Let's Have a Picnic!
The Sniders usually planned their family picnic for the third Saturday in July, depending on the weather. Since it was not yet harvest-time, the men could take a few hours off from their farm chores. Today was fair and crisp, white clouds drifted against cerulean skies, while soft breezes riffled the oaks in a gentle counterpoint to the sough of the pines.
The men had set up several long tables near the summer kitchen; now the women fussed over food. Rachel, four-year-old Charles clutching her skirts, hurried to the table with a bowl of greens. Her sister-in-law, Mary White, directed the men in the placing of chairs.
"Here. Sit the parents between the children, so they can be seen to. That’s right."
Grandmama Sarah burst from the house and sailed across to the table, bearing a huge bowl of hot potato salad, her cheeks flushed with exertion; tendrils of fading red hair forming a halo about her rosy face.
"That’s right, Isaac. There’s more chairs inside if you need ‘em." Sarah smiled at little Susannah, who trailed after her father, shyly hanging onto his coattails.
"Get the fire going, William. The mosquitoes are swarming already and it’s only noon. I don’t want those children et alive. Little Edwin will come out in big red bumps if he gets bit." Sarah flung her dishcloth at the host of insects buzzing about her head.
At last, everything was ready and they took their places around the table. Grandpapa Martin was at the head; his wife easing her ample body into her chair at the foot of the table. Jacob, Rachel, and their four, clustered next to Martin, tiny Mary Ann snug in a cradle beside her mother. Martin Junior, his wife Alida and their two young ones sat opposite. Mary and Isaac White and little Susannah were next, then John Snider and Mary, with three-year-old Harriet between them and baby Edgerton on Mary’s knee.
Sarah placed her youngest daughter on her right and Nancy Cummer on her left; their suitors beside them. Young Sarah and John Willson were to be married come winter; William and Nancy were still courting. The Cummers were Pennsylvania Germans like themselves and Nancy’s father, Jacob, was a highly-respected member of the community.
Sarah Snider had invited Nancy’s friend, Katherine Albrecht, to join the family for supper. Katie had lost both parents to cholera the previous winter and was staying with the Cummers until she could find a position as a hired girl.
Young Elias and his older brother George fidgeted and teased each other while sixteen-year-old Thomas, seated by Katie, kept stealing furtive glances at the pretty newcomer. Katie, on her best behaviour under the elder Sarah’s watchful gaze, sat with downcast eyes, a tiny smile playing about her lips.
"Papa, will you ask the blessing?" said Mrs. Snider.
Martin cleared his throat and bowed his head. "We thank you Heavenly Father, for the gifts you have given; this land that provides us with food and shelter; our family and friends gathered here this day. Bless us all and keep us safe from harm, now and always. Amen."
"Help yourself to the meat, Jacob," Sarah urged.
"Rachel, would you pass the salad?"
"Here, Charles, let me cut your meat for you."
"William, will you help Nancy to the pickles?"
"Have a slice of bread, why don’t you, Katie. Here’s the butter."
Sarah fussed over the table, issuing orders, directing the progress of the meal. Soon, everyone had been served and a soft murmur fell over the assembly, broken only by the chickk of cutlery against pottery, the zsinn of an occasional bee, and a hiccup from wee Edgerton.
"Have you seen Ryerson’s petition, Isaac?" Jacob passed a plate of warm bread to his brother-in-law.
"Mm-hm." Isaac White reached for the butter and slathered the thick slice, scraping excess butter back onto the wooden bowl. "I have seen it. Sounds reasonable to me. Why should the English church control all that land? What about the rest of us? I suppose we’re the ‘ignorant pro-American enthusiasts’ John Strachan was haranguing about last year. ‘Uneducated itinerant preachers’, he said. Is that really what he thinks of Methodists?"
"So it would seem. But it’s worse than that." Jacob leaned back and loosened his collar.
"Some claim our preachers, just because they’re American, are going to get us to rebel. They’ve even accused Methodist preachers of spying for the so-called Republic. What nonsense!"
"It is nonsense," replied Isaac, "And I want to know when they’re going to let us take care of our own marriages? It’s disgraceful that none but the Church of England or the Church of Scotland can perform weddings."
"They even allow Roman Catholic priests to marry couples."
"That’s right. It’s just not fair."
"Then there’s the mess south of here in the Glebes," Jacob said. "No one looks after the roads down there because it’s part of the Clergy Reserves. When it rains, Yonge Street’s nothing but a rotten quagmire."
"I can’t help thinking the Reformers have some sound ideas." William mused, helping himself to more potatoes. "I was speaking to John Cummer the other day. He’s a friend to William Mackenzie, editor of the Colonial Advocate."
"So I’ve heard," responded Jacob. "What’s John think of all this? He’s a good Methodist and a Reformer to boot."
"Yep. He’s a Reformer, all right," William replied. "He says the Tories only look after the wealthy. As he sees it, all the power lies in the hands of a few, privileged folk. John thinks there should be change, but says it should be done through legislation, not rebellion or violence."
"I agree," said Isaac. "Your family are Loyalists, aren’t they? Didn’t your father fight with the British in ’76?"
"Yes," William replied, "and Jacob, here, fought with Brock in 1812. We’ve always been for the British."
Old Martin, at the end of the table, was trying to follow the conversation, but his hearing had failed in recent years and he could not make out what the others were saying. He had caught the word, ‘Monarchy," a few moments before; now he raised his mug, "To the King!"
Humouring their father, the men lifted their mugs in a toast. "The King!"
Patricia Snider Armstrong © July 2000
From a work in progress