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Dining Al Fresco by Anita Hull

My mother promised my sister, Lucille a Sunday picnic on her birthday. She was going to be 6 or 7 and Mom baked a layer cake. This was something she rarely did except for a special occasion, like a birthday. Her layer cakes never had frosting on the sides, only on the top and in the middle. This particular one had no frosting at all, just jam between the layers and powdered sugar on the top.

The designated Sunday dawned cloudy and foreboding. By noon it was lightening and claps of thunder broke through the heavy atmosphere. Finally the rain came down in torrents, washing away any hope of a picnic.

A cancelled picnic didn’t bother me because picking dirt and crawly things out of my food was not my idea of gracious dining. Lucille, on the other hand was distraught. She was, and still is, a great outdoor lover. She liked grubbing around in the dirt, collecting insects and other repulsive things. I was 5 years older and knew better.

My sister, on the verge of tears and knowing my feeling about this venture, kept giving me reproachful glances as though she suspected that in some mysterious way I was responsible for the weather. She had put on her “poor Lucille” face, which consisted of hanging her head, casting her eyes downward and dropping her lover lip. Sometimes she included sniffling for the added effect. When my mother, who was always loath to have Lucille disappointed, saw her sad countenance, quickly announced that we could still have our picnic but on the back porch.

I took a dim view of this development. When I had seen the weather and thought we could not eat outside, I made plans to go to the movies with a friend. The dime for admission was already in my dress pocket.

Lucille, the Great Pretender, was elated with Mom’s announcement. Her imagination shifted into high gear. She dragged out an old green bedspread and put it on the floor, saying that it could be the grass and then she arranged several pillows around the edges for rocks. Mom started to bring out the food and plates and glasses. I just stood by, watching the preparations and refused to help. I wanted everyone o know that I was miffed because MY plans had been thwarted.

Lucille pointed out where each person should sit. Bill and Dad dutifully took their assigned places, but I spitefully refused. I said that I was not going to sit on some DUMB pretend grass with DUMB pretend rocks at a DUMB pretend picnic. With that I flounced over to a wicker chair in the corner and plunked myself down. I kept mumbling to myself and making derogatory remarks about the festivities. Finally my mother gave me a look that was both a threat and a warning. This silenced me because I knew that there would be dire consequences if I continued.

All this time Lucille, oblivious to any tension, was chatting away, pleased and happy. When I realized that my grouchiness was getting me nowhere I joined in the conversation. We joked and laughed as we munched sandwiches, pickles and other picnic fare. Although I didn’t join the others on the floor, I enjoyed the camaraderie and felt part of the group.

When we finished eating and drinking, my mother said, “Now it is dessert time. Bill, where did you put the cake?”

“Over there,” Bill replied, pointing in my direction.

I had a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Four pairs of eyes were on me. I rose and looked down. Sure enough, there on the chair, covered with a towel was the cake. I had been sitting on it throughout the meal!

Lucille howled in dismay while Dad and Bill exploded with laughter. Mom, with her usual aplomb, took off the towel and said, “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just a little flat.” She then proceeded to cut and serve it.

I guess the moral is: Be careful not only of what you say but also where you sit. Your words may not be the only things you have to eat.

Originally Posted (Jul 01, 2002)

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