November 22, 2015
I got up Sunday and hustled into the kitchen, needing to put together a couple of dishes in a hurry for Thanksgiving pot-luck at church. Sweet potatoes boiling for casserole and butter cake in the oven, I headed out to the storage room to grab my picnic basket.
And I stopped and thought about how many meals over a half-century that basket has carried to church pot lucks, to family reunions, to picnics at the lake, to dinners and cookouts at friends houses.
When I was a kid, we bought groceries at a couple of stores that gave stamps — the orangey-brown Family stamps, the gray-green with red Quality stamps, and the green S&H Green stamps. I delighted in licking the stamps to stick them in the little books; Mama always used to try to make me use a damp washcloth, but I always wound up licking them. I think it was about one book worth of stamps for every $50 or $60 you spent, and there was a twice-a-year catalog with items you could “purchase” with your stamps.
It was a major production to pore over the catalog, after carefully counting and recounting the filled books of stamps, determining what you’d get. You’d take your order blank and your stamps to the store, where the “stamp man” would come weekly and pick them up, and go back the next week, when he’d drop off your item. And you’d anxiously wait until midafternoon to go to the store, until after you were pretty sure the stamp man had come; maybe you even called the store and asked, to be sure.
I remember getting an American flag sometime in the early 1960s; Mama and Daddy flew that flag on patriotic holidays for years, and I have it today. Mama got Daddy an Aladdin thermos for his lunchbox once. I got toys a few times, and my first suitcase (the ubiquitous blue hard-side) to go to camp for the first time. (Never did get the chemistry set I kept agitating for, though. I WANTED that chemistry set!)
And one spring, we got the picnic basket.
Pot lucks had always involved comprehensive carry-in service on the part of the whole family, with everyone assigned something to carry in. Picnics went in brown paper bags or cardboard boxes, or both. But the first Sunday potluck after we got the picnic basket, Daddy proudly swaggered in, carrying it, listing to the side a bit because that thing? When it’s full, it’s heavy.
You can stack three casserole dishes in there if you graduate the sizes right and leave the lids off them. You could get a couple of Tupperware bowls of salad or vegetables side by side, on top of a casserole, and have room for a sheet pan of cake or rolls.
I got the basket out and set it in the kitchen floor, and folded a bath towel to put in the bottom to insulate the sweet potato casserole I’d just taken out of the oven. A cutting board on top of that, another bath towel, and a cake pan with a plastic lid would go on top.
And I stood there and looked down into that basket, into 50 years of memories of potlucks and picnics. The interior is stained and spotted with grease and countless spills. But the woven cane sides and the fiberboard bottom and lid, along with the painted metal handles, are still solid and sturdy.
I smiled when I tucked my sweet potatoes and cake inside. I smiled when I got to church and took them out. It’s a good thing to be in my little spot in a heritage of potlucks and picnics, church dinners and Thanksgivings. It’s something for which I’m thankful.
I hope you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em have a fine, fine Thanksgiving.