Saturday, February 16, 2008


My father had the idea that his family should be independent, providing for themselves, with no need to frequent grocery stores to supplement what a good farm could provide. As a result, he resented the fact that my mother bought such staples as flour and sugar. There was no need, he thought, to use flour when corn meal was available, and he tried to substitute honey for sugar.

He located bee trees by using a bee box. I had never heard of a beebox until my father showed me the one he used. It is simply a box with an opening in front that can be closed by a sliding door. He had built the box himself and it did a good job in locating the trees where honey bees made their homes.

A little sugar would be put inside the box and, when a bee came to investigate, you would slide the door shut. Then, after a certain length of time, you would open the door and allow the bee to fly homeward, laden with sugar. Then all you had to do was walk in the direction that the honey bee flew, for they always fly in a straight line... making "a beeline" to their hives.

Then Pop would build a a bonfire beneath the tree, in a spot where the smoke would reach the hive. The bees, of course, would go into a panic. Their main purpose was to save the Queen. I would always feel sorry for the honey bees at this point, but Pop was determined to get the honey.

I would imagine the Queen bee safe in her Hive Palace, catered to by all of her knaves and slaves. The smoke would filter through the hive and the alarm would sound. The Queen would be utterly helpless in saving herself. Her workers and drones would buzz around her. Finally, a handsome bee worker would snatch her into his arms and carry her away. This heroic fellow saved the Queen and, when a new home was found, would be dubbed King.

When the bees had vacated their home and became wandering Homeless bees in search of another hollow tree, Pop would take the honey from the smoked- out hive and carry it home. Then Mom would strain the honey through large pieces of cheesecloth into big china crocks.

The trouble is, that honey was never completely clear of debris from the hives and pieces and parts of dead bees. To this day, I never eat honey without keeping an eye out for a bee head or a stray part of a wing or a leg. The existence of these bee parts caused me to reject honey, period, and Pop never could understand my reluctance. He would tell me that honey was far better for me than white sugar and that I could just pick out the parts and the honey would be clear. However, no matter how I inspected that spoonful of honey, I could imagine eating the head of a bee, brain and all. I wasn't sure that eating a beebrain was good for me at all! It was definitely enough to silence my sweet tooth and campaign for "storebought" sugar.

One way to get Pop to allow a few groceries into the house was to tell him the "Aints" were visiting. The "Aints" were his sister, Aint Dorrie, and his sisters-in-law, Aint Nellie, Aint Stellie, Ain't Dellie and, I'm not sure, there may have been an Aint Jellie. In lower Illinois, which is where Pop was born and raised, they never pronounced the word "Aunt." It was always "Aint" and always that "ie" was tacked to the names. Pop was their beloved brother, Johnnie, and you could do nothing better than look like him.

Aint Dorrie was the stern judge, with big all-knowing eyes and a thick, rather rotund figure. She pronounced Helmie as looking like Mom, but I passed the test as "Johnnie's girl!" This pleased me no end, for my triumphs over Helma were few, so I basked in Aint Dorrie's favor. As for the rest of the Clan, Aint Dorrie pronounced them all "out of hand" and blamed this upon Mom, whom she said allowed the kids to "run all over her." Except for me, of course, the privileged Johnnie's girl!

I hardly remember Aint Dellie and Aint Stellie, who were very quiet and just sat around, watching the circus around them. Aint Nellie, however, was a firm disciplinarian, enough to even make Ronald, Donald and Richard behave themselves. Ain't Nellie had huge dark eyes behind glasses so thick it was like looking at her through soda pop bottles. She had white hair and a large frame and, when she smiled, it was as though an electric light bulb had lit a darkened room. She didn't smile much around us kids, though, because we were always engaged in some tumultous, noisy tomfoolery. The quiet one was Richard, who always tried to keep the noise down, but Ronald didn't care and Donald was a roustabout, with Charlie..or Junior as we called him..the rowdiest one of all, ignoring the fact that his mother was always worried about his damaged heart.

Aint Dorie would make a few attempts to quiet us down and never failed to report our activities to Mom, which was about as useless as you could imagine. To Mom, none of her kids or grandkids ever did anything wrong.....ever! A little noise must have been music to her ears, for she never complained about it.

It is strange because she was not a demonstrative woman. She never pulled a child onto her knee or stopped to give him or her a hug. She left all of that to Pop, who would allow children to climb all over him and would laugh as though he were having a boisterous good time. Mom was always busy in the kitchen, either cooking for one meal or cleaning up after another, and she didn't seem to have time for fun. Yet she never voiced a complaint about a child's behavior and never said a word to correct one, no matter how blatantly mischievous the deed. If we became too overwhelmed with our wrestling around, she might plead with us in a voice that combined a whine with a prayer, "Now, kids, quiet down a little bit!" but there was never anger in her voice.

At four o'clock in the morning, when Sissy and I were still bouncing around, giggling about boys, mooning over movie star photos, singing popular songs, Mom would come to the bottom of the stairs in her billowing old-lady nightgown and plead, "Girls, please go to sleep!" We never failed to ignore that request and would sometimes go out on a pre-dawn walk, still giggling, still defiantly staying awake, still intent on our girlish fun.

Thinking back, I wonder at my parent's passive attitude toward all of these kids, their own children, their children's children, piles of children romping about, doing as children do, playing, fighting, singing, dancing, always self-absorbed, with no concern for those adults around them. How many of us could bear this mob of children without having a breakdown of sorts, perhaps collapsing into wild and mournful sobs, perhaps picking up a log and chasing the nearest juvenile into the nearest shrub, perhaps threatening suicide, or homicide, one or the other? They remained calm. They never shouted or became enraged. Noise and children were a part of their lives and they accepted this without complaint.

So, when the Aints went home, with Aint Dorrie shaking her head over the antics of the children and declaring that "Daisy sure don't know how to handle her family," we would have precious groceries for our table for a while afterward, soft loaves of bread, sugar, Jello, boxed cereal, manna from Heaven to replace the home-canned fruit and constant servings of corn. Then it would all be consumed and we would be back to prodding Pop into a trip to the grocery store.

We never became self-sufficient, as Pop thought we should, but we came pretty close to it. When a Wheaties box serves as a window pane, that's pretty darned self-sufficient. When several pails are placed under leaks in the roof, that's even more self-sufficient. To this day, I hate the thought of self-sufficiency, preferring to buy out grocery stores, hand the plumbing and electrical jobs over to professionals who know what they are doing, and be completely dependent upon others for my existence. Pop would cringe at the thought, but self-indulgence beats self-sufficiency every time!