The Picnic (Grandmama memories part 1)

Posted by Mary Marvella | 12:46 AM | 1 comments »

Grandparents can be wonderful storytellers. We loved listening to our grandmother talk about her youth in the early 1900’s in Augusta, Georgia. She told stories to us during the 1950’s –1960’s. Here are two of them.

Tell us a Story

"Tell us a story, Grandmama, please, pretty please," the girls begged.

Their faded, oversized, pastel, chenille dressing gowns were worn with the dignity of ball gowns, though their long sleeves hung like long wings which would not stay rolled above the wrists of the undersized young ladies. Over-powdered faces sported equally over-rouged cheeks as bright eyes paid homage to the grandmother who was like a queen to her young subjects. Long chains and multiple strands of pearls were draped over the young necks with pride befitting the crown jewels.

Behind gold, wire-rimmed glasses pale, faded, gray eyes twinkle, smiling at the children seated at her feet. Sturdy, black "old lady shoes" cover the feet the I don't remember ever seeing bare. She always had a supply of bedroom shoes, some of which we were wearing, because they were favorites as gifts - those and jewelry she didn't need.

Just as familiar as the lace up shoes with their wide heels are the heavy support hose gartered with bands of elastic rolled just beneath the knees of her pale, age-bowed legs. These details I remember well as the eldest of the granddaughters.

Though we have heard the stories many times before, we become mesmerized as she begins in her pleasant "geetche" drawl. Her soft voice and Charlestonian pronunciations transport us to a time before the wrinkles had been penciled by life around the smiling eyes we loved so much.

Her fingers move deftly as she twirls florist wire around bunches of leaves which will probably grace a floral wreath tomorrow. Her hands always seem to be busy. The small, fine-lipped mouth smiles gently as she begins a story.

"You see, it was almost time for the big Fourth of July picnic at the city park. I had never been out with a beau before, but I was seventeen and Mama finally had convinced Papa that I should be allowed to go without the family, if I had the chance.

"I was working at a millinery shop just a few blocks from our house. That was where we made fine hats for ladies. Edward Smith, a young man who worked there, was a friend who had often sat with me so we could share our lunches. He even walked me home on occasion.

" I thought the world of Edward, though he was not really handsome, so you can imagine my surprise when he offered to escort me to the picnic. I had not considered him as anything other than a friend, but I was looking forward to going to the picnic without my family, and there wasn't much time left for anyone else to ask me. I accepted his invitation. I knew we’d have fun together.

"As luck would have it, the next day I received another invitation, this time from Mack, a friend of my brother James. Well, Mack was older than I was and I was flattered, don't you know. I didn't mean to be fickle, but I had once been infatuated with Mack, long before he was out of knee pants, and he had grown even more handsome with age.

"I don't want you to think that I considered appearance more important than character. Mack was far more manly than Edward and Edward was more a friend than a beau. I knew James must have given his approval or Mack would never have asked, so before I knew what had happened, I said I’d love to accompany him to the picnic. I had accepted two invitations for the same picnic. Well, I felt terrible but there was no help for it. I had to figure out how to get out of one invitation without hurting anyone's feelings.

"Now, I was already in a pickle, but things got even worse. The day after I accepted Mack's invitation you can't guess what happened."

Though we all knew what had happened, we wouldn't have interrupted for the world. We just shook our heads and looked up with rapt expressions on our over-powdered faces and waited for her to continue. Gone were the wrinkles as I watched her mouth move into that coquettish smile I had seen in the treasured photographs on the mantel over the fireplace in the parlor. Her thin, beauty shop permanent -waved, blue-rinsed hair had been replaced in my imagination by a mass of loose, auburn curls piled over a perky face. The bloom of youth had returned as she continued her tale.

"Before the two unexpected invitations, I had secretly hoped that a certain handsome young man named Alex would ask me to accompany him to this picnic, or anywhere, for that matter. Well, he finally did. But, of all things, he asked me to the same picnic for which I already accepted too many invitations. Now I really had a problem. Alex was not only the handsomest man I knew. He was one of the few people of my close acquaintance who had a motor car. I just couldn't help myself. I said that I would love to go with him.

"By the time the day of the picnic arrived I had finally decided what I would do. I would just tell Mack and Edward that I had a terrible headache. Papa and Mama left in a buggy, taking my brother and sister to the park for the picnic. They had no idea what I planned to do, since I hadn’t told them about my three invitations.

"My planned excuse easily worked on Mack. I had used a rice powder to make me look pale, so he believed I was truly sick. He was disappointed, but he understood that I felt too under the weather to ride the horse drawn trolley car in the heat of a July evening in Georgia. Mack, a gentleman, was gone within five minutes.

"Edward was not so easy to persuade. He offered to go to the store down the road and get me some headache powder. I told him I had already taken some and I would probably just have to lie down and rest before it did any good. He offered to make me some hot tea and sit with me.

"Since we were in the house alone I tried to convince him that it would be unseemly for me to have a gentleman caller. He said he didn’t want to leave me feeling so ill. He went into our kitchen. I just needed for him to leave. I heard him pumping water. In seconds he returned, carrying a cloth and looking serious. He awkwardly folded the cloth and placed in on my forehead.

"I wasn't really sick, but when he said I did feel a little hot,I wondered if I had made myself sick by fibbing. Then he made me a cup of tea and finally left after I convinced him that even if I felt better, I would just get sicker if we had to ride down the bricked streets in his wagon. I was really beginning to feel sick as I fibbed to the man who was being so kind, but the minute I peeked out a front window and saw him walk down the street I felt completely recovered.

"I hurried to check the hall mirror to see if any petticoats were showing at the bottom of my blue, summer dress I had slipped into in such a hurry. By the time I pinched my cheeks and bit my lips for color, there was a knock at my front door. My fingers could barely tie the bow in my hair.

"I tried to make myself walk slowly, like a lady, but I was so excited I was sure he could hear my heart beat through the closed door. Smoothing my skirts, then my hair, I let out a long breath and opened the door. I was finally going out with Alex. And I was going to ride in a motor car and be seen by everyone at the picnic. Maybe he would even ask Papa to allow him to call on me."

We were as excited as she was. It was like hearing a fairytale for the hundredth time but pretending we didn't know the ending. Grandmama looked more like a young Mary Allyn than a woman in her seventies. To us she would be forever young.

"He looked handsome in the brown suit and snow white shirt, but his hair was mused. When he apologized for being late, I assured him that I didn't mind at all. When I took his offered arm I felt like a princess.
A motor car, I would ride in a motorcar, like the society folks in town. He helped me into the car, then hurried to the front to crank it. He had to use a long handle and start the car."

My younger brother made handle turning motions, making us laugh. I gave him a threatening look, afraid he would spoil the mood.

"The ride in his automobile was exciting, I had to hold my hat. The long scarf he had offered helped, but I was still unaccustomed to the wind coming at us with such speed and was afraid it would steal the flowers I had so carefully sewn to the brim of my best straw hat. His driving cap mused his hair even more, but he was so dashing, I didn't mind."

She laughed. "We strolled to the gates of the park with my hand proudly in the crook of his arm, and I waited to see the envy of the other ladies when they saw who my escort was. I felt bad about fooling two men who meant the world to me, but I was with the man who could steal my heart.

"The pleasant feelings didn't last long. The first two people we met when we walked through the gates were none other than the two men I had tricked. I was mortified! My shame grew as I waited for them to tell me what a terrible person I was and embarrass me in front of Alex. They just greeted Alex and shook hands with him, barely nodding to me. Mack looked annoyed, but Edward looked so hurt that I almost wanted to take his hand and send Alex away. Almost, but not enough to do it. I was just relieved Alex didn't know what I had done.

"By the time we were at the bandstand for the box lunch bidding, (Mama had brought my basket with her) I was sure James had spoken with Mack and wanted to spank me. He always thought he was grown. Alex outbid several other men, among them Mack and Edward. I didn't know what I would have done if either had won it and me. Mack just kept glaring at me. I had made a good meal of fried chicken and potato salad with apple pie for dessert. When we sat down on a blanket I had packed with the basket, the food tasted like sawdust.

"What Papa would say when he found out what I had done? I couldn't really enjoy the fireworks, thinking about how I would make things up to the men I had deceived. As if my worrying was not enough the automobile broke down on the way home and I had to accept a ride with Mack in his wagon. I was tempted to walk home, but he looked as though he would have forced me into the wagon. Besides it might make Alex suspicious if I refused the ride.

"What happened when you saw Edward?" some one asked. Maybe we somehow believed that it would change if we thought hard enough. It never did.

Grandmama looked as sad though it had been only yesterday instead of more than fifty years ago. "The next day at work I tried to apologize to Edward. He ignored me. He didn't speak one word until lunchtime. By the time he had finished telling me how hurt and disappointed he was in me, I wanted to dig a hole and hide in it. I apologized, as I had meant to do when I first walked into the shop.

"Apologizing isn’t enough. It will be a long time before I can be friends again, if ever," he said quietly, then turned and walked away. I didn't enjoy the lunch I had brought and I missed sharing it with my friend."

We were as quiet as though we, too, had lost our best friend.

More to come later.


  1. Misc. Muse // September 25, 2007 at 1:11 AM  

    Wonderful story. I write things based on what happened with my grandparents too. Linda