The View From Here: Babstvo

Volodymyr Kish.

Some forty years ago back in 1976, my wife got together with Annie and Olya, two of her dear friends from her formative years at the University of Toronto, and they organized a picnic. It was held at a conservation area north of Toronto, and on the surface, it was nothing particularly special. Both my wife and her friend Olya were recently married, while Annie was still unattached.

Although I do not recall all the specifics, I believe we barbecued some kobassa, which was undoubtedly accompanied by potato salad, pickles and several bottles of inexpensive wine, which because of the restrictive attitudes of the time, were kept discreetly out of sight and their contents dispensed into inconspicuous paper cups. What none of us realized at the time, was that this would be the first of forty consecutive annual get-togethers that have lasted until this past weekend, when we celebrated the fortieth anniversary of that first picnic.

Somewhere along the line, these three inseparable friends acquired the collective name of “The Babstvo”, and ever since, these annual reunions have been known as The Annual Babstvo Picnics. Over the past decade, most of these picnics have actually been held indoors, as they moved from being informal summer outings to inside feasts held usually in the fall that have rotated amongst the three households involved.

It must be said that the nature and content of this annual event has changed and adapted as our personal circumstances evolved over the years. Initially they were an opportunity for three couples to get together in the open air and indulge in some sport and recreation, while partaking of some simple to prepare food and drink. In the 1980’s and 90’s, we were all blessed with progeny, and consequently the picnic became centered around the kids, and keeping them fed, occupied and out of trouble. Eventually the kids grew up and lost their interest in such affairs, so they reverted to being adult only events.

From that point on, the character of the picnic also changed dramatically. Technically, it no longer qualified as a picnic since we started hosting these events at each other’s houses, and depending on the time of year and weather, they were held either indoors or in the backyards. By then, most of the ladies in question, as well as some of us husbands, had acquired significantly more adventurous and capable culinary skills and palates. Our tastes in the libations department had also been upgraded, and we had graduated from domestic beer and cheap plonk, to imported suds, good wine and some choice whiskeys, cognacs and liqueurs.

At this latest “picnic” for example, the menu included Portuguese cod cakes, a Provencale seafood stew, a goat cheese smothered in a dried tomato and black olive tapenade, a Greek salad, Czech knedle dumplings smothered in goulash, and decadent Italian cannoli for dessert. All this was washed down with some fine Czech pilsner or Italian Peroni lager, Italian Prosecco sparkling wine and a Croatian pear liqueur that accompanied the dessert

The topics of conversation over the years have also closely reflected the stage in life we were then in. In the early years, talk usually centered around our future hopes, our careers, our favourite restaurants and forms of entertainment. Once kids came along and until they their reached their teens and faded from the picture, parental issues and family challenges were front and center. In recent years, the conversation has turned more to the travails of old age and retirement, the state of the world, and the joys of grandchildren. In many ways, our annual picnic has mirrored our evolution from newly minted adults, through married life, parenting, career progression, reaching maturity, and lately our graceful transitioning into retirement and grandparenthood.

What hasn’t changed in the slightest in those forty years however, is the nature of that friendship that was first formed those many years ago. We still enjoy each other’s company, and these “picnics” are one of the highlights of our social year. All our lives have had their ups and downs, and our paths through life have not always been serene and untroubled, but we are all still together, and while we still have our health and a reasonably rational mental state, we will continue to indulge in this delightful annual tradition.