Monday, April 11, 2011

An extended family summer

Get up! No lounging in bed today!

I opened my eyes to the sun peeking through the blinds and a smile stretched across my young face. It was not going to be a run-of-the-mill Saturday. Our annual neighborhood picnic was set to begin just before lunchtime. It was always a special day, one I looked forward to year after year. This year? This year was going to be even better. My cousins were visiting from Ohio and would share in the cul-de-sac festivities just outside my front door.

I scarfed down my cereal and giggled at Saturday morning cartoons. The clock ticked and tocked until, finally, it was nearly 10:30. I popped up from the floor, tossing my pillow on the couch. Then I, along with my sister and cousins, bounded down the front porch steps to watch the picnic preparations.

Back then, good southern neighbors did not settle for an ordinary neighborhood gathering. My father began loading the electric wooden bucket with ingredients to make his memorable grape soda ice cream. Moms and dads unfolded old card tables and arranged them around the circumference of our circle. Vinyl tablecloths were placed and topped with homemade salads and sugary treats. A few women took a quick drive to KFC for buckets of fried chicken with fluffy biscuits on the side. Riding lawn mowers were parked in the crisp, dry summer grass, awaiting their turn in the spotlight - the men’s lawn mower races. One year prior, we even had pony rides.

My sister and I took the lead, introducing our cousins to neighbors who whom we’d known since infancy. We kept our eyes on the food, our mouths watering as we willed lunchtime to arrive quickly. We joined in a game of kickball with several other kids, cheering each other on as the red rubber ball flew through the air after a powerful boot. We felt the sting on our wrists as boys and girls tried to burst through our wall of bodies and linked hands in a competitive game of Red Rover.

When the signal was given for the picnic to begin, the perspiring, red-faced kids were first in line. We grabbed our paper plates and scooped up potato salad, fruit salad, chips, and banana pudding. We reached into the greasy KFC buckets and selected our favorite pieces of chicken. Our plates sagged with the weight of our humongous lunches. We smacked our lips and gobbled and grinned. Despite full bellies, we returned for clean plates and attacked the homemade desserts. Cookies and apple pie, with a side dish of my dad’s grape soda ice cream. We were content and exhausted. We had sticky hands and dirty faces. The soles of our feet were black from the pavement, as we had kicked off our shoes hours earlier.

As bright afternoon turned to dusk and the card tables were carted off to garages and closets, most of the picnic sounds ceased. But if you wandered past the cul-de-sac and around my house, you could still hear giggles and little girl squeals. No bath on picnic day; the backyard sprinkler was all we needed. The droplets of water spun and flew into the sky as the last of the sunlight faded.

This post was inspired by the photo above, a writing prompt from The Red Dress Club:

"This week, we're giving you a photo to take you back in time. In 700 or fewer words, show us where your memory takes you."
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