Family, Food and Drink

Goodbye July: Keep Calm and Picnic On

It’s almost time to send another hot, muggy, and sometimes problematic, July into the memory banks forever.  After the last two rather miserable locked-down ones, I’ll have some fond remembrances of this  2022 version, including a very enjoyable dinner with friends from out-of-town, random acts of kindness from strangers and family, the completion of bathrooms, the shearing of sheep, the building of the chicken run, and several outdoor picnics with friends and neighbors (and sometimes just myself).

When it comes to picnics at this late stage of my life, I cheat on the “outdoor” bit; enjoying the fare in my sunroom on the brick patio.  Those of you not yet on the shady side of your twenties might find the absence of flies and ants troubling, but it works for me!

Here’s what I had to say, many years ago, on the subject of picnics (and a few other things):

“Hold hard a minute, then!” said the Rat. He looped the painter through a ring in his landing-stage, climbed up into his hole above, and after a short interval reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket.

“Shove that under your feet,” he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.

“What’s inside it?” asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

“There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly; “coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrolls cresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater—-“

“O stop, stop,” cried the Mole in ecstasies: “This is too much!”

“Do you really think so?” inquired the Rat seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!”

–Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

When I was a little girl, the above description spoke of home to me. Of the English woods, the English countryside, the English way of life, and above all, of summer picnics with Granny and Grandpa.

More specifically, of picnics on our excursions from Birmingham (Warwickshire) to Mousehole (say it correctly, please, Muzzle) in Cornwall (think, Poldark country). About 250 miles, but we started before dawn, and we arrived, in the old 1947 Rover, sometime after supper. Along the way, we stopped numerous times by the side of the road (little country roads, this was pre-Motorway) for sandwiches, pressed meats, hard-boiled eggs, cake, pickled walnuts, and other spoils from a picnic basket the equal of, or better, than anything Ratty ever managed to produce. Tablecloths, napkins, china plates and cups, silverware. Bottomless Thermoses of tea. Not a bit of paper or plastic in sight. It was elegant. The young me absolutely loved it. It was such fun. Well, except for those occasional quick trips into the bushes, in the course of which some part of me always seemed to come into close contact with a nettle patch. Ouch.

I was thinking about our family picnics here recently, probably just reaching for a comforting family memory, as knitting no longer serves that purpose for me, now that I’ve been made to understand that I’m too white, too unwoke, too privileged, and too oblivious of the sufferings of all those who are different from me (particularly the “BIPOC”), to allow myself to wallow in it any more. After my last few go-rounds on Ravelry (I’ve had my fingers firmly slapped and I’m honored to be in “Account Restriction,”) I was reminded of that post I wrote several months ago when I got the servile letter from the designer of the “Mukluks” boots pattern, announcing that she was sorry she’d caused offense to the indigenous community. A portion of her letter went as follows:

We’ve changed this pattern’s name Mukluks to Dogwood Slippers.

We are sorry for the hurt our pattern has caused. We are not part of the indigenous peoples from whom the word Mukluks originates nor are we part of the First Nations whose knitting traditions inspired the design.

A portion of the letter I wrote in response went like this:

Someone should remind “First Nations” that their “knitting tradition” was appropriated from the white settlers, and was given to them in the nineteenth century by the Sisters of St. Ann Missionaries when the Europeans introduced wool sheep into their lives.

I don’t see anyone complaining about that bit of historical revisionism and cultural appropriation

And it is equally absurd to claim that somehow, using the word “mukluks” in your pattern, or incorporating a design that looks like some sort of butterfly, or perhaps a snowflake, or even a flower, in the leg of your slipper is any sort of insult or offensive gesture or thought towards any culture or race.

I wonder how much of the campaign of abuse directed against you by those members of “First Nations” triggered by your harmless, and very nice knitting pattern, was conducted through email? Since, as far as I’m aware, there is no “First Nations email tradition,” and no member of “First Nations” invented email, I choose to be offended that they have culturally appropriated my own culture’s “email tradition,” and I suggest they return to a form of communication that is more organically associated with their own history: smoke signals.

But, I digress. Ommmmm. Picnic. Let’s look at the origin of the word, starting with the definition from Merriam Webster (this should be a pretty innocuous little exercise):

Picnic, (n): an excursion or outing with food usually provided by members of the group and eaten in the open, also: the food provided for a picnic

That’s nice. Sounds about right. Uh oh. What have we here? A story about the nasty origins of the word “picnic” which was widely believed, for quite some time, to have had horrible, racist, overtones, tying into, and inextricably linked with, an appalling chapter in history. Is yet another of my few remaining fond family recollections about to be memory-holed as insensitive and triggering? Am I not going to be allowed to say “picnic” anymore? Thankfully not. Surprisingly, Snopes (language warning) has come to the rescue debunking this particular story, and directing the reader to the real origins of the word, the seventeenth-century French word, piquenique, used to describe restaurant meals where the patrons came with their own wine–an early version of BYOB. Gradually, it came to mean a meal, sometimes with wine, eaten outdoors, to which each guest brought something to eat, consumed in a pot luck style. The word itself, and its association with outdoor eating, came to England in about 1750.

I only wish I could find the follow up to the first article again, about how the fellow in Florida making a fuss wanted to change the description of the event from “picnic” to “outing,” but that idea had to be nixed because the homosexuals who would be participating in the event found the suggested new name even more threatening than the first one.

Glory be. Sometimes it really does seem like a stupid time to be alive. Not messing.

If you belong to a family of picnickers (not everyone does, I understand), please share some of your experiences. It’s all good. You’re safe here.

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