Ron Walker: Picnics then and now |

Ron Walker: Picnics then and now

When I was just a toddler in Hollywood, my folks would gather aunts, uncles, flocks of cousins and we’d all head down to the Pacific Palisades in Santa Monica. The Palisades are several hundred feet above the ocean and you can see all the way to Malibu. It was a perfect place for a picnic and laid out with great care. Some civil servant found a way to hook up gas burners in a waist-high concrete enclosure. You could heat up the beans, fry potatoes, and do any cooking you wanted too.

Lots of horsin’ around went on before we all jumped in a car and started for the beach. One time, as soon as we arrived everyone was asking, “Who brought little Ronny?” Come to find out, no one did. They left me sitting in my highchair. My dad drove back home and there I was, still in my highchair. Ever since then I don’t take going to a picnic for granted.

Shirley rode up from Smith Valley with Orllyene and me for the Annual Hunewill Fourth of July Picnic. Shirley’s husband, Bill, passed away recently, and we sure miss him. Bill was the Will Rogers of Smith Valley. He loved to tell stories about his younger days and they were all true. Here’s one: “My family rode from job to job harvesting crops. Sometimes it was grapes sometimes oranges, anything that needed picking. I had two older brothers who rode rough shod over me and I always had to sit between them in the back seat of our old Hudson. Over and over, I’d sit there, squeezed in between them. One day I asked how come I never got a window seat. They said, “Billy it’s this way, you being as young as you are, if you stuck your head out the window, your hair would come clean off, and mom would give us a lickin’.” Never once did I get to sit next to the window.

Here’s another: “My family camped out at night, sometimes in a park or behind a billboard. Well, I met a friend from school and he invited me over to his house for dinner. When we all sat down at the kitchen table, I looked across the room and there was a door to the bathroom. I thought that was awful unsanitary. All I’d ever used was an outhouse.”

When Bill and Shirley got married, he had to convince her that becoming a helicopter pilot was a good idea. Turns out he was the first helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles, County Fire Department. When they moved to Smith Valley, Shirley let Bill indulge himself and get an airplane. Bill used to dip his wings to Orllyene and me when he flew our way.

Now it’s Shirley’s turn to indulge herself. She misses Bill like the dickens, but she is doing great. She and her sister are planning to take a train trip across Canada.

Friendships, story-telling and picnics are Nature’s way of saying slow down, and as hot as it is, slowing down is a very good idea. Stay cool.

Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at