It was hot and muggy and the bees wouldn't let you alone, but hundreds of senior citizens from all over Prince George's County didn't seem to mind.
They just sat in the shade of the tall trees in Watkins Regional Park on Wednesday, fanned themselves with newspapers and straw hats, and chatted, ate and gossiped with old friends and new.
The aromas of barbequed ribs and peanut butter sandwiches blended as the crowds swarmed around the Coke machines and watermelon stands provided for the groups. "I sure miss the hot dogs and hamburgers we had last year," said Clara Belair, 75, a Bowie resident and member of the Good Luck Senior Citizens Club. She allowed that the watermelon was delicious, however, as she sat with two of her friends, Margaret Kostulis, 72, and Helen Piper, 74, near the bandstand.
Kentucky Fried Chicken replaced more than one picnicker's hot dog this year as contributions to the picnic from a number of elected officials provided only drinks, fruit and ice cream. According to John Lally, press aide to county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., the county council cut funds for the senior citizens picnic this year from the Department of Aging budget. "It was a judgmental error," said Lally, "but next year the food will be there. Mr. Kelly was very upset over it."
Another guest at the picnic, Mrs. Clarence Jackson, said she knew of some people "who didn't have anything to eat. But we had more than enough to share with them."
Her husband, a member of the Lions Club of Bowie, seemed to think the "bring your own food" plan and the hot weather and early morning rain reduced the number of people attending this year. "But I've enjoyed it.A little weather don't bother me none," he added as he watched Mr. and Mrs. George Gantt from Pepper Mill Center play double solitaire.
Card games, bingo and square dancing filled the afternoon hours for many seniors. There weren't many "big winners" said Thelma Barr of the Langley Park Senior Center as she called out the numbers for several women intent on their bingo cards at one picnic table. "It's just nice to be with people," she said of the day.
And the bees - the Emergency Red Cross volunteers said at least nine people were stung by bees at the picnic. "It's the Coke and pop that attracts them," said Bob Killen, a volunteer firemen with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department No. 2 in Largo. Scores of bees hung around the drink stands, alighting in the orange and brown liquid, causing trouble. Killen put opened capsules of smelling salts on the coolers to chase them away, but they returned undaunted.
Politicians also were in prominence, doing what politicians do best, listening to their constituents, getting names, getting ideas. Many senior citizens wanted to know about county plans for more bus transportation, the senior citizen rent credit and a local in-county supplier for Metro fare cards. They wanted abandoned cars towed away from their front yards and wanted to talk about taxes.
But mostly it was a day for sitting, listening passing the time. Asked if he and his friends were having a pleasant afternoon, George Anderson, 75 and a member of the College Park Senior Citizens Club, replied, "Sure, that's what we came here for."
It was a thought echoed by many that day - and with smiles.