A number of years ago when my children were still very young, David and I had promised them a picnic at their favorite park. On the designated Saturday afternoon, we packed our lunches and headed out. When we arrived at the park, we initially set up at a table behind a huge ramada that was still empty because the clouds and the cold breeze had shown up about the same time we pulled in. We noticed that about half the tables in the ramada were covered with plastic tablecloths, and somewhere somebody was cooking hamburgers. There was also a sign that featured the name of a local church, and the words “Picnic today. All are welcome.”
We assumed that the picnic must be scheduled for later in the day because there was nobody there.
Seated at our table just outside the ramada, we began eating our lunch, only to have the cold mist turn into a decidedly colder steady rain. My younger son, who was perhaps two years old, started to cry. I scooped him up, and led the other two children who weren’t much older to a table just inside the ramada, all the way in the back far from any potential action that might occur, but that was under the roof and out of the rain. I said to our three little kids, “You finish your sandwiches here where it’s dry.”
They began to eat again, and David and I sat with them to try to cheer them up about their cold and rainy picnic. All of a sudden, a woman bustled over. She said, “You will have to leave. Right now.”
I said, “We’re almost finished. What is the problem?”
She responded, “We have reserved the ramada today for a church picnic and you’re trespassing.”
I looked around and said, “We’re the only ones here. And the sign says, ‘All Are Welcome.’ ”
However, she was not deterred. And she repeated again, more insistently (although there was nobody there to hear her but us), “You will have to leave. We have the ramada reserved for today.”
My children watched her strut way, and my daughter asked, “Are we the wrong people, Mom?”
I replied, “Absolutely not.” But my throat was tight.
So, we gathered up the carrot sticks and the half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches — and our three babies — and set out to walk back to the parking lot and retrieve our car. When I heard somebody running behind me to catch up, I turned to face a man who said, “Please come back. I’m the pastor, and you are welcome to sit at the table and let your children eat.”
I replied, “I thank you for your concern, but we wouldn’t be any more welcome now than we were a few moments ago. And I would rather sit in the car with my kids where they can have a little dignity with their peanut butter.”
He nodded his head, and said, “I understand. The church ladies often forget that people are what’s important, and not the rules that frequently don’t matter anyway.”
I said to him, “Please do me one favor. Take down the sign that says ‘All Are Welcome.’ It’s misleading. And if another family tries to keep their kids from getting wet, let them have the table you were going to let us use after all. I think you’ll find there’s still plenty of room.”
I shook his hand, and got into the car. He stood and watched us pull away, and my three little kids waved to him as we left. David and I found a quiet spot on a little road in another section of the park, and the kids ate their sandwiches in the car under a big tree. The rain continued to fall, so we decided to go to the library.
As we left the park, we drove past the ramada. There were exactly three tables occupied out of the 50 or so that had been reserved. The one in the back where we had been sitting was still empty.