[élan July-Aug. 2006]
To this day if I happen to think of that old TV show "Gunsmoke" which came on Saturday nights, I can smell fried chicken cooling on paper towels next to the stove. This meant we were heading out to Rehoboth Beach in the morning. For years, cold fried chicken was my idea of the only rightful picnic food until we had a riverside picnic with another couple early in our marriage and their fare consisted of sandwiches. Sandwiches!
My mother's beach trip menu was cold fried chicken, homemade potato salad, pimento cheese on white bread, and Derby squares. We'd stop at the same weather-beaten establishment somewhere on the other side of the Bay Bridge. The one with the faded peeling sign that said Sundries. The screen door slapped your heel as you entered the shady interior and sought out the glossy red cooler along one wall. We'd fight over who got to lift the lid, then reach into the ice and grasp our favorite bottle of pop--Coke for my brother and me, grape soda for one sister, cream soda for the other. The opener was right there on the side of the cooler. Pry off the top and take a drink, as icy water streamed down to our elbows.
Climb back into the car for a short hike up to the nearest roadside table, remember those? A wooden picnic table up against a pine grove, quaint and almost private. Lunch there was an event, not something hastily choked back the way it is at those bolted down plastic rest stop tables by the Interstate. If the dog was along, my brother or I would be running off at the other end of the leash into the woods, through the sting weed and poison ivy, picking up ticks and burrs. We'd toss the Frisbee while our parents finished their (ahem) drinks, then load up and move out, on to the filling station where we'd take turns changing into our bathing suits in the lonely bathroom out back. When we finally made it over the boardwalk and onto the sand, sometimes it would be so cold we'd have to wrap up in Army blankets to read the Sunday funnies.
Our old car had vent windows which were ideal for directing the airflow. They'd be especially useful today if the A/C is on the fritz and it's pouring rain. I'd much rather have a vent window in my car than a bell or a computerized voice telling me to buckle up or where to go.
Life is so automated now, do we even have to think any more, or move our arms and legs? Everyone, it seems, has a remote control, or 2 or 6, but before its time, my brother devised a method in which he tied a string to the horizontal/vertical button on the TV, and we'd jiggle it from across the room. There wasn't a mute button, either, so during commercials, he or I would say "foot-fight" and we'd while away those minutes trying to upend the other over the arm of the couch. Usually to the tune of an original jingle, like: "It's not polite to smack your lips but you can't help it with Fritos corn chips." We had a royal blue hand-cranking ice crusher on the kitchen wall, too, and it was so much fun. Sure the modern fridge has an icemaker but we need all the exercise we can get before we sit back with our mint juleps.
My husband recently attached an old Coca-Cola bottle opener to the side rail of our screened porch and forget about twist-off caps, we're like a couple of kids snapping open our Rolling Rocks after a day in the hot sun. Speaking of cool and refreshing, what ever happened to Fizzies? As kids we ran amuck all summer long and the neighborhood was our playground. Games were devised around things like tar seams in the street (line tag), chairs and broomsticks (the horse academy), and appliance boxes (amusement park--though you need a steep grassy hill for this one).
There was a lovely woman in the pretty house on the corner who would call to us from her Dutch door at mid-day to ask if we wanted Fizzies and we'd flock to her porch like birds. Take a cup filled with water, drop in a colorful tab, watch it fizz, and guzzle it down. Later that night, windows open to a sultry evening, fireflies blinking, raccoons climbing down trees to the tune of barking dogs, we'd be all scrunched up on the nubby couch watching "The Honeymooners," thinking, "Ain't life grand?"