It was a Sunday in August, the day dawning damp and cool, signaling a shift from the dry and smoky weeks of July.
It was time for our annual summer picnic. We’d paid attention to the weather reports and booked the picnic shelter in serene and remote Allco Park in east Maple Ridge to host our al fresco shindig.
My husband and I, and our friend Fred Armstrong and his boy, arrived early at the park to set up an eight-quart crockpot full of chili and an urn of strong black coffee.
While many people locally know Fred as the communications director for the City of Maple Ridge, what many don’t know is that he is an outstanding cook, renowned for his homemade pies and desserts, and a picnic enthusiast extraordinaire.
Fred unloaded potato salad, a panful of peach-blueberry crisp and another of strawberry squares, along with a cooler full of hot corn-on-the-cob fresh from the fields in Chilliwack.
His tall and ever-growing son and I set about hanging bunting and spreading tablecloths preparing for the 20 or so friends and family travelling from White Rock, Abbotsford, Mission and the Tri-Cities to join us.
Our first small crisis occurred when we couldn’t get the electrical running from the park’s power box. We didn’t know it, but it was a sign of things to come. It meant no hot coffee and lukewarm chili.
Ever valiant, Fred offered to drive out to the local Tim Horton’s for boxes of coffee, while hubby packed up the crockpot and took it home to heat.
Shortly after they left, our first guests, the Crockers of Port Coquitlam arrived. Then, nothing. Birds chirped, the odd dog-walker strolled by. The Alouette River burbled damply in the background.
A beep and a text on the smartphone. Our dear ones, their cars stuffed with children, folding chairs, salads, chicken and more cakes were stranded on the other side of a downed power line and a blown transformer.
We were stranded in Allco Park. Fred and my husband were marooned with coffee and a potful of hot chili on the roadside. A long wait was promised by B.C. Hydro.
A party divided against itself cannot stand. Or can it?
Arrangements made via cellphone, Maple Ridge friends opened their big house and hearts and invited our stranded out-of-towners for an impromptu potluck, and hubby hiked down a somewhat treacherous trail by foot to join us in the park.
We ate, played cards, chatted, and regularly checked our smartphones for updates. The afternoon progressed and we began posting pictures to one another – from one picnic to the next via our Facebook Event group and Messenger.
Eventually, the power lines were cleared and Fred got through with the coffee. He finally had his picnic lunch at 4 p.m. and we shared second dessert.
Packing up, I was grateful for the connectivity that allowed us to stay in touch, knowing all were safe, if separate. We shared our picnics via Facebook, but we shared our love via the abundance of food, good cheer, adaptability and generosity of friends.