Friday, June 3, 2016

Otto Picnics

The end of summer signals the start of a new school year, the changing colors of leaves and the inevitable first snow. But in years long past, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend brought a most exciting time, the annual family reunion (Mom’s side) at the Otto farm. My aunt and uncle moved to the farm, located in Beavercreek, Ohio, as their family expanded to six boys and three girls. It never seemed to rain on that Sunday, even if the forecast said so. Seemed like divine intervention to me. Let me relate a few of the memories that stand out to my little boy self.

Soon after we arrived in the early afternoon, and sometimes before, a baseball game would be organized, with both adults and kids participating. Always seemed to be a big debate on what the score was at any point in time, which might have been that most people just enjoyed playing and the score was secondary to them, or maybe the keg of beer influenced that. Baseball generally led to volleyball and for the hardcore few, a determined game or two of basketball. By dinnertime we were a sweaty, happy mess.

Dinner was laid out on a few picnic tables and filled with fried chicken, baked beans, potatoes of all sorts, salads and desserts. We were starved by all the exercise and ate at least two plates full. One of my favorite, and very unique, selections was a piece of buttered rye bread topped with sliced white and red radishes and green onions. But what made this awesome was bacon grease, dripped from a large chunk of scored jowl bacon held over the fire pit until it sizzled. Truly yummy!

During one of the later years, when I was a Dad and my kids had been introduced to the yearly ritual, the usual fried chicken was augmented with a whole pig roasted on a spit. Most of the kids had never seen an entire animal being cooked like this and they all stared in amazement. Then they were asked if they would like to try some cracklings, the fried skin of the pig. You can learn a lot about a kid’s personality when they are presented with something entirely new and foreign. Nobody leaped at the chance, but with some coaxing one brave kid decided to give it a try. When they approved, a few others came forward to try. It was amazing to watch the concentration on the kid’s faces as they tried to make their decisions. Most finally succumbed, the most risk-averse simply caving into young peer pressure.

After dinner a large wagon would be hitched up to the tractor and hay rides began. Usually took 2-3 trips around the farm to accommodate our large family. Then as the sun began to set, the marshmallows would be roasted to a golden brown on sticks, or simply lit on fire by those not paying enough attention. But unless they fell in the fire, they were eaten. The night fell upon us, we talked and stared into the fire and talked about how we couldn’t wait until next year.

Funny, I can’t remember the ride home. I suspect the day’s fun and a full tummy put this little boy to sleep in the car the moment we turned off the gravel driveway and onto Patterson Road.