Life’s no picnic, thank goodness

Commentary by Mike Murphy

Ah yes, the Fourth of July certainly brings back fond childhood memories of near disasters involving sparkler sword fights and firecrackers blowing tin cans sky high just as I bent over them to check the fuse. Of course, this time of the year there is also the obligatory summer picnic that one had to attend as a kid, the one where Uncle Marv thought it was a barrel of laughs to throw lit firecrackers at the children and dogs, creating a cacophony of screams and howling mutts. Thankfully, Grandma would put a sudden end to the insanity by bopping Marv over the head with her umbrella. Gosh, those were the good old days.

The allure of picnics has always escaped me. I’m just not sure why people happily look forward to bellying up to a sweltering hot picnic table where you spend half of your time trying to hang onto napkins, paper plates and potato chips to keep them from zipping away on the torrid breeze and the rest of the time swatting flies, bees and combating an army of ants that magically emerged just at the moment someone sliced open the watermelon.

Got to have a watermelon otherwise you wouldn’t end up with 20 people sitting around with juice stains soaking the front of their shirts and a few of those black watermelon seeds stuck to their chins. I was always leery of the seeds, wondering if I accidentally swallowed one would an ugly creature form inside me and pop out of my stomach like in the film “Alien.”

Then there’s the omnipresent giant mutant fly that’s hardly distinguishable from a drone that attempts to fly into your mouth with each bite of corn. Just isn’t a picnic without corn-on-the-cob, the only vegetable which, when you’re done eating, half of it is still lodged in between your teeth so that when you smile you look like you just stepped off the set of “Hee-Haw.”

While waiting as the food is prepared, the kids play with a Frisbee that no one can throw correctly and no one can catch so they just run around aimlessly for 10 minutes until the Frisbee mercifully gets stuck high up in a tree. Then they kill more time throwing rocks, sticks and empty bottles at it with every guy apparently thinking he is the reincarnation of Peyton Manning. That lasts for another 10 minutes until ending abruptly when Uncle Marv throws a large firecracker in a futile attempt to blow the Frisbee out of the tree.

This is followed by a friendly volleyball game amongst all the folks, which goes well for a time until some young stud teenager imagines he’s playing in the Olympic gold medal game and rockets a spike directly into the face of cousin Matilda who was just an innocent bystander sipping on some iced tea and playing Angry Birds on her phone, which is now lying on the ground in two pieces right beside cousin Matilda who is out cold.

Of course, there is always the possibility of food poisoning as a result of Great Grandmother bringing the bowl of potato salad that she forgot to bring last Fourth of July!

I will say that my dislike for picnics does not carry over to summer campfire cookouts. In fact, there is nothing I like better than to gather a pile of dry kindling the size of a funeral pyre, squirt the pile with a half can of lighter fluid, then light and throw a match, creating a fireball visible from the International Space Station.

Once the flames settle down and I’ve grown accustomed to no longer having any eyelashes, the real fun begins as I cook my own meal over an open fire just like the pioneers. When roasting a hot dog, be sure the wiener is stuck tightly on the stick because it could fly off when you gesture while singing “Kumbaya” and smack a fellow camper in the forehead before landing on the ground. If this happens you may as well just start roasting another one because Fido will immediately gobble it up.

Usually my success with cooking over an open fire depends on how much beer is consumed before and during the process. For example I’ve been known to mistakenly cover a roasted marshmallow with globs of catsup, mustard, and relish. My mom always said “Food taste better outdoors,” but then she never went camping with me.

Another problem with drinking beer around the campfire is that it increases the possibility of tripping over the tent guy-lines while trying to find the cooler in the dark and landing on top of the tent, crashing the entire works to the ground. If that happens I suggest you just go ahead and sleep right there. I can tell you from experience it’s a heck of a lot better than falling in the fire.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello retired after a 35-year teaching and coaching career. He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is an Associated Press award-winning columnist.