From the present vantage point of our experience in this day of modern living, and age of automation, where for entertainment and pleasure, the child, or youth of today has the advantage of autos, movies, radio, television, community clubs, summer camps, motor boats, and various other forms of amusement, memory turns the page and reveals our own records of fifty or sixty years ago, of how without the advantage of the above modern aids to pleasure, we amused ourselves.
Many of the pages we quickly turn over, as memory doesn't lie: the black and the white being imprinted with equal clarity, and in passing, it might be observed, that hellery is not the sole monopoly of the present day generation.
One of the sponsored events for our pleasure, was the annual Sunday School jaunts, or picnics, which took top priority, as the event of the year. To qualify to participate, one had of course to belong to a particular church or denomination, and as each held their won at different times during the summer, although after the same pattern, gate crashing was almost on par with highway robbery; so let us try to picture such a memorable event.
Those of use who had been lax in our attendance during the year, a few weeks prior to the event, would see to it that we diligently attended Sunday School in order to establish our rating as conscientious adherents, but I must admit this phony didn't fool the regulars, as many the pointed looks and caustic remarks, would greet ones first appearance and one had to do a bit of inner squirming when one would overhear, with an inclination of the head in his direction, the loud whisper, "He is getting ready for the jaunt" and knowing the accusation was true didn't help matters either. To deny the charge would only make one more conspicuous, so it was best to suffer in silence, making a mental note however, that there would be harsh reprisals once the jaunt was over.
The big day arrives, we had been briefed, groomed, and dressed in our Sunday best, the older ones admonished to look after the younger, and we were all set. The site for the picnic, chosen some time in advance, being some well known spot on the sea shore a few miles away.
We would assemble in the vicinity of the church, with a tin cup, or tinny, as it was called, tied to the button-hole of our jacket, this was for the tea or milk which would be served along with the eatables during the day. Transportation was in the form of horse and carts; the carts washed and scrubbed, the floor covered with nice clean straw, with well-stuffed bags of straw laid along the inside for seats, and provided by the farmer adherents of the church, or graciously supplies by any farmer when the need arose.
The highlight of the day was the arrival of the horse and carts from all directions and converging on the chosen location, usually some spot adjacent to the church. This in itself, even in the present day would be worthwhile going to see, even if one had to, as likely, pay an admission fee for the privilege.
This was a day for the farm boy, or hired servant, a day to exhibit all his skill and care in grooming, and pride in his turn-out. The horses; coats shining, hooves blackened, their manes and tails braided and interlaced with bright coloured ribbons; their harness polished and adorned with ornaments such as tiny, silver bells on the high peaked collars, which swung and tinkled with every movement of the horse, ornamental head pieces, silver buckles which flashed in the sunlight - mostly the property of the servant boy himself. The eager surging strength of the great high-spirited Clydesdales, many of whom had often graced the show rings and being conditioned for this special occasion, were dancing and chomping at the bit, eager to get started; were a picture of beauty and a sight long to be remembered.
The honour of leading the parade, was usually given to the best turned-out horse and cart. How this was done without giving offence to the others, could be safely left to those canny Presbyterian elders; who marshaled the parade, who, perhaps while commending one on his splendid turn-out, failed to notice another slip past and take his place at the head of the line.
The carts were then loaded, starting from the front and when all were taken care of, the signal to move off would be given, and the restive horses released, would break away in a lumbering trot, to the music of a cheering, singing crowd of children, who, by this time through that their own horse was the finest animal in the world.
On arrival at the picnic ground, the advance party, which had left some time ahead of the parade; with what we would call the chuck wagon, would have large urns of tea and cans of milk, together with lunch, all ready to serve. The children, you well remember, had their tin cups, would then line up and get them filled with milk or tea, and with a bun or cake, retire to a convenient place to satisfy their hunger. Refills could be had in the same manner; but not too often, as one would be subjected to that cold scrutiny, which intimated - "once more my little man and you will get a kick in the ass for an encore, for being such a hog".
After lunch the sports program would get underway which include all the usual forms of amusement, with races for all in the different age groups. It was in one of these events that I disgraced myself. In the last race was a lad by the name of Bobby Cook, a good runner; but at that time I was trained to a hair, by the simple process of never had too much to eat and could propel my skinny body at a decent clip with a minimum of energy.
We got lined up for the race, and were off; Bobby taking a quick lead, with me close behind. Halfway down the course I pulled along side to pass him, and for a kid he knew all the dirty angles; he started to flail out with his elbows and I was forced to fall back. I tried again only to get and elbow in the face. Once was enough, but twice was too much. I dropped back a pace and neatly clipped the feet out from under him. Bobby one the race, but he rolled like a shot rabbit for the last twenty feet. To the spectators, who didn't see what Bobby had done to me, for the rest of the day and for some time afterwards, I was that dirty little bugger, "Willie Peden".
It was this incident which led to another, one of the biggest fights in which the whole school took part. Bobby and I again being the principles. The battle ground - May Young's field - and the time, as soon as we got out of school at 4 p.m. - had been selected by our promoters a few days ahead of time, so that needless to say, we had a large attendance.
Bobby and I had only exchanged a few punches, when one of his supporters landed a stiff one on my jaw. Hugh immediately upended him, and he in turn got flattened. Tom McEwan quickly attended to Hugh's assailant, and from then on it was a free for all. I get quite a chuckle even writing about it. Father, and Bobby's father were great fishing buddies, and it was to him when Dad left for Canada, the he donated his fishing rod and tackle.
But to get back to the picnic, after the sports program, there was an hour or two in which we could prowl around to our hearts content, wading in the water, or clambering in and out of the fisherman's boats with the smell of fish and tarry ropes - finished up a perfect day.
It was on such a picnic, some years later, that about a dozen children got into an old boat, which drifted out and sank; drowning them all before help could reach them.
Now it was time to assemble, the checking and rounding up of the stragglers, the final loading and were were off for home. The horses rested, and with a good feed of oats on mind, took their loads of tired children home in short order.
So ended a happy day. No money spent, lots of fun, no casualties, only perhaps Jock, who waited to long before heeding natures call. Today I am told they still have similar jaunts and picnics, going further afield by train and bus, but I doubt if they will experience a greater thrill than we who rode in a straw filled cart behind a horse kicking up his heels, for the very joy of living, almost 70 years ago.