School picnics of the past

Recently a friend told me she was going to attend an end-of-the-year school picnic for her grandsons. That’s a phrase and a practice I’d not heard about for a long time; in fact, I didn’t even know any school still held a spring picnic even though I believe it’s a very traditional way to end a school year.

My late grandma the country school teacher used to talk about their school picnics, so I checked in her notebooks about life a century back. Sure enough, there were several mentions of the picnics while she was teaching: At Hamilton Center School in 1917, “I thought we should do something to end the year,” she wrote. “(A local woman) said she would furnish a team and the hayrack to take us all to the river for a picnic.

“We enjoyed that, but when Ted, Phillip, Van, Bode, Mary and Florence decided to wade and went far out, we were scared, since no one could swim. That taught me to always have parents go, too.”

“In May, 1918,” she writes, we had our picnic at the school. Everything was flooded, across the roads, etc., couldn’t even walk to school that spring. Harvey took us on our picnic with a team.”

Such school picnics must have been the forerunner of the later school picnics I just barely remember from my early school days, when the entire school grades K-12 convened in the city park across the street from the big old brick school building for the end-of-the-year picnic.

One late May day when I was in second grade, I woke up very excited because it was the day for the school picnic, and I got to go. That is until my mom discovered the measles that had popped up on my belly overnight. So that was end of the school picnic for me that year, a tough blow for a second-grader with big plans for the last day of school.

Besides that, those same three-day measles meant I had to stay home from the first few days of Vacation Bible School, too, because it started the very next day. None of that was fair.

Now the school picnic has evolved to general last day mayhem, as far as I can tell from the kitchen of the middle school where I’m employed. Among other items brought in for the day for the students were games like air hockey, an inflated jumping pit, a photo booth, and lots of loud music.

All that is, of course, way different from the way Grandma’s country school observed the last day of school. But the last school day of the year will always be a time to celebrate.