129. Picnics, May, 2013

Susan has a genius, (You will come to understand why I use that privileged word.), for picnics.

Our first date was a picnic at a Fourth of July celebration on the banks of the Maumee River. We doubled dated with my cousin Doug.

While Susan and I were in summer school at Bowling Green State we would occasionally escape on a Saturday to the beaches of Lake Erie in my 1957, pink Olds 98 convertible. We would drive east on two-lane roads: 105 to 163 to Rt.2 through Oak Harbor, Port Clinton, and Sandusky (birth place of Doris Day) toward the beaches — that were then unspoiled (as were we!) — cupping clear, clean water.

But we would not go directly, no matter how hot it might be or how eager we were for a summer swim. First the treasure hunt: we would stop at a farmer’s market. Susan would chose sweet cherries, perhaps a plum or two, maybe some apples. There was a cheese shop a few miles farther down the road. We would stop for some cheddar and crackers, perhaps some coke or cold beer. Then, and only then would we proceed to the beach. A towel was spread for each of us and one for the picnic feast. I don’t remember anyone else on the beach — which is surely not possible on a summer weekend in Ohio. In the lingering evening we would drive home, perhaps with the open basket of cherries between us on the seat, Susan’s long white scarf (wrapped Audrey Hepburn style around her head) trailing in the breeze. I drove as slowly as traffic would allow, not wanting the day to end — even with the prospect of a chaste kiss waiting on the sorority house steps.

Perhaps my favorite picnic was on the remote shore of Lake Superior. It was the summer after Susan graduated from BGSU. She was as counselor at Camp Minong near Hayward, Wisconsin. I was again in summer school. I drove up to spend a weekend with her. Susan had learned from other camp counselors of a remote beach on Lake Superior — perhaps an hour away. But (not surprisingly) half the fun was getting there and building our picnic along the way. We bought the usual fruit, and cheese and crackers and this time a bottle of wine. But wine ought not to be drunk from paper cups so we drove all the way into Duluth to find wine glasses. I ended up buying two used Martini glasses from a bar.

The beach could only be found if you knew where you were going. Smaller and smaller back roads, finally a dirt road, then a path. Over a dune — and there was Lake Superior spread before us and the deserted beach. This time there actually were no other people there. By now it was late afternoon. We swam (a bit) in the frigid water, then dried off in the sun before enjoying our picnic — once again spread out on its own towel. I gathered drift wood for an evening fire (it would not be dark until well after 9:00, but the fire was warm and cozy). A stray dog joined us, laying just beyond the penumbra of the fire, its head resting on crossed paws. I still have a picture of Susan in her black and white swimsuit leaning against some driftwood.

So, a few days ago, fifty years later, Susan’s picnic genius once again reasserted itself. We had invited some friends over for sake. He is a Ph.D. in English Literature from SUNY Binghamton; she is a certified Master Gardener. As it happened we could not find a date that worked and ended up going to their house last evening (Memorial Day). I thought: what a shame that they cannot enjoy the way Susan would have entertained. Susan thought: Japanese picnic!

So, we went to town to buy some good sake and to order some fresh, sushi and sashimi.

Susan chose just the right basket into which she put a hand-made pear wood box by Wendy Maruyama filled with tiny linen napkins. Lacquered Japanese (not the klutzier Chinese) chopsticks were added for all, along with carved jade chopstick rests. Wasabi and ginger were arrayed on a lovely sculpted Japanese plate in the shape of a reclining princess. Tiny cruets of soy sauce and sweet sauce stood by. Two sake pitchers, each with two matching dollhouse cups, were added as were miscellaneous Japanese bowls, A tiny oriental vase filled with that afternoon’s wildflowers and some bleeding heart from our garden filled the last crevasse in our basket..

Our friends supplied a lovely home, an old cobbler’s bench table around which to gather, stimulating conversation and a home-made spring roll with home made peanut sauce.

Not all picnics have to be on the beach.

I could not resist taking some photos:

Now, if only I could figure out how to share that photo of Susan in her swimsuit!

I am a retired academic, educated as a philosopher, who now lives at the end of a dirt road in Maine.