Guest Writer: Picnic in Winter


I love this piece from one of our Wednesday Night Writers. Thanks for letting me post it, David! Picnic in Winter ©2016 David Routledge

By David Routledge

The vicissitudes of fatherhood: no one can catalogue them all, and certainly not in advance. One does better in hindsight. Oblivious at the time, I inflicted one of these on my Dad when I was twelve.

Dad had been a boy scout when he was a kid, so he certainly encouraged me to get into scouting. And I’d gone for it, full bore: bought the Baden-Powell scouting book, learned the knots, made a scout staff, made a kerchief toggle, learned Morse code, learned semaphore, learned the scout promise, the scout salute, the scout handshake, yadda yadda.

Except, out in the bush, I was useless. That scouting book, after all, had been written by a Brit. For Brit kids wearing shorts in the gentle Brit climate. Where winter—real winter—lasts only a month or so.

But this was Canada.

Our scout leader scheduled the bring-your-dad cook-out for the North Saskatchewan river valley just before Hallowe’en. We were supposed to do it all for our Dad. He’d watch as we set up the fireplace and made a log stool and a log table, gathered kindling and firewood, lit the fire, got out the pots and fry-pans, and—

Okay, you’re ahead of me. You know by now that of course it snowed the day before, and snowed all night, and tapered off only about noon on the day of the cook-out.

And the temperature dropped to about minus five. Max.

To cancel… ? Or not to cancel…?

Nah! We were tough! We could handle a little snow! The scout troop voted unanimously to go ahead with it.

The dads didn’t get a vote.

For me, of course, it was a disaster. Everything took much longer than I expected. And it got dark so early! In place of a stool Dad settled for a chunk of dead tree I managed to yank out from under the snow. The firewood, too, took quite a while to find and collect. Dry firewood, that is, that would actually burn, what with all the snow I had to get off it. So he waived the requirement for a table—he’d eat with the plate on his lap. “Better get on with cooking supper, David,” he advised with patience. “It’s going to be dark in a few minutes.”

Which turned out to be true. And the fried potatoes—the only thing I managed to produce—didn’t seem to get hot actually, let alone brown, in that frying pan over that open fire. Or the margarine either.

And then the heroism kicked in. He ate every one of those potato slices… well, okay, chunks—frozen, covered in cold margarine, raw—with a smile on his face, proclaiming them to be delicious.

An Academy Award performance. And here I am, sixty-odd years later, finally able to appreciate it.

A disaster, but he made it all right.


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