The Sunday School Picnic

The Sunday School Picnic: Please Don't Rain on Our Picnic!  By Carrie Frankenfield Horne

Saturday dawned bright and clear.  No sign this morning of the mist clouds and rain of the evening before.  In spite of Aunt Em's assurance that "it never rained on picnic day," it was a pretty down-hearted bunch of kids gathered on our front porch that Friday evening.  Then, someone (I think it must have been my sister, Evie) started us singing and we sang until our voices were hoarse and it was bed time.  Our singing must have helped, for this was a perfect picnic day.

No need for second calls this morning.  Even the boys were downstairs before Mom's first call.  As for me, I had followed Mom downstairs and was already busy with my usual Saturday morning chores.  When Mom called us for breakfast, she smiled when she saw that already the walks and the little out-back house had been scrubbed and half my chores completed.

Breakfast over and Nan (our grandmother) and I cleared the table and washed the dishes while the rest of the family went about their usual morning chores.  Pop had some work in the tailor shop, but soon he and the boys, brothers, and cousins, hurried out to the picnic grove beside the old school house to finish putting up the tables, refreshment stand, swings, and a new thing called a pulley ride.  I would have loved to go with them to test the new swings and perhaps coax my big brother to let me have a ride on the forbidden pulley ride.  But no such luck.  There were still many chores to be done at home and many errands for me to run.

Mom was already busy preparing the good things to take for the picnic supper.  There was also the usual Saturday baking to be done, with big Sis and Nan to help.  First of all, I had to finish my Saturday chores - filling and cleaning the kerosene lamps.  I worked hurriedly, but carefully, because the job had to pass Mom's inspection, picnic or no picnic.  So, the glass globes shone brightly and the wicks were clean and even.  No fooling around today, and Mom gave the job her OK.

Then it was time for me to get the big green wicker picnic basket from the attic, tie pink identification strings on the bone-handled knives and forks, and paste a label with Dad's initials WBF on the bottom of the Blue Willow plates, which we always took to the picnic, and then pack them carefully in the green basket.  Mom kept me busy running errands all morning, but just before lunch time, she sent me upstairs to bathe and dress.  She knew that I just had to get out there to the picnic right after lunch.

I had a brand-new green, white, and red plaid dress - the new long-waisted style.  Sister Evie had made it for me, and Mom smiled approval as she tied new red ribbons on my braids.  Even my ears passed inspection today, and Mom's after-bath inspections were strict and thorough always!  So, on picnic days you did things right.  No time for "do-overs".

Dinner was served promptly at 11:30 as always.  Everyone ate heartily of string beans, potatoes, and ham with big slices of fresh, home-made bread.  Of course everyone cast longing eyes at all the good things on the side table (including the choicest pieces of ham).  These were the special things to be taken for the picnic.  Mom had a sort of crippled apple tart which she allowed us to eat for dessert, but the perfect apple tarts and raspberry custards and the elegant cake with banana cream filling were picnic fare.

Dinner over and while Nan and I did dishes, Evie and Mom packed the picnic lunch.  Pop and Uncle Henry would be taking all the lunches to the picnic grove in the small spring wagon.  Someone would bring the team back, (as) the space it would occupy was needed for other teams today.

My cousin Alice and I sat on the cement wall in front of our house waiting for Jake Apple, our local grocer, to go by.  The picnic could not start before he returned from his weekly trip to Bethlehem Market where he always sold the eggs, butter, etc., taken in trade during the week, and bought new supplies for his store.  Today, he was bringing supplies for the picnic:  ice cream, sodas, candy, chewing gum, (and) maybe even some watermelons.  It was hard to sit and wait, but Mom had said we couldn't go before he went by.

Presently the familiar horses and wagon came over the hill.  We waited on tiptoes as he went by, trying to see the picnic things -- the tall green tube which held the ice cream, cases of soda, and, sure enough, we spied a big round watermelon.  Jake grinned at us and called, "Aren't you going to the picnic?"  "Of course," we yelled in unison as we ran back to get our Mom's final OK.  Soon we were hurrying down the dusty road.

It didn't take us very long to travel the half mile or so, and there it was -- the old school house with the grove of huge chestnut trees beside it.  Today, for of us, it was transformed into a magic fairyland.  Prominently in the foreground was the refreshment stand - a rectangle of narrow tables with a larger table in the center.  Jake had already arrived when we got there and was busy with a number of other men unloading and placing all the goodies.  We took a quick glance at the band platform and the supper tables, then hurried to the swings.  We were lucky enough to find the new ones still not in use and were soon swinging away.  My brothers, who had charge of the pulley ride close by, gave us a few pushes and soon we were soaring ever so high.  The boys were right when they had said they had put up some really good ones this year, and we were lucky to try them out first of all.  I had thought perhaps I might sneak in a pulley ride if I coaxed them hard enough, but by then Pop and Mom had arrived and I knew I didn't have a chance.  Besides, it did look sort of dangerous, so high and fast, and my brothers were careful to allow only older and stronger kids, mostly boys, take the ride.

By this time our friends Mae, Jenny, Mabel, Katie, as well as several others, had arrived and from that time we were busy with one thing or another.  The Richlandtown Band had arrived and the men were "setting up" on their platform.  We watched them as we enjoyed our first dish of ice cream (only a 5 cent dip, so our money would last longer).  Most of us had a special interest in the band because we had spent hours hiking around the neighborhood collecting nickels, dimes, and sometimes even a quarter, to help pay the fee for the band.  But when the leader raised his baton and the band sounded forth with a rousing march, it all seemed worthwhile.  I was glad though that it had no rained because sometimes bands demanded their fees even if the picnic was rained out.  I remember how upset my Pop was when the Freemansburg Band demanded the $10 fee even though the picnic was rained out.  They had such a fancy wagon, we always like to have them, but not after that!

Although I had been too young to remember, there had once been a Pleasant Valley Band led by our local Doctor Ott.  Paul Trumbower told me about this band and said Doc always arrived with his little black medicine bag in one hand and his instrument case in the other hand.  He was the leader and most of the players were local people.  When there was a call for Doc, he just laid aside his band instrument, picked up his little black bag, and went on the call, while the band just played on.  Paul said they were pretty good -- at least good and loud!

I was also sorry I never saw the Zobo Band.  Zobos were really Kazoos shaped like band instruments.  My Uncle Ollie Hammel was the leader and just about every man in the neighborhood had a Zobo and played in the band.  It was quite a novelty, and they were even successful enough at first to be hired to play at other picnics.  With the money they earned, they put on a big fireworks show for the community.  My brother told me he always enjoyed watching one of the men who was rather stout.  He always wore a shirt which buttoned in the back and was rather close-fitting.  Clyde said you could always count on several of this shirt buttons "parting company" as he enthusiastically played his Zobo.  Watching him was more fun than listening to the band.  I was always sorry that a few fellows in the band tooted too many sour notes and the band "disbanded" before I grew up enough to hear them and watch them!  (So much for bands.)

For a while everyone just stood around listening to the music, but by and by, other things began to happen.  My sister, Evie, and her friends had organized games for all the kids.  So, we went to the field behind the school house and ran races -- bag races, three-legged races, and just plain races.  We played Farmer in the Dell, Ring Tag, Three Deep, and Touch Tag.  By and by, we were tired and lost interest.  Besides, they had cut the watermelon at the refreshment stand and all of us wanted some.  Then we had a nice surprise -- all of us got a piece "for free" and it tasted twice as good!

After that we hung around the tables where our moms were getting out the food.  I watched Aunt Hannah slice the huge loaf of bread she always brought and wondered how she could get such nice slices.  I also kept my eyes on the big clothes basket Aunt Stella was unpacking.  Sure enough she did have a chocolate cake, and I made up my mind to get a piece.  I knew how delicious her chocolate cakes always were.

The men in the band always got the first places at the tables; but this year the tables were big, and I saw my Mom beckoning me, and our whole gang got to eat at first table.  So many goodies -- ham, cheese, salads, home-made bread, pickles, chow-chow, cakes, pies -- what a feast!  Everyone always brought their best food to the picnic.  I did manage to get a piece of Aunt Stella's chocolate cake and also one of Mom's which had banana filling.  Boy, were we "full up" as we helped clean up.  Plates and eating utensils had to be washed and dishes refilled for the next round.  I always felt sorry for my Mom.  She said with a sly little grin, "Don't worry.  We get first taste of everything!"

After supper, the band played for a hymn sing, and we all stood around and sang.  I always liked to stand beside my grandmother because she loved those old gospel hymns and sang with all her might.  We didn't need to use any books, we knew all the words.  I even saw my mother singing, and she always said she couldn't carry a tune.  With the band accompanying, it was a wonderful experience for all of us, young and old.

Then came the cake and watermelon walk (with the band playing, of course).  I didn't "walk" very often because my funds were limited.  Pop gave me a nickel and for once I was lucky -- I won a watermelon!

After that, our gang sneaked up to the big field where the older boys and girls (the teenagers) were playing games.  We weren't very welcome because they were playing kissing games and our older brothers and sisters felt we were spying on them.  We did manage to stay long enough to see how the game was played.  There was a large circle of boys and girls with hands joined.  Two couples were marching inside the circle while everyone sang:
                "Here come two jolly, jolly sailor boys
                Just lately come on shore --
                They spend their time in the merry, merry way
                Just as they did before.
                As we go marching around and around, 
                As we go marching around,
                The one that you love is the prettiest in the ring
                So kiss her, you know how."
Each one of the couples chose someone in the ring and kissed them and they became the marching couples.

Just then we heard the band play their closing number, America, and so we rushed back to see them leave.  Most of our gang were leaving, too, so Alice and I decided to go for a final swing.  A few of the "big" girls and their boyfriends had taken over the big new swings, so we had to be content with the smaller ones.  By that time both of us were tired and we knew our big day was almost over.  We went to the refreshment stand to buy some candy to take home.  The ice cream sodas, and watermelons were all sold-out.  In fact, there was very little left for anyone to buy.  My Pop was tending stand, so we got good measure for our few pennies.

Our Moms and Grandmother Nan were ready to go home, and so were we.  Somehow the distance tonight seemed further than it had at noon, and we were all glad to get home.  I had no objections at all when Mom told me to get washed and go right to bed.  She came up later to light the little night lamp and to hear my prayers.  She laughed just a bit when I added, "Thank you, God, for not letting it rain on our picnic!"


Carrie Frankenfield Horne
September, 1980
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