The Family Picnic

Since ‘tis the season when families get together for barbeques, I thought I’d share a story that first appeared in Chicago Parent in August, 1992, Indy’s Child in July 1995, and online on msnbc.com.

Ah, the annual family picnic. It’s the one day each year when every relative you never knew you had climbs out of his or her time capsule to play Catch with you.

It’s one of those occasions that sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun until you realize, as The Day of The Picnic draws nearer and nearer, just how much you have no idea who these people really are who have come to play Catch with you.

It’s funny, but after all of these years, I still don’t know, let’s say, about…99% of the people who come to our family picnic. For all I know, by some strange quirk in zoning laws, all the people who attend our picnic every year might really belong to a whole other family who always ends up having its picnic on the same day, at the same time and place as ours.

I know I should know these people. Perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention year after year when my mother drags Richard and me over to yet another woman with a bee-hive hairdo, sky-blue eye shadow, and neon orange lipstick and says, “Leslie, you remember Aunt Tootie, don’t you? She used to babysit for you when you were about this tall”, gesturing to her knee.

Aunt Tootie replies, “My! Look how you’ve grown”!

“I’m 34, now, Aunt Tootie”, I think to myself. “People change”.

Aunt Tootie continues, “Do you remember me? I sure remember you! You used to love running around the house naked”.

Richard’s eyebrows crest as he says, “Oh, really? Well, come on, Aunt Tootie. How about you and I go for a little walk so we can discuss this further”?

Now, I know a lot of you are thinking, “Then don’t go. Stay home. Say NO to bugs”!

And that’s a very good idea, unless, of course, it’s YOUR mother who organizes the family picnic. Then, you have to go. And you have to like it. And you have to say, “Yes! Let’s do this again next year”!

I know I should consider myself lucky. I know a lot of people who actually have to travel by car with three screaming, Gummy Bear-throwing children for days just to play Catch with people they don’t know.

But when I stop to think about it, because we both come from such large, extended families, Richard and I spend a lot of time attending functions for and with people we don’t know.

Our good friend Tom once invited us to a very swanky party that we had to miss because one of Richard’s third-cousins-twice-removed had invited us to his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Tom asked Richard exactly how he was related to this boy and after Richard had finished plodding through his family tree, Tom said, “Gee! In most normal families, you wouldn’t even know that person”.

Which brings me back to our family picnic. Unlike Richard’s family picnic, comprised of a whole other family I don’t know, ours has no organized games that supply fun for the entire family. We have games for the kids, but his family plays games such as the ever popular egg toss, and the even more popular “Mummy Mommy” game during which all the darling children in the family race to see who can be the first to wrap their parents up in toilet paper.

Though my family’s picnic lacks the oodles of fun those games provide, we have our own brand of picnic fun known as “The Chase Sisters Hall of Fame”. This game requires a keen eye and a shameless soul, which is why only my sister Beth and I can play it. In this game we award mental trophies to our relatives in such categories as “Best Fake Smile” and “Most Colorful Bermuda Shorts”.

And so, The Day of The Picnic has finally arrived, and as we prepare to leave for the big event I have a feeling that this year will be different. I am actually looking forward to it.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have matured. Maybe it’s because I finally realize how lucky I am to be blessed with so many people who care enough about me that they come to play Catch with me each year. After all, I have many friends who have no family in the area, and always tell us how lucky we are to share such closeness with our families.

Or, maybe it’s that I saw Richard pack Family-sized bottles of Tylenol and Advil into our picnic basket. I have a feeling this year’s picnic will be lots of fun.

Note: Mom: it’s just a story I really do love our family picnic. It’s Beth who hates it.

It’s a Small World

Like many American families in the 1960’s, mine took road trips in the old station wagon at least once a year. My father would take a few weeks off from work in the summer and we would drive across the country from the Chicago area in one direction or another. All in all, I think we visited about 33 states.

My older brother Paul always sat in the “way back” of the station wagon. He had a little cushion, almost like an elongated dog bed, to make his “seat” more comfortable. Obviously, this was before seatbelts were mandatory.

My much older sister Beth and I shared exactly equal sides of the back seat. A piece of luggage was placed precisely between us so we wouldn’t fight over who had more space. Of course we fought anyway.

One of us would either purposefully or accidentally nudge the piece of luggage toward the other one. It didn’t matter whether it was an accident or not. If that suitcase budged a nano-millimeter toward either one of us, it would cause pandemonium. Also, I wasn’t allowed to look at her, touch her hair, or breathe too loudly. She was a lovely older sister. Just lovely.

My father smoked cigars with the windows rolled up. My husband, Richard, says that explains everything about me, but we’ll save that story for another time. My parents harmonized to show tunes and un-show tunes for hours at a time. This was before iPods, so we were prisoners forced to listen to “Mares Eat Oats”, “Old Man River”, “You Are my Sunshine”, “Red River Valley”, and one of the most annoying songs ever written (if you are 8 years old), “Dominique.”

I did a little research on “Dominique” and found out it was written by a Singing Nun from Belgium. No, really. I got the information from Wikipedia, so you know it’s a true story! Her name was Jeanine Deckers, and she became an international star known as “Sister Smile” because of this song, which was sung in French. The song became the second foreign language song to hit number one on the American charts. Sadly Jeanine Deckers left the church and ultimately committed suicide. Not such a chirpy little song in my mind anymore.

We saw, among other places, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Disneyworld, and Disneyland. I recently found an old scrapbook I had kept and on the first page I wrote,“This snap book you have just seen is a ture of Leslie Chase’s 1969 summer vakation.” Inside the scrapbook I had pasted postcards, matchbooks, and even gum wrappers I had saved as mementos of all the places we visited. Apparently I was enamored with Caesar’s Palace because I have a 50 cent casino chip, a wrapper from a water glass, a postcard with a photo of Tony Bennett, stationery, a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and a housekeeping sign that reads, “Caesar Commands: Prepare this Chamber With Dispatch!”

After staying in Disneyland, we wended our way east to Lost Valley Ranch in Deckers, Colorado. It’s interesting that we went to Deckers, Colorado and the Singing Nun was named Jeanine Deckers. Ooooooooooooh. That’s eerie! Anyway, Lost Valley Ranch was a great family place. We all ate at the same time with all of the other families staying there. We went on long horseback rides together. We sang around the campfire at night and learned how to whittle, how to use a leather burning tool, and a lot of other stuff that would be completely unsafe for children these days. Boy, the good old days.

On the last morning, we ate breakfast with all of the other families and then packed our car and continued our journey east toward home. Saying goodbye to all of the ranchers, wranglers, and other families was sad. We all cried because we didn’t know when we’d see each other again. We had arrived as strangers and became one big giant family.

After chowing down with everyone and then crying my eyes out while saying our goodbyes, I fell asleep in the car, leaning ever so gingerly on my side of the suitcase so as not to knock it over onto my sister.

Ever since we left California my brother had the song “It’s a Small World” stuck in his head and sang it relentlessly. As I slept, my father navigated the one-lane mountain road away from Lost Valley Ranch. The huge breakfast I had eaten, combined with all of the crying, factored in with the winding road was beginning to make me feel sick, waking me up.

I heard my brother continue to sing “It’s a Small World”. I asked him to stop, but that only made him sing it more loudly and more obnoxiously. I begged him to stop, even warning him that I was nauseous and would throw up if he didn’t stop. Of course, being my older brother, it was basically his job to keep bugging me.

So, I threw up all over myself, the back seat, and the perfectly placed piece of luggage sitting between my sister and me. My father pulled over to a rest stop so my mother could dig through my suitcase to find me something clean to wear. I felt a little smug because I actually followed through on my threat and my brother got in a little bit of trouble. As I have said in previous posts, he is the undisputed favorite child, so even when he does something considered “bad” by most people, my parents consider it just slightly less than 100% perfect behavior, so he didn’t really get in any trouble at all. He did stop singing that annoying song, though.

All these years later, the “It’s a Small World” story is brought up (pun intended!) as much as possible. My brother even bought me a music box a few years ago for my birthday that plays the song. How nice. My kids even know about it and sing it to me whenever they want to really bug me. Luckily I have grown immune to the effects of the song and don’t vomit when I hear it.

A few years ago my parents, my husband, my kids and I went to Disneyworld. I decided it was time to conquer my fears and take that crappy little boat ride amongst the scary little moving mechanical “people” from around the world who sing the most annoying song ever composed in any language. I rode through twice! In a row! Without vomiting! I had been cured. Since that day I can safely say I will never be harmed by “It’s a Small World” ever again.

I ran out of the line for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, though, because the ride looked too scary. And don’t get me started on the animated Presidents. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.