The Summer Picnic

Allison Hay © illustration of a picnic rug to go with our uplifting short story


Pippa’s favourite family tradition was being revived – but would she still be welcome?

No one remembered who had first had the idea, or why that particular location had been chosen, but for as long as Pippa could remember, there had been an annual family picnic held every summer in the country park outside the city.

The family in question, of course, was her husband Mike’s large and ever-expanding tribe. Pippa herself was an only child and had often thought one of the reasons she had married Mike had been because he came as a package deal with three sisters and numerous cousins.

The girls had all been bridesmaids at their wedding, the memories of which still made Pippa smile after all this time, despite how things had ended. And now, after almost twenty-five years, she still adored all three of them.

Funny, noisy, warm and welcoming, they had made clear to Pippa from day one that she was one of them now. The girls had allowed her to become like an extra sister during all the years of growing up, having babies, bringing up children and looking after elderly parents and relatives.

It was the kind of family Pippa had always dreamed of belonging to and so when she had first brought up the subject of divorce with Mike, after years of them just getting by in their marriage, her overriding concern wasn’t about the children – now grown up – or the house, but rather, whether she would still get to remain part of the family.

Mike had dismissed her concerns.

“Don’t be daft, Pip – of course you’ll still be part of the family. I’m pretty certain my sisters always preferred you to me!”

And now, several months after the divorce had been finalised, in an admittedly very civilised fashion, Pippa had spotted the announcement on the Facebook page belonging to Mike’s eldest sister:

Calling all members of the Grant family! The summer picnic is back up and running after a few years when it wasn’t possible. Hope to see you all on July 15th, any time after 12pm. Bring your own food, drink, blankets and, of course, babies!

Pippa had sighed as she read the post, remembering picnics past and family fun. There were different memories from each year, and she had photo albums documenting them all, but she still remembered all the details.

There were the huge sponge cakes she baked, layered with juicy strawberries, raspberries and thick double cream, that had to be balanced precariously on the knees of the most trustworthy child during the car journey; the blankets, bats, balls and bottles crammed into the car boot which somehow rolled around throughout the drive; the umbrellas, sun cream and sunglasses that were packed, covering every possible type of weather.

She remembered one of the busiest and best picnics, when her two had been in their early teens. The sun had shone all day long. At one point, as Pippa lay on the grass, chatting with Mike’s sisters, she’d counted all the family members who were in attendance – sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and friends – and realised with a laugh that there were actually twenty-seven of them in the sprawling group.

She was sure other members of the public must have looked at them and thought they were part of some kind of school outing! But no, it was just family. Pippa had cherished every outing they had together.

The problem now was that, technically, she was no longer family.

Mike was the youngest in his tribe, with the sisters a few years older, so when Pippa had first got to know them, they’d been loud, chatty and confident, whereas Pippa had been a shy teenager.

After the wedding, she’d been a newlywed when the sisters had all been new mums. Then when her first baby, Rory, had been born, his older cousins were ready-made babysitters who had delighted in taking care of him.

“Can I hold him now, Auntie Pip?” they’d pleaded when they came to visit, and had literally fought each other over the cuddly little boy.

“It’s my turn to take him on the swings!” or “Please can I take Rory for a walk, Auntie Pip?”

It had been bliss for Pippa, so tired and unsure of herself in those early days.

When Rory’s sister Rebecca had arrived, the cousins were even more mature and sensible, and of an age when they could actually babysit and nip to the shops for Pippa, proving invaluable as she struggled with two babies.

She’d so loved having a house full of youngsters over the years, with nieces and nephews forever dropping by to visit, or borrow something, or show off an award.

And then every year there was the summer picnic, a chance for the sisters, the cousins, the babies and the teenagers – plus Pippa – to spend a whole glorious day together, lounging in the sunshine, and eating and drinking and playing games.

As the years went by, Pippa had grown more confident in her abilities, both as a mother and a chef. The picnic food had become fancier – actual cheeseboards, stuffed sandwiches and those giant homemade sponge cakes!

The lunch was always followed by huge games of rounders and hide-and-seek, with the children in fits of laughter and the mums collapsing in exhausted heaps by the end of the day.

Now, though, Pippa’s two children were in their twenties and living away from home, meaning she no longer had anyone to take to the picnic.

Mike’s sisters, meanwhile, had added grandchildren and in-laws to their gangs, which left her feeling even more solitary.

Mike would tell her to go along, of course. But she felt embarrassed, awkward and a bit ashamed to face them all after the failure of her marriage.

And what if they were now Team Mike? He was their only brother, after all, whereas she was nothing more than a temporary addition to the family.

Pippa closed her laptop in the hope of putting the summer picnic out of her mind. She decided to go for a walk instead, since the sun was shining. She’d stop in at the supermarket on the way home to choose something for dinner. She was still getting used to cooking for one and invariably made far too much.

An hour later, she was in the fresh food aisle when she heard a voice.

“Auntie Pip! Auntie Pip, is that you?”

Turning, Pippa was delighted to see Amy, one of the many nieces, juggling a baby and a shopping basket, and looking slightly red-faced and flustered.

Pippa smiled. “Hi, sweetheart! It’s lovely to see you!”

Amy suddenly thrust her baby at Pippa.

“I’m so glad I’ve met you! Could you possibly hold Toby for me, just while I run to the loo?”

And with that she dashed off, leaving the baby in Pippa’s arms.

He stared at her with big blue eyes and Pippa prayed that he wouldn’t start screaming the place down! Still, it was lovely to hold a baby again and she began wondering when or if she might have a grandchild of her own.

Suddenly, Amy reappeared, looking much more relaxed.

“Thanks, Auntie Pip, you’re a lifesaver!” she said. “Toby seems to have taken quite a shine to you.”

The little boy was happy in her arms, smiling shyly. Pippa felt a fleeting sadness that she’d hardly met him before now.

“What are you up to just now?” Amy suddenly asked. “If you’ve got a spare half hour, do you fancy getting a coffee in the supermarket café? I just have to pay for this shopping first.”

Pippa almost laughed aloud. A spare half hour? She had days to spare, now that she was working part-time and had no children to look after.

She hugged Toby closer.

“Of course I can spare half an hour! Let’s get some cake as well.”

Over coffee, the two women chatted, laughed and reminisced, ate lemon drizzle cake and fussed over the baby, who sat on Pippa’s knee throughout.

“A bit of a role reversal here,” she remarked at one point, as she stroked Toby’s fluffy hair. “Remember how often you and your sisters looked after Rory and Rebecca for me?”

Amy smiled. “They were both such sweet babies – it was easy to look after them. Totally different from having one of your own, twenty-four hours a day!”

When the coffee cups were empty and the cake had disappeared, Toby began to grizzle slightly. Amy apologised and took him back from Pippa.

“He’ll be getting tired – I should get him home for his nap,” she said.

“Of course,” Pippa replied, already missing the warmth and the comforting weight of the baby in her lap.

Gathering up her bits and pieces, Amy suddenly turned back to Pippa.

“Oh, I almost forgot to mention! Did you see the Facebook announcement my mum put up?”

Pippa innocently shook her head, worried that the family would think she was stalking them.

“Lucky I bumped into you then!” Amy laughed. “It’s about the summer Pipnic.”

Pippa looked confused.

“The summer what?”

Amy giggled.

The summer Pipnic – that’s what we always called it when we were kids, since you were the one who made it all happen!

Pippa looked astonished.

“Me? I just tagged along with everyone else,” she said. “It was your mum and aunties who organised it all.”

Amy laughed. “You must be joking – they’re a shambles! Mum always said the family only began to function properly once you joined it. Before then, they were always bickering and falling out. You brought everyone together.”

“Did I? I had no idea.”

“Oh yeah, you were always the driving force, Auntie Pip!” Amy said as she propped Toby on her hip and slung her handbag over her shoulder.

“Remember all those amazing cakes and cheeseboards you made for the Pipnic, plus the big games of rounders you organised? And the way you always brought extra blankets to sit on, and made such a fuss of all the cousins!” Amy smiled warmly at her. “That’s why we’ve always called it the Pipnic.”

Pippa felt touched and humbled.

“We still talk about the Pipnics a lot, you know, even though we’re all grown up,” Amy said. “I’m so glad Toby and all his cousins will get the chance to be part of them, too, now.”

She leaned over and gave Pippa a big hug, almost squashing Toby.

“We’re so lucky to have you in the family, Auntie Pip! So we’ll see you on the fifteenth, then?”

Pippa swallowed back tears as she returned Amy’s hug and kissed Toby.

“I’ll be there. Though I’m not sure I’ll be able to transport a sponge cake with nobody to hold it in the car!”

Amy grinned. “Come in my car, with Toby and me. Then you can hold a cake on your knee for the journey!”

Pippa felt relief and happiness flood through her. It was all going to be OK. And she was going to the picnic after all! Family was about so much more than who you were married to or how many children you had. Finally she understood.

Read more uplifting short stories:

Read Open Mic Night, Old Friends, Curtains Up, plus many more in our archives.