Columbia Free Times
FT Parent Blog

The Return of the Roadside Family Picnic

By Salley McAden McInerney
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 |
I was recently headed back to Columbia from the coast by way of that most gnarly and annoying of South Carolina thoroughfares, I-26.

What a mess it’s become. Orange cones have popped up like wild onions. Your car must straddle a divide between smooth pavement and that make-room-off-to-the-right construction lane that prompts your tires to sound like they’re running across roll bars. Not to mention 18-wheelers bearing down on you with those shipping containers that have names you can’t pronounce. Or, the bumper-to-bumper congestion of what’s come to be known as switchover-day traffic – excited folks going to the beach with every kind of beach tool and toy strapped onto their autos and, on the other hand (and headed the other way), those sunburnt folks exhausted by the inherent irritants of a family vacation and just wanting to get back home where they belong.

Anyhoo, taking a break from riding up the road the other Sunday afternoon, I stopped at an official Rest Area. As I was muddling around in the car searching for enough change to buy a Coke from a selection of coin-operated machines imprisoned by metal bars — otherwise known as the Soda Pop Penitentiary — I realized, first, that the machines were not so “coin” operated anymore since the darn things require real money — like dollar bills. And second, that all kinds of folks were not joining me at the vending area but instead were having picnics at picnic tables.

Really? Was I in the middle of the makings of a PG-rated film, or could it possibly be that I was witnessing the return to favor of the roadside family picnic?

I studied the situation at the rest stop a little more closely. There seemed to be no logical reason for all these people gathered at picnic tables. No family-reunion-at-the-rest-stop kind of deal, you know, with everyone wearing the same bright blue T-shirt saying CAMERON FAMILY REUNION — JUNE 22, 2014 — I-26 REST STOP — MILE MARKER 152. Nope, families in all sorts of array and disarray were pulling woven baskets and plastic coolers out of their car trunks, ambling over to picnic tables and spreading out picnic fare.

Now, I did not check to see how carefully prepared these picnics were — I mean, homemade vittles wrapped in wax paper and small brown bags versus the store-bought stuff in spiffy see-though containers.

And I did not check to see if what these folks were putting out on the concrete tables was standard, circa 1950s and 60s (what cholesterol level?) picnic fare – fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs and the like. Or if, in today’s tiresome era of being ever mindful of what we’re eating, picnic fare had gone green, so to speak. (Green as in things that are good for you, or at least not bad for you, but either way, don’t taste worth a dang.)

But as I made my way back to my car with my Coke in hand — even feeling a little sheepish that I didn’t have my own supply of homemade sweet tea on hand – I decided that maybe it didn’t matter what these families were eating.

And maybe, as in the way of all family picnics past and present, it didn’t matter that they were being buzzed by a particularly tenacious yellow jacket, or that one of the children stepped in some fire ants, or even that something in the cooler busted loose and spilled all over something else.

What mattered is these folks seemed to be having fun gathered together around a table — eating some food, chatting it up and just being family while the summertime traffic rolled by on the gnarly old interstate.

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Local restaurants serving locally grown food during Palmetto Tasty Tomato Restaurant Feast, July 11-18:

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