My mother was a master of making something out of nothing. She could make a garden out of a rocky weed patch, a designer suit out of a remnant, or a lovely home out of an old run-down parsonage. She could turn a week at a borrowed cabin in the woods with no electricity or plumbing into an unforgettable vacation or a camp tent into a youth haven.
And almost any occasion was a great excuse for a picnic. The first warm day in spring would be sure to bring out the old pieced quilt and a basket full of baloney sandwiches, apple slices, carrot sticks and homemade cookies. Mother would chirp, “Let’s have a picnic!” and before you knew it, the quilt was spread out under the big maple tree and my sister and I and whatever friends happened to be at the house at the time would be giggling over the stories mother made up to keep us all entertained.
Since both my pastor-parents served on several boards and committees around the state of Michigan and at our church headquarters in Indiana, road trips were a regular part of our lives. Michigan highways were punctuated by roadside picnic areas with tables and charcoal grills at which our family often stopped on the way to our destination. Daddy carried a two-burner Coleman stove in the trunk and a cooler that mother stocked with fresh eggs, bacon, tomatoes, cheeses, garden vegetables and cold cuts. There was nothing as wonderful as the smell of sliced potatoes and onions frying and coffee perking as I skipped around the roadside “park”, hunting rocks for my collection and picking Queen Anne’s Lace and buttercups.
Daddy was a man of infinite patience who never seemed to tire of loading and unloading coolers, grocery bags, suitcases and boxes of supplies. Nor did he complain about launching rowboats and tackle boxes in and out of Michigan lakes so my mother could do what she loved most of all—fish until it was too dark to see the bobber.
Of course, having caught our limit in huge bluegills and bass demanded another picnic! This time, after cleaning and filleting our catch back at the cabin, Mother would coat the fish with cornmeal and fry them; she would spread the oilcloth over the outside table where by the light of a kerosene lantern we would eat fish at midnight served up with sliced tomatoes, bread, and lemonade.
Mother is gone now, but the picnic-instinct is in my DNA! We can’t count the great picnic memories we’ve made down by the creek that has come to be know as “Gaither’s Pond”, thanks to our son Benjy’s video series for kids. And Mia, Liam, and Simon love nothing more than to eat breakfast on the front porch while all nature is waking up. The children leave leftover toast in the hollow of the maple tree for the squirrels to find and sit motionless (can you believe it?) while the wrens are feeding their babies in the big planter of geraniums on the porch.
I sit with my coffee and pray that when life gets hard and problems knotty, these little ones of the third generation from mother will remember that it doesn’t take much to turn life into a picnic if you keep the music in your soul!