In addition to being Dairy Month, June is also the core of the picnic season. There are over 100 church-related picnics yearly and a good many of them occur in June through August. So please attend at least one local picnic and then plan a trip to a new one.
By Gary E. McKee
To a visitor from Elsewhere, USA, the idea of a picnic might conjure up images of plaid blankets on the ground with a wicker basket of cold food beside a lake containing a canoe and a delicate lady shading herself with a parasol as a gentleman tries to woo her by playing his accordion. Well pardner, come on down to the Polka Belt, and be prepared to immerse yourself into the alphanumeric drone of Bingo, an auctioneer’s rapid fire patter, the clinking of plastic rings on liters of soda water, the enticing smell of homemade food cooking, the alternating rhythms of polka bands, and the delightful sound of laughter as friends and family reunite in a yearly homecoming.
The summer picnic season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend with a few picnics scattered on both sides to symbolize more agrarian times of the year, i.e. planting and harvest times. The term "picnic" is an anachronism from days of old bringing to mind the first image above without fire-ants. While church fundraisers dominate the picnic calendar, many organizations have sponsored them.
Father Ed Karasek was raised attending picnics from probably day one as his parents were in charge of making the potato salad at the Frenstat picnic. His early memories were of playing the Teddy Bear wheel trying to win one. The ball/bottle throw was a popular booth with a winner getting either a cigar or pack of gum depending upon the winner’s age. The Gil Baca or Sil Krenek Bands provided the music. This is where the “Dancing Priest” learned to polka. A “community builder” is how Fr. Ed describes the church picnic, bringing families together and providing entertainment for the kids. Now tending to his primarily Hispanic flock in Lockhart at St. Mary of the Visitation, Fr. Ed is heavily involved in their yearly picnic, named Jamaica, now in its 40th year of food, music and fellowship. This year's picnic will be held July 24 and 25.
Let’s go back a few years and take a brief look at picnics, bazaars, and celebrations to see how they have evolved. In September of 1902 the Texasky Mir, No. 10 S.P.J.S.T. Lodge of Shiner held a Feast and Picnic in Hilderbrandt’s Park with children’s games being the prominent feature of the day, along with “Orators of Repute delivering address on Questions of Vital Interest to Our People.”
Politicians utilized these large gatherings of voters to campaign and connect with the “common” people. At some picnics literately thousands of people would stand in the weather (generally hot) and listen to the politicians for hours, an inconceivable event nowadays. Not all were on Sundays as the S.P.J.S.T. lodge of Snook announced that it will give a picnic on Easter Monday, April 8, 1912 at their new hall.
The Brenham St. Peter’s Church held a picnic in May of 1915, with wagons transporting those wishing to attend to the “beautiful spot adjoining the Giddings place about one mile north of town. The members of the Women’s Guild have charge of the picnic and will take care of the children who wish to attend without their parents. All members of the Sunday school and congregation are expected (editor’s emphasis) to go and take their friends if they wish.”
Picnic during the week
The Schwertner (NW of Granger) Biennial Picnic in June of 1936 was a community happening that was held on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Among the bands performing those two days were Joe Buzze’s Orchestra of Waco, and Louis Welk’s Eleven Piece Orchestra. Two years later the Shimek Brass Band performed. The July 4th weekend of 1926 was a busy period, as it is now, in the Fayette County area, picnic and celebration wise. Hostyn’s feast hosted one of the largest political gatherings in Texas as Governor “Ma” Ferguson and Farmer Jim Ferguson were scheduled to speak. With a noon vehicle count of 3,300 vehicles, the crowd was estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 folks, the Schulenburg Sticker reported. The crowd stood for hours in the sun listening to the Ferguson speeches.
Politicians and baseball
Dubina’s celebration drew several thousand people to hear a well received political speech by Senator Gus Russek (Schulenburg) and Method Pazdral, a former local attorney of Czech origin. The Ammansville Snappy Orchestra played a dance that was attended by 2000 people with 300 tickets being sold to young men. From what this writer can deduce from the ads, during this time period, to actually dance, a ticket was needed, while some venues sold a lesser price ticket for “spectators” as one ad put it, People traveled to see Shiner play Schulenburg in baseball, hear Governor Dan Moody talk, and dance that evening to “most excellent band music” in Shiner.
Two weeks later High Hill had a feast that kicked off with the Blessing of the new Parish House by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Drossaerts of San Antonio followed by solemn High Mass. Afterwards a grand chicken and barbecue dinner was served by the ladies of the parish. That afternoon speeches by various politicians will be given followed by a baseball game between Dubina and High Hill. Concert Music was provided by the Ammansville Brass Band and singing by the High Hill Mannerchor. In the evening The High Hill Dramatic Club provide entertainment, accompanied by the previous band and choir (no dance.)
June of 1959, St. Martin’s Parish, in Tours (NE of Waco) held a “Fun for Everyone” picnic with “Something for Everyone to do - All Afternoon and Evening – Ride the Train – Play Games – SUPPER SERVED 4:30 to 9PM – Fried Chicken, Roast Beef and Baked Ham;” that evening Slim Haisler and His Play Boys of Temple provided the dance music.
Don't just drive thru
While the picnic format has evolved into the fairly formulaic state, that is, church service, meal, and then simultaneously live music, games for children, Bingo, a long auction, and family visiting; it has changed from an event on any day or days of the week to a Sunday for six to eight hours, with a few exceptions like the St. John Fourth of July Picnic and the Prazska Pout (Praha Feast) always held August 15 on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The Fourth of July Picnic at the S.P.J.S.T. hall in West was discontinued in 1966 due to diminishing crowds. Air-conditioning, television, and newly built lakes nearby were to blame, the West News opined. In the pre-automobile days, crowds would gather in town and led by a band march en masse to the picnic grounds. While picnics seem to still attract a large number of folks, it is my observation that the drive-through dinner option of picnics, while increasing the financial income, has diminished the communal bonds that the picnics have built up over the years.
So, please support your local picnic, whether it be in Seguin, Dubina, Wallis, Frenstat, Granger, Shiner, Stoneham, Ennis, Cyclone, or Houston. And please park your vehicle and make new friends or discover extended family members. Check out the listing of Church Picnics at polkabeat.com.