Beall Family Picnic, 1957

Daily Prompt It’s My Party You’re throwing a party — for you! Tell us all about the food, drink, events, and party favours you’ll have for your event of a lifetime. Use any theme you like — it’s *your* party!

Time travel…

It’s Billings, Montana, June 16, 1957. My dad and my Uncle Hank bring tables outside onto the lawn and set them the shade. They set up a couple of card tables for us kids. They use C-clamps to fasten the table cloths in the corners to keep them from blowing away. My aunts and mom bring out the food, fried chicken, potato salad, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl filled with red jello and fruit cocktail, bread and butter, pies. In the house is an angel food cake. The edges of the table cloths flutter in the breeze. Early evening golden light slides sideways through the tall grass in the pasture. Fence post shadows stretch across the field.

My grandma is brought by my Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. Her house is only across the small field, but it’s nice to ride in the car. They come into the yard, my Uncle Jack carrying a bowl of green beans cooked with new potatoes and bacon. No one cooks this like my grandma does.

“Thank the Lord it didn’t rain!” my grandma says making her “Thank the Lord” gesture, a quick little bend forward, a bow, her hands on her thighs, her apron.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Beall!” says my Uncle Hank, tall and handsome, wearing a red brimmed cap (as they called them then). She is always Mrs. Beall to him, even though he lives next door and he sees her every day.

Everyone is dressed up. The women’s heels make divots in the lawn and there’s no one around to care about the mens ties. My Aunt Jo is dressed in a chartreuse knit dress avatar11976_1with a glittery embroidered badge on her chest that, to me, looks like the insignia from our new 1955 Ford. I call it her “Tennessee Ernie Ford” dress and no one knows why. The mind of a five year old is a little different.

Everyone fills their plates at the table and sits down on the chairs that have been brought outside.

One of my teenage cousins is wearing a beautiful dress, very full skirt and LOTS of petticoats. Her nails are “done.” Her hair is still in pin-curls. She has a “date” later.

Two little kids who stay with my Aunt Jo are sitting in high chairs. We know they’re not our cousins but who are they? “Foster children,” says my mom, as if that explains ANYTHING.

Then, apparently to everyone’s surprise, a big Ford station wagon pulls up and parks.
“Bill! Looks like your folks are here!” says my Uncle Hank.

My dad sets his plate on his chair and walks across the lawn to greet his mom and dad.
A short bustling fuss is made to set them up with plates. “Make a place for the Kennedys,” says my Aunt Jo, chasing her two boys off the chairs. “You can sit with the other kids or sit on the ground.”

“Coffee, Mr. Kennedy?” my Aunt Kelly asks my grandfather, percolator in hand. I notice my grandfather’s tie bar. He likes funny ties and tie bars. This one — since he was going to a pic-nic — is a tiny knife and fork across the front of the generally art-deco tie.
“Sure.
“How was the drive up from Denver, Helen?” my grandmother Kennedy asks my mom.
“Very pleasant. The kids were no trouble. We found a nice motel in Casper.”
“When we hit Casper we just drive on up,” interjects my Aunt Kelly.
“I know you do, Kelly, but I don’t drive and that much driving is hard on Bill.”
“You should learn,” says Aunt Jo.
“I know, I know, don’t talk about it.”

“Mmm-mm. Did you make this pie, Mrs. Beall?”
“No, not this time. Dickie made it.”
The youngest of my aunts smiles.

They sit and talk, smoke and drink coffee. Paper plates are thrown in the trash. There’s a brief dispute about washing the plastic forks and knives and spoons, and they decide against it. “What’s the point of using them at all if you’re going to wash them?” my mom asks.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
“Life is short!”
Aluminum foil covers the leftover food — what there is of it — and the tables are mostly cleared. “Not too many dishes,” says my Aunt Kelly. “I’ll do them.”
“Kelly, you’ve done enough. Let the girls wash them up.” The “girls” in this case means my older cousins, Margaret and Harriet.

Dusk descends and it’s time. Kelly, Jo, Martha and my mom go inside. They come out with plates and forks, and, most important, the angel food cake lit with candles.
“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear grandma, Happy Birthday to you.”
“Bless my soul,” says my grandmother exactly as if she’d never seen a birthday cake before or didn’t know this was inevitable.

12 thoughts on “Beall Family Picnic, 1957

  1. Nice memories. It’s funny how we remember from so long ago, and yet what we did more recently, the details are blurred. Nice story, Martha. Like this part especially … Early evening golden light slides sideways through the tall grass in the pasture. Fence post shadows stretch across the field. Very nice.

  2. Yup, red. I’m the one who brings the J now: red J chock full of cranberry sauce, apples, crushed pineapple and walnuts. My fav.
    Loved the story. I was right there.

    • My Aunt Martha made that kind in the 60s! Back in the 50’s it was fruit cocktail sometimes with marshmallows on top. I loved the kind you describe here.

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