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August 30, 2009
We had to hold yesterday's end-of-summer church picnic indoors -- it had rained all day, and the grass was good and wet. Not as lovely as holding it in the memorial garden, to be sure, but fun anyway, with the long tables set out to receive all the food and so many dear peple we hadn't seen for a year in attendance. And the food! Those people can cook.

We had a church picnic every year when I was a girl. We kids looked foward to it all year -- we went in a bus to the beach, singing silly songs all the way -- one about three jolly fishermen, I recall, which ended with the word "Amsterdam," and we kids shouted out that last syllable at the top of our lungs, full of our own daring in saying "damn" right out loud. When we got there, we were kinto the water, while the adults prepared the picnic at long plank tables under the wooden shelter. The baskets were tin -- ours was green plaid -- and they were filled with fried chicken, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, pies. I still remember the dark, sweet plums that emerged from our basket one year, as if I could taste them today.

I wish I still had that basket.

At. St James in Florence, we had a picnic every Monday in the beautiful rectory garden. It was still hot when we began at seven in the evening, but it got cooler as the sun began to set, silhouetting the stone church tower and the cypress trees against the darkening sky. People brought pizza, fruit, salads, wine, sweets from the bakery. Whoever was staying with us in the rectory would make something in our kitchen: lasagne, or chicken cooked with lemon and olives. Often we grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, American delicacies which Italians love with an inexplicable fervor (they also love chili con carne, and will eat as much of it as you can make).

Back here at home, Q and I picnic under the dogwood tree every evening, all summer and into the fall, until it gets too chilly. Once winter comes, we picnic in by the fireplace, our plates crowded together on the little coffee table. On Friday nights we picnic in my office, so we can watch Washington Week in Review and Gwen Ifill can come to our picnic.

Soon it will be time for Succoth, the Jewish Feast of Booths. Familes make a shelter of some kind behind their houses -- drive around a bit, and you might see the frame of one in somebody's yard, waiting for its roof of branches or palm fronds. For seven days, the family eat their meals there, commemorating the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They eat and sing, tell stories, enjoy one another. Sometimes they sleep out there. I imagine the kids love it. I imagine they remember what it was like for the rest of their lives: a picnic that lasts for seven days.

Odd -- we with roofs over our heads love to eat outside. Love to rough it a bit. Even if we don't remember a time when we had no roof, we go outside and eat under the roof of the sky, and we luxuriate in it. What is rude necessity to the homeless is a delight to us. The sun goes down and the fireflies come out. The crickets begin their steady song, and the cicadas prepare to turn in for the night. We light candles and stay out there, until we're too tired to sit any longer. Then we go inside.

Read all about how to build a sukkah.


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
-- William Carlos Williams, 1934
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