Family Picnic

It was after a long week of anticipation that the family prepared, early one Saturday morning, to depart for a picnic in the countryside. The entire family — except for the grandmother, who was ill — set about loading the car with picnic baskets, packing away tanning lotion, insect lotion, floppy sun hats, small toys, and the rest of the supplies required for a proper weekend picnic.

“This is a perfect day for a picnic,” said the father.

“Yes, it’s like the first day of spring,” said the mother.

Once everything was in the car, the family went up to say goodbye to the grandmother and express regret that she would have to stay in the house all day while they were outside enjoying the unseasonably good weather.

Suzy, the littlest child, was the first into the grandmother’s room. She smelled something odd and noticed that her grandmother’s complexion was paler than usual, but, undaunted, she bounded over and gave the stiff corpse a big hug.

When they heard Suzy’s cries, the entire family hurried to the attic room in which the grandmother had lived. The father, whose mother she had been, handled the situation calmly: he led everyone downstairs, opened the curtains and windows, called the funeral home and set the mother to the task of explaining to Suzy what it means for someone to be dead (the explanative process involved drawing parallels to dearly departed frogs and goldfishes).

The family called off their picnic plans. They didn’t go to the country-side, didn’t eat the sandwiches they had prepared especially for the picnic, didn’t play in the sunshine; they didn’t get burned by the sun or bitten by insects, nor did they swim in a pond or run across a field. Instead, they waited for the hearse to arrive and take away the grandmother’s body.

It was only later, in bed that night, that the father started laughing. His wife looked at him as if he were mad and asked him what was so funny.

“She had her own way right to the end: instead of staying home while we went out, she went out while we stayed home.”

This entry is part of my journal, published February 10, 2005, in New York.