer family picnic. A golden ring won a free ride ... enough incentive for my cousins and me to ride again and again, using up all our saved nickels.

To grab a ring, I had to stand on the stirrups of an outside horse that slid up and down its pole. When my horse was up, I gripped the horse's carved mane with my left hand and stretched my right arm out as far as I could reach, to hook my finger through the next ring in the dispenser. None of us ever won. But we believed that the next ride could be the one.

Thirty-seven cousins, seven aunts, eight uncles and our smiling Mimere made that summer Sunday a dream.

Each year we returned, Goddard Park welcomed us with sparkling sun, azure sky, and an ocean breeze from the park's beach.

Mimere's chair was set up first, beside our reserved burgundy wood picnic tables and fieldstone fireplace grills, in the cool shade of the towering white pines that rimmed the meadow.

The aunts secured red-checked tablecloths and set out homemade favorites from packed coolers, while mothers of the younger ones changed diapers and counted toddlers.

The uncles lit charcoal in the three rented grills, at first sending leaping flames into the air. When the coals burned red and gray, the uncles took turns at the grills while steeped in their horseshoe competition.

We cousins ran across the grassy fields, and to cool off, slid on the pine needles in the shade of the meadow's rim.

We stuffed ourselves with sizzling hamburgers and hot dogs, carefully placed onto Sunbeam rolls, then topped, if we chose, with homemade relish, Heinz Ketchup, and French's bright yellow mustard. We munched on creamy homemade potato salad and ants on a log. We guzzled Kool-Aid and real lemonade from paper cups marked with our names. We savored gooey chocolate brownies and sticky Rice Krispies treats that melted in our mouths.

Throughout the day, parents paired kids, tall and tiny, for wheelbarrow and three-and one-legged races. To win was great, but we cheered for everyone who joined in the fun.

Late afternoon, cousins rode to the merry-go-round in the bay of Uncle Albert's red Ford truck, singing, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and French folk songs like "Alouette." Uncle Albert led every song with gusto from his driver's seat.

One summer, Mimere died of colon cancer. Another, Uncle Henry's heavy drinking split family loyalties. The next year, during a family drive up from Allentown, Uncle Albert's two-year-old daughter choked on a toy. Uncle Bill, a master electrician, was a long time between jobs, again and again, with seven kids to clothe and feed. Uncle Arthur died of a massive heart attack, leaving Aunt Aura to raise their six pre-school children.

The picnics stopped.

Families visited on holidays and shared outgrown clothes, but gathering at Goddard Park became harder than reaching the golden ring.

Fran Zaia
The Family Pic-a-Nic

My heritage is 100% Italian! My mother is from a small farm town in Calabria, Montepeone and my father's family is from a fishing village on the coast of Sicily, Lipari. Growing up I was blessed to be surrounded by grandparents; numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins; delicious food and wine; music and dancing; and many good times. Monday night supper always was a celebration.

My first pic-a-nic was at a state park in Hopkinton, MA. I was probably eight or nine years old. For several days before the big day my Mom was very busy on the phone with her Mom and other family members talking in Italian and English about the menu for the coming event. I recall hearing bits and pieces of conversation in the lovely "broken English" they spoke as the word "picnic" flowed from my Mom's lips as "pic-a-nic" and I learned what the menu was going to be and who was bringing what. Before we knew it, the day of the Pic-a-nic arrived. My siblings and I crawled into the back seat of our 1965 Dodge Dart. The trunk was filled with dishes covered in foil and placed gently into a cardboard box, the fragrant smells of cooked garlic permeating the car. A metal red plaid cooler was filled with a jug of red wine, glass bottles of cold water, and the Italian version of Pepsi-ginger ale and, of course, lots of ice. Forget the romantic image of couples relaxing on a plaid blanket with a wicker basket and a light fare of cheese and fruit accompanied by a bottle of wine.

We arrive and pile out of our cars everyone hugging and kissing. I remember our families no matter where we went (pic-a-nic or funeral) everyone talked loud. So that day was no different and I am sure the sound of our joyful noise traveled through the forest on the warm breezes as did the smells of the feast we were about to enjoy.

The hot coals in the grill warmed the lasagna and roasted my Grandpa's homemade sausages. Dandelion salad, broccoli rappi and Italian potato salad sat covered just waiting to be devoured. My uncle Frank is sitting on the hood of his red Chevrolet convertible with the white top down while the radio played Dean Martin tunes. Kids were happy to be kids while the adults enjoyed each other's company. Our pic-a-nic was "Christmas Eve Dinner" in the woods. We laughed and sang songs, and went home tired and full and happy.

Forty-six years later the pic-a-nic has made a home in my heart. My Mom is now 80-years-old so the baton has been passed on to me. It is now my turn to keep the spirit of the pic-a-nic alive. And I do this honorably with the same passion and love that I experienced growing up.

Rosa Maria Maloney

Stepping onto Castle Hill's grounds, I remained in awe of the old estate's grandeur. There was the broad, undulating lawn that ran down to the shore, the classical statues that lined each side of it. And the mansion that sat on a hill truly topped off the majestic picture. I looked at the crowd that had come from miles around. Women and men were freshly made up, talking and eating, a beer or wine glass in hand. Little girls scampered barefoot in frilly, summer dresses and boys donned dress shirts and shorts, their once combed and parted strands, now sweaty and displaced from running. Families of all sizes had come to attend this Fourth of July party, this dreamy escape back in time.

I managed to spot my own family and made my way across the sea of blankets. "There she is!" my father exclaimed, enveloping me in a hug. I lingered a little longer than usual in his warm, protective arms. My mother, who had been organizing the food, followed close behind. She gave me a kiss and my taste buds tingled as my nose caught whiff of my favorite dish. My brother, Greg, came over and greeted me warmly. "Hi, little one," he said, using the term of endearment that I had grown to love. We all sat down and as soon as we did, I could feel my stress and exhaustion begin to fade away. I asked my mother about her summer, and she started to fill me in on the latest happenings, but then interrupted herself. "You have bags under your eyes. You all right?" she asked me, her expression full of worry. "Yeah, Mom, I am now," I replied with a weary smile.

We listened to the band, chatted and enjoyed the warm evening air. And when our stomachs gave the cue, my mother uncovered our American-Puerto Rican feast of sandwiches, chips, tostones and rice and beans. Coincidentally, my eldest brother decided to arrive at this moment. I snickered to myself, as I had always believed him to have a sixth sense for my mother's cooking. My father poured a round of his beloved daiquiris to toast the occasion. As he did, I asked Howard how things were going at his practice. "Ugh, I'm overbooked and understaffed," he started. "And I have to...," he continued to say, but stopped short. He looked over at my parents, who were now laughing at one of Greg's stories. And as the band started up again, we could see a little girl skip in circles, dripping ice cream down her front, while a baby crawled her way through the warm grass, giggling at her father. And in front of us, a boy shrieked with delight as he tagged his brother to win their game. Howard then smiled at me and shrugged, knowing there was no more to say. It was spoken all around us that nothing else mattered, nothing but the sweet innocence of this night.

Malcolm S. Burr II
Vanishing Picnic

I can still taste the salt, or was it? Quenching my tongue for flavor and realizing the dissolving specs were occasionally sand confusing my senses from poignant taste into crunchy tooth crackle. It didn't keep us from enjoying the end of the world picnic. That's right; we would create an ultimate food adventure under extreme conditions where the physical memory would vanish, but the Image from 45 years ago remains fresh.

Mom and Dad would organize with Aunt and Uncle for the cousins and our dogs to venture to a picnic place that is known only by a few. It was always a gamble. No, not that another would discover it, but after orchestrating such a feast a handful of unfortunate circumstances could shut it down. It wouldn't be the dogs, or the weather, or spoiled food. Those items were minor. When this planned attack was a "go" there was no stopping it.

It was Saturday 6AM, even the dogs stood ready, fully understanding what lay ahead breathing with a tongue curling pant. They were veterans and covered down next to coolers, Frisbees, towels, tennis balls, and the grill waiting feverishly for that call to the boat "here Minnie and Hootie!" The two golden retrievers were great swimmers and occasionally at 30 knots, 500 yards from our spot one would leap straight over the side with the other not hesitating to follow.

After the 20 minute ocean ride, Splash they went! The engine noise allowed the jumps to be stealthy, except for the cold water finding its way back on to unsuspecting skin. Mom would grimace anticipating she would get wet and wanting to curse the four-leggeds, but she knew this was all part of this incredible day.

As we closed on what looked like a beige dimple in the water, Dad would take control. Killing the engine, hopping to the front, grabbing the anchor in one hand and supporting his structured leap into the 4 foot chilly depth unlike the dogs and kids future hasty bound. The boat was secured. A series of arousing water plops with "Yikes that's cold!" as we emptied our craft. Now our amphibious landing was complete. We watched our picnic sand bar grow as the tide receded. Soon we will be stranded and the boat would be beached and useless.

We were curious kids, and occasionally we would wonder what if the tide didn't come back in? We didn't care! We actually enjoyed the sand on our burgers. Parents had no issues getting us to sleep after 8 hours of punishing the sand with our wild dashing. No watches or cell phones, we knew when it was time to go as the boat would float, our sand island shrank and the dogs stood exhausted, next to the empty coolers ready to drift.

The exit was at idle, the dogs had no oomph to jump, the sun rested at high tide, and when we looked back at our picnic site, it was merely a wink of an eye.

Sue Daigle

"What a beautiful day for a picnic!" Mrs. Anton exclaimed.

After looking outside, Grandma had a worried look on her face. She whispered, "There's going to be a lot of people. I worry when there's a lot of people, you know."

"Oh Grandma! You're such a worrier! You're always building a mountain out of a mole hill." "Please, please, Mama, can we go to the picnic?" begged the little ones.

"Only if Grandma comes with us." Mrs. Anton replied.

All eyes were on Grandma, anxiously waiting for her answer.

Grandma thoughtfully scratched her chin, then said, "Might as well; after being cooped up in here for such a long winter, a picnic would be a nice treat."

The little ones circled around Grandma, and shouted, "A picnic, a picnic, we're going to a picnic."

Soon they were following Grandma through the park. A breeze carried the scent of freshly mowed grass and it was refreshing to walk on the sun-warmed earth.

"This is so much better than the cold, damp ground of winter," said Anthea, the oldest of the little ones, bringing up the rear.

It wasn't long before the youngest, Antonia, stopped walking and cried, "I'm tired, I can't walk this fast"

"Come on," Anthea offered, "hop on my back and I'll carry you." Antonia climbed onto Anthea's back, wrapping her body around her big sister as she began to sing, "The ants go marching one by one..."

When the family finally arrived at the picnic area, they found that almost every spot had been claimed by a brightly colored sheet surrounded by coolers, lawn chairs, and assorted toys.

Mrs. Anton stopped and said, "What do you think Grandma? Where's a good place for us?"

Grandma sniffed the air as she looked around, and said, "Smells like someone around here has fried chicken." Then she pointed to an area near the edge of the park declaring, "Let's try over there."

Soon after they found just the right place, the little ones were scurrying around, discovering all sorts of interesting things.

"Over here! Look what I found!" exclaimed Anthea, signaling the family to join her where she had found some berries. "These are so sweet, try some!"

Grandma looked up and saw the family descend on the berries. "You'll spoil your appetites," she quickly scolded.

Mrs. Anton waved for them to come back saying, "Grandma's right, we have lots of food right here."

Soon the family was enjoying hot dogs, fried chicken, and biscuits. The little ones were delighted when they discovered the brownies they would have for dessert.

Suddenly a dark shadow fell over the family. A woman screamed, "Ants!" The earth shook as something heavy fell to the ground just missing Antonia.

Grandma sounded the alarm, "Run! Hurry! Follow the trail back home!"

Each one grabbed all the food they could carry and ran as fast possible, scurrying into the hole, to the safety of their nest. There the Ant Family enjoyed their first picnic of the season.

Heather Benoit
An Unexpected Family Picnic

Our first family picnic was on a brilliant Saturday afternoon on my daughter's birthday. An only child, she had asked for a big extended family party to celebrate turning five. My in laws lived on the Cape, which was a midway point for my family and my husband's family to meet. They had a beautiful backyard with plenty of room for a bountiful picnic complete with games, music, and a family picture at the end.

The dark side of this inaugural picnic was that it took place exactly one month to the day that my 10-year marriage had imploded. Infidelity had crept in once again, but this time I did not look the other way and had asked for a divorce. As with many parents, the love for my child had a far greater strength than the anger and pain from my broken marriage. So as my husband and I privately made our plans to separate our life, we threw a fantastically good family picnic to celebrate our daughter's birthday.

It was so good in fact, that the next year, as we were preparing to tell our daughter that she would shortly have two homes instead of one, she asked for another birthday family picnic, just like the last one. As I looked into her eyes, realizing that I would soon be dismantling her world, I replied, without hesitation, "You bet."

This time around, the adults of the family picnic were 'in the know' as they say. The invitations went out with the invisible fine print, "Please come, but only if you can play nice." Everyone came and everyone played nice.

And so it went, year to year. This split-family picnic grew to include friends, families of friends and neighbors. My daughter now has two homes and divorced parents, but each year, we all come together for the annual picnic. By no means is it smooth. Every year there is quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet drama, as there always seems to be at family events. Admittedly, ours has a bit more potential for turmoil as we navigate the divorced family. But I must give credit where credit is due. This family picnic has weathered the good and bad of new romances, fickle friendships, and family additions, not to mention sickness and loss.

It is somewhat surprising that our unconventional family picnic has endured, but even more surprising is what it has given to us. For you see, although its fledging start included pain, anger and division, its steadfast existence has provided forgiveness, laughter and healing.

Divorce, as it does, threatened to blow an entire extended family apart. Through its perseverance, our unexpected family picnic has salvaged and celebrated the relationships that stemmed from of our marriage, preventing us from hastily throwing them all away when the marriage itself disappeared. It has affirmed that families come in many shapes and sizes, life — and picnics — are what you make of them, and we are ever so grateful,

Andrea Riggillo-Masia
A Simple Sunday Picnic

We were as many as the letters in Grandpa and Grandma's last name; Castelluccio. Relieved to escape the sweltering hot three-decker apartment house, I'd watch out the back window of the Impala, as the heat rose and melted the Boston skyline into a steamy blur.

Off to "the country", a short ride north on Route 1. Our Sunday afternoon picnics with Mom's family at Silver Lake in Saugus. My cousins and I riding tandem on each other's laps; we were all in pastel checked pedal-pushers with cotton shirts tied at the waist. Our 7 year old heads stuck out the windows, singing at the top of our lungs, about some girl from imp anemia. I recall with a smile, as mom corrected us, "lpanema, girls". Dad laughed with her, as he pulled into our favorite spot.

An entourage of relatives, we cocooned ourselves under the trees with old white chenille bedspreads on pine needles, bright green plastic strapped aluminum lounge chairs, a playpen, and two picnic tables; set with Italian cloths, embroidered in a kaleidoscope of colors. It was 1964, and no one knew about hosting designer picnics. Nothing matched but our love for food and togetherness.

Uncle Tony carried Grandma's copper bottomed pot, full of Rigatoni and gravy. Dad and Uncle Sonny lugged Styrofoam coolers filled with veal cutlets, stuffed artichokes, elbow macaroni with olives, roasted red peppers in virgin olive oil, and a softball size provolone cheese round. There was bitter dandelion tossed with fresh greens and ripe tomatoes from Grandpa's garden, and crusty Scali bread, I ran to get that very morning at Blundo's Bakery. Meat sizzled on a portable charcoal grill. Sunday dinner under the pines!

Uncle Jack balanced, a watermelon the size of my baby sister on his skinny fourteen year old shoulder, as he shouted at me to get his Archie and Sad Sack comics, wiffle ball and bat. Dad showed my little brother Joey and Cousin Carmen how to catch minnows with a towel, and put them into tin pails.

Our moms, busy with the food and tidying up, laid out cannoli, biscotti and Boston Creme Pie, while Uncle Sonny slept sitting up, a transistor plugged into his ears, listening to the Red Sox at Fenway. Our baby sisters, gurgled and squealed with laughter, as he whooped out, "Conigliaro - home run!" "Yaz, steal second". Cousins Sandra, Donna and I clapped to "There's a place called Mars, where the ladies smoke cigars" until our hands stung. Swimming and sunning, we all resembled espresso beans by the end of the summer.

"Contento" with my grandparent's comforting foods, traditions and stories of a faraway place called Sicilia. I have valued more with each passing year, what my young heart began to cherish, the joy of famiglia ... a luxury today. Enjoying a simple Sunday picnic by the lake together, cell phones, and "I" gadgets would just not have fit in to our Norman Rockwell original; eating, laughing, sharing and just being...

Cynthia Stacey
The Last Swimming Hole

When school clothes are bought for the day after Labor Day, you know that August will deliver that one last perfect beach day. Thick cumulus clouds part to the horizon, coaxed by a warm stiff breeze across the last shores of the Northern Atlantic. Practical plans are squashed with a picnic basket pulled out from the shed.

All but one of the swimming holes had been explored that summer. Long Pond. Spectacle Pond. Sebago Lake. Lake Ossipee. Old Orchard Beach.

Camp Tapawingo Beach could only be used by town folk between noon and two pm, when the girls were settled into their bunks after lunch, rest time between sailing and tennis. My Mother cursed to herself as she unloaded the station wagon. We were by then at the pond's edge, my older brothers skimming flat rocks, their low sidearm dip perfecting motion by contest. The sun shimmered off their forearms and the crowns of their crewcuts.

My Mother unloaded our beach necessities, and then spread the ragged, tan woolen blanket on the dry white sand. She gazed out at the four of us, framed by two docks and then the raft further out, and finally across to Blueberry Mountain. She traced the undulations of sunlight upon the water, from the smoother black of the middle, back to the choppy brightness along the shore.

Gary and Jimmy yelled for my Mother to join them. She shushed, then dropped her Good Housekeeping Magazine and walked into the water, yanking her turquoise one-piece down, the skirt lowering upon her varicose veined thighs. Her crawl stroke was crisp and measured, her head poised ahead. My brothers tried to keep up, smiling heads weaving back and forth, straight arms thrashing. They reached the raft and rested atop.

My Mother, flat hand as visor, checked back in on me, the four year old in charge of my toddler sister. We had, by then, drained our hole to China back into the pond, and were searching for minnows in the muck.

When they returned, we were all shivering in our towels and huddled on the blanket. My Mother handed us each a paper cup, and poured lime Koolaid from a plastic thermos. After we gulped, she handed us our egg salad sandwich, wrapped in waxed paper. She then issued carrot sticks, which we knew we had to eat, so we ate them first.

We did not know the girls had been spying on us in Bunk Three, twenty yards into the pines. I found out thirteen years later, when I took a counselor job there. They liked my essay, about wanting to meet the girls at Tapawingo, back when I was swimming at their beach as a town kid.

"Look at those idiot boys, they don't own swim suits, they wear cutoff dungarees! They don't even know how to swim! Stupid townie idiots!!!"

My face turned red, my insides too, my voice so far away I could not correct.

Mary Ellen Morris

I'm going out today. Marie told me not to go down to lunch. I won't miss stale white bread, rubber turkey and especially the sad attempts at conversation. Nine o'clock Mass put me closer to those angels I vaguely see on the altar. Hail Mary, thank you Jesus for letting me find this place; it's the least of the worse. Sometimes I win a dollar at bingo. The swish of the nun's robe comes to me like a song. Sister Odile is from Tobago; there's relief in her strong hands. I never dreamed brown hands would sooth and gently wash me. She tells me that she loves me and that today is my day; I'm a mother and a grandmother. I like to play solitaire when I'm alone so that I can cheat and make my own rules. Elle pleureoarce que sa mere est mort.* Sometimes I can

only think in French. The thoughts battle with the years. Marie said that we are going to have a picnic, in Boston? Alice and Thomas are coming. Jeanne is having her own mother's day.

They're here. "We'll dress you warm mama; the wind is blowing cold. We're going to Fort Point Channel; I have surprises." Hail Mary, my rosary is twisted around my fingers; this world becomes one; memories don't seem to matter; each new dawn has become a routine and a gift, merci. Why grasp or mourn for what's lost; I'm tired but at peace. Where else can an old woman go? Elle pleure parce que sa mere est mort. I should have cried; I felt she did not love me. She had too many children; papa loved me. When my brothers told me I had to leave Nicolet convent to care for her I wept. Marie said I was a dutiful daughter. Today is Mother's Day, and I had ma mere long ago. How much will they cry for me?

The streets of South Boston impersonally flow in and out of my small world. The wheelchair rolls bumpy across the brick and concrete of this deserted part of the city, while the water that knocks against wooden walls could carry me away. At a bench, Marie quickly spreads out sandwiches, drinks and sweets on my Irish linen cloth. The soft sandwich she handed me is too much. "Just a little one, please." The wind blows the food off the bench and Alice drops her sandwich. I might have been warmer in a restaurant, but place does not matter when I'm with ma famille. Marie has forgiven me for wanting to be in this strange city so far from any place we used to call home. I tried to follow them, but then I had to create my own peace. The generations are blending with different hews. I returned to where I always wanted to be: in the chapel silence with Jesu Christ. He loves me. "Chocolate, yes."

*She is crying because her mother is dead.

Walt Thompson

Surprisingly, the swipe of the bear's paw did not injure David. Those details came later.

Early summer and not much to do for a thirteen-year-old. The woods were fun to explore ... and forts to build... and bike riding... but not anything exciting to do.

Frank and Jane were busy with their friends and the three kids were rarely included in planning for anything major.

Out of the blue one day Frank said to the kids, "How about a family picnic? We'll go for a picnic in the mountains and campout there, too," One of the kids said, "Sure, Dad, anything but hanging around here."

We helped load up the car a couple days later and were off to some mountain park. We drove along two lane roads through villages and farmlands. Jane, our Mom, had packed containers of food and a cooler with sandwiches and drinks.

After a few hours we arrived at the public campground in a huge forested park. Not another family nearby. Restrooms were in a building across a narrow paved road. At the campsite, tents were soon set up and cots put in place. The picnic supper was complete with a plastic tablecloth on a picnic table next to a fire-pit.

Morning was sunny and a bit cool. We took turns visiting the restrooms while Jane prepared a breakfast of pears, hot chocolate, cereal and scrambled eggs.

Nothing like a family picnic in stages... picnicking at supper then picnicking at breakfast. It was better than collecting pine cones at home. Soon, breakfast was over ... now mostly empty boxes, bags and cups on the picnic table.

As one, Jane and Frank shouted, "BEARS!"

What? Where? Uh-Oh ... there was a large black bear and three cubs approaching! Frank and Jane grabbed the kids and hurried to the restrooms... cowering behind almost closed doors... watching the bears.

The large bear (Momma Bear?) walked over to the picnic table and slurped out the remains of the hot chocolate from the thermos bottle. Her baby bears tore through the leftover food that had not been put away in the car's trunk.

David watched the Momma Bear pawing into the food in the open trunk. "Hey, Mom, what's in that bag the bear has in her mouth?"

"Pears."

In a flash, David ran to the bear and snatched at the paper bag of pears. That's when the bear smacked him on the right leg of his jeans. Startled, they both separated and David ran quickly back to his parents... without the bag of pears.

All David had to show was a big smudge of dirt on his jeans ... and a wildly staring pair of eyes. His parent's scolding was drowned out by heart-thumping excitement.

The picnic was over. The bears moved back into their forest. In a hurry everything got stashed back in the car.

Future family picnics were not as exciting.

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