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.

Uncle Marvin

A lot of you have been asking to hear more about Aunt Aldine. Well, ok. No one has been asking to hear more about her. But I want to tell you more anyway. And, besides, this isn’t really about her.

Aunt Aldine was married to Uncle Marvin. He was always a very nice and fun guy. In fact, they were a very nice and fun couple, even if she did extinguish her cigarette in my new camera case (see blog post below). They traveled with my parents a lot and there were many more parties as the years passed. I refused to be the photographer for those parties, though.

Fast-forward ten years or so after the cigarette incident to my wedding. Of course Aunt Aldine and Uncle Marvin were there. It was a pretty fancy wedding, as weddings go. I had originally wanted to get married in my parents’ living room, but 435 guests later, we got married at The Drake Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in Chicago.

Of the 435 people, Richard and I had invited and knew 35. Figure in about 100 relatives we sort of knew, and then add 200 people we barely knew. The wedding was talked about for years because of its elegance and beauty, but my brother Paul and I still talk about it because of Uncle Marvin.

During the reception, Randy, a friend of the family’s arrived in tails because he had just been a groomsman at his sister’s wedding. He was a great friend, who also happened to be my African American jazz dance teacher. My mother had been a tap dance teacher at the same dance studio where Randy taught jazz. He went on to become the Artistic Director of several dance companies and even did choreography for the movie “Save the Last Dance”.

During the reception Uncle Marvin, who liked to have a drink or two, walked right up to Randy and asked him for another gin and tonic. Paul saw what was happening and quickly, yet politely told Uncle Marvin that Randy was a guest at the wedding, not a waiter.

I wasn’t told about the incident for months, maybe even years. I also wasn’t told that the loud slamming door wasn’t really “the wind”, as Richard had told me, but a friend’s wife who got so mad at him that she slammed a floor-to-ceiling door shut and ran out to find a cab to go to the airport. Really? I believed Richard when he said it was “the wind” –yet the reception took place inside? I guess I was too focused on being a new bride to care what was going on in the outside world.

My brother lives in Indiana and we don’t get to see each other that often, although we talk on the phone and e mail. But somehow that story of Uncle Marvin asking Randy for a drink still makes us howl with laughter.

They were real characters, Aunt Aldine and Uncle Marvin. Here’s a toast to them for some hilarious memories, even if at the time, they didn’t seem so funny.