Sunday, August 03, 2008

Picnic - German Style

Ever since I was a very little child, my family went to 4 picnics each summer - Memorial Day, 4th of July, 1st Sunday in August and Labor Day (later moved to 3rd or 4th Sunday in August). They were held in Lake Villa, Illinois, right on Cedar Lake. You may think this is a normal thing, but these picnics were (and still are) anything but normal.

The day started with what seemed like a very long drive (in reality it is only about an hour). Many people didn't own a car, so a big yellow school bus or two were rented to provide transportation. The men were dressed in dress slacks and sport coats, short sleeved shirts and ties. The women were wearing dresses and hose. The kids were a little more casual, but not dressed for playing out doors.

We arrived at the picnic grove, and found a table, covered it with our table cloth and covered the benches with towels to protect our good cloths. The men bellied up to the bar to start the day with a shot of Schnapps. Mass was said outdoors and most people participated, although a few die-hards started playing cards the minute the table cloths were on the tables. A few minutes before Mass was over, there was a mad dash to get in line to buy lunch. Not a hot dog, or a hamburger or even a steak was in sight. The menu included Hungarian Goulash, Schnitzel, pork roast and Hungarian Bratwurst, with sides of sauerkraut and German Potato Salad. Of course there was apple Strudel and various other German pastries for desert. The Bratwurst also made good sandwiches between two pieces of rye bread for dinner!

For the rest of the afternoon, men were at the Kegelbahn, a very primitive sort of bowling, and kids would hang around setting up the pins for them, earning some tips to spend at the ice cream truck later on. Other men were still playing cards, hardly stopping to eat or answer nature's call. The women spent a greater part of the afternoon waiting in line for the bathroom.

At one point in the afternoon, the Youth group and Children's groups marched around the grounds and them put on a cultural program of songs and dances and there were lots of speeches. After the program, a band would begin to play and many picnickers danced late into the evening. At some point after the program, once I was a teenager, we would sneak through the hole in the fence of the real picnic grove next door that had a beach and go swimming. Once the hole in the fence was fixed we actually had to walk around and pay a few dollars to sit on the sand, and occasionally put our toes in the water, or get thrown in by the boys.

And 50 years later, there isn't much difference. I only to go one of these each summer, today being the day. People aren't quite as dressed up as they used to be, and the Kegelbahn is gone, but the food is still the same. Paper plates are used now, so that no one has to be in the kitchen until midnight washing dishes. The beer and Schnapps are still plentiful. Everyone has a car now, so no one rides a yellow school bus to the event. The picnic grove next door is closed and the beach is also no longer available as homes have been built there.

But the little ones still dance and sing. Here is the children's group before their performance. The youngest are 3 years old, and performed with the group for the first time today. They were so excited they forgot what to do, but they made it up as they went along, and stole the show! I have been working with this group since about 1982, and for the last two years, my daughter Viki also works with the group. I think she has as much fun with the kids as I do.

The youth group still dances, and here is an action shot of some of the group. I have been working with this group since 1972, and lots of these kids are the children of former members.


MrsJ said...

Even funnier that watching the little ones dance was watching their moms in the front row trying to direct them. I was just about crying!

So much for you never doing anything wrong...sneaking around to go to the lake! And how come we never got to go to the lake? We always begged and NEVER got to go!

Eva said...

Viki, dear, by the time you were old enough to go to beach by yourself (with out parental supervision) the lake was very poluted and the beach was closed.

Love, Mom

wnk said...

What????? The Kegelbahn is gone, no more beach? Is the field still in the back? We got in alot of trouble back there (well not me, but people I knew). Sounds like a totally different event than when I was a kid. What did they put in place of the Kegelbahn?