"Through the Ampoule" ©David Braden, 2013

“Through the Ampoule” ©David Braden, 2013


Writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect.
Memoir is the study of memory, examining the zigzags of our life.

When my sister and I were growing up, picnics were a major kind of entertainment for my family. My parents and their “gang” of friends would go regularly to a park in Mission Valley, long before the hotels and Fashion Valley Mall and theaters were a glimmer in anyone’s eye. This park, narrow and long, shaded by eucalyptus and oleander, was tucked into a cliff that angled up, and was towered over by the Presidio, a Spanish style military fort, and an important landmark in San Diego’s history. The park wasn’t far from Old Town, then a sleepy, dusty mixture of adobe homes and small businesses, a Mexican culture filled with authentic food, music, and fiestas, a far cry from Old Town today.

This park was right off the highway that ran through the valley not too far from the Carnation Dairy where the cows filled the fields. For us, coming from the city neighborhood of North Park with stores, two movie theaters, and streetcars it was an adventure into a rural landscape. We would pile into our car, turn onto University Ave. and then onto Texas Street, a steep and narrow downhill road which prompted muted screams from my sister and me as my Dad steered our ‘37 Chevy, the gears protesting as he shifted down.

Sometimes everyone seemed to arrive at once, toting blankets, tablecloths and coolers filled with ice tea. If it were a holiday, someone would arrive early to “reserve” enough wooden tables to seat the 10 to 15 adults and children who would fill them. The adults would play horseshoes, and the children would race and hide and explore the unknown places, in search of something safely scary. We would return home full of hot dogs, potato salad, and watermelon, sunburned, and tired, ready for a cool bath as well as listening to Jack Benny on the radio.

Other favorite spots included Mission Beach where we would go in the summer, especially on July 4th and Labor Day, the last big picnic before the labor of school began. Here we would be with Mike, Nancy, and Bonnie, our cousins, and Uncle Johnny who we loved and Aunt Hank who we did not. Regardless, we had such fun playing in the waves, daring each other to “go on, dive in” and, as we grew older, body surfing. Crusted with salt and unavoidable sand, we would each grab a towel, dry off, and in the army blanket of privacy change uncomfortably into our shorts and blouses. My Dad and Uncle Johnny would build a bonfire for hot dogs and later marshmallows, always burned but delicious anyhow.

So, except for the beach, picnics in San Diego were pretty much a year- round event. As I entered adulthood, they were not so much for my family, although occasionally we would “picnic” at the Lafayette Reservoir, at Briones Park, and in our backyard with friends and family, but the memory is not so detailed or so rich with taste. This past summer, though, Richard and I once again experienced the Croatian Picnic, held annually in Roslyn, Washington, the 3rd Sunday in July. My husband has to warm up for this event, arriving three to four days ahead of time, revisiting the Turn Around and the #3 Tavern in Ronald, as well as the Sunset Restaurant/Cafe in Cle Elum, so much more upscale today then it was 50 years ago when I first came to the Upper County as a new bride. Then we would end our nights of #3 drinking or doing the same at The Brick or Slim’s in Roslyn by sliding through the door, grabbing a table by the window and ordering eggs, sausage and, just one more beer. Now, we had a sedate 8:00 dinner of salmon, vegetables, and mashed potatoes with brown gravy. I could hardly believe my eyes – salmon and mashed potatoes slathered with brown gravy on the same plate!

A warm-up Croatian Picnic on Saturday night featured a pig roast in honor of a Croatian couple and their daughter visiting relatives in Gobblers’ Gap. “Their mother and my mother were cousins ”explained the host. Understanding family relationships, tracking who is connected to whom, is valued knowledge in the Upper County, and Richard is a visiting scholar. People kept arriving all night. Tables with benches were arranged and soon jugs of homemade wine were brought out from the cellar. And of course the prerequisite slivovitz made the rounds. There was polka music and lots of singing. This area, home to Croatian immigrants from early in the 20th century, still celebrates its deep cultural roots with the food, the music and the language. Croatian swirled from group to group as the jokes grew raunchier under the skies flashing lightning, threatening rain.

Sunday’s annual Croatian Picnic was held, as usual, at the Roslyn Ball Park. The park was already filling with people, Croatian and otherwise, there for the polka band consisting of Italians and other non-Croats, for the beer from the Roslyn Brewery, homemade pigs -in -the blanket, Kielbasa sausages smothered in sauerkraut, and the community of friends, known and unknown. This year, for the first time, we had to buy tickets for beer and enter the gated tennis courts, picking it up and drinking the beer there, no longer able to go back out onto the grass to mingle with non-drinkers, although there aren’t many of those. I guess a new Washington State law finally has taken effect in Roslyn.

A few weeks later, the local paper’s front page headline 500 “vitched” at Croatian Picnic captured the joy of that day. The “vitch” is connected to most Croatian names. Some fifty years ago, when I had sent wedding announcements to Richard’s friends and relatives in the Upper County, the list was filled with “vitches”: Butkovitch, our best man, Starkovitch, my in-laws, Osmonovitch, Vlahovitch, and on and on! Many at the picnic were wearing t-shirts imprinted with I’m a son-of-a-vitch! The newspaper defined vitching or being vitched as kissing, hugging, dancing, eating, singing, and talking, talking, talking! Later that afternoon as we left for the Coast, the music was still playing in our hearts and the pigs-in-the-blanket were round in our mouths.

©Jan Bergamini, 2013

Jan Bergamini taught at Mt. Diablo High School from 1976-96. She discovered and fell in love with BAWP during that time and became a BAWP Consultant in 1991. She experimented with portfolios in her teaching and witnessed the power they could have in the classroom. Jan continues to write on an irregular basis and once a month meets with Bev Hansen, another BAWPER, to share  their writing and deepen their friendship through writing. It keeps us honest.

One Response to “Picnics by Jan Bergamini”

  1. I remember family picnics, as well. Hurray! Good work.

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