Family activities didn’t vary very much during the year. The folks decided where we were going – if we were going anywhere – on Sundays.
If Daddy wanted to “get away” for a drive, then he insisted that Mom take us to early Mass. He preferred we didn’t wait until 10:30 Mass; as Daddy put it, the whole day was shot by the time we got home.
But we kids didn’t want to attend the 9:00AM Children’s Mass (they’d make us sit up front with the other children, away from our parents. The Monsignor was a scary old guy; the closer we sat, the higher the chances that we’d be called upon to answer a question. This Monsignor didn’t have any problem making a child cry or at the very least wiggle. We certainly didn’t want to make a blunder in front of the rest of the kids, nor be reminded that we didn’t know all the songs or prayers.)
Thankfully, Mom never made us attend at that time. If we knew we were going for a long drive that Sunday, we’d get up earlier and go to 7:30 Mass. Or better yet, skip Mass and go to the dumps with Daddy! Either way, early choices kept everyone satisfied.
Once a year or so, we drove to Livermore to see old family friends. They were a wonderful couple, in their seventies at the time, and quite entertaining! Especially so was Marie, who spoke very good English but whose French pronunciation and emphasis on the wrong sylLABles could make you smile.
The other occasional event was visiting our grandparents’ graves at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery. Winnie and I would help find the spots every time, running in between the markers so as not to step on any dead bodies…and this was before Dark Shadows. The worst visits were after it had rained, and our little dress shoes just slid in the muddy grass; yuck…cemetery grass on our shoes…oh, joy.
If there were no family reunion going on, then our Sunday choices were much the same. We could drive up to the Oakland Hills where we could feed the horse (his owner had said it was okay to bring sugar cubes and carrots), then drive up to the Big Bear Ranch, which was a horse barn that had been converted to a bar. There we sat at tables inside what had been the original stalls. Daddy and Mom would have Manhattans and we’d drink Shirley Temples. It was fun to think we were actually in a real barn. This was a biggie for us, though Winnie was more into “animals” than I was. I just didn’t like things that crawled, had fur, or were bigger than I was and had eyes.
This entire outing was no longer than two hours or so. Daddy headed for home where Mom had left a leg of lamb roasting in the oven; she knew just how to time it so that it would cook while we were gone; once home, just walking in the door was wonderful! The smell of garlic and the sautéed peppers already prepared in the cast iron skillet greeted you immediately.
Other Sundays, Mom would pack a picnic lunch and we’d head on up to Redwood Park. Mom had prepared a salad ahead of time; normally, it was macaroni to go with the cold deli items, roast chicken, French bread, wine, and maybe even some oatmeal cookies. On these trips, my favorite uncle was often with us, and he was always a lot of fun to have around. He’d smoke his pipe and sit down and play cards with Daddy, or take walks with us along the park trails. He’d even escort us down the trail to the outhouses.
Outhouses. These were the real thing; no seat, only a carved oval on the bench covered box. I wanted no part of them. They were painted park green, but the wood was always splintery. They were dark. They were smelly. They were spooky, with bugs and webs and usually, were out of paper; so, if you did decide to use them, you carried napkins or tissues in your hand and everyone could guess where you were going.
I learned to stay away from any outhouses after one picnic afternoon. Uncle escorted me down the trail and as soon as I checked around to make sure there were no bugs on the outside, I happened to peer down into the inside of the box…I could see a family of salamanders running about the wooden base; that was enough for me. NO THANK YOU. I’M FINE, REALLY. I CAN WAIT UNTIL WE GET HOME. And I did.
What a way to spoil a good picnic.