Friday, December 29, 2006

Home for the Bees [CCR]

Mom and Dad always kept farm animals around, partly for our education and partly to fulfill some family needs. Dad gathered some old logs and built a barn in a small pasture behind our house. We also had a lower pasture where the animals could graze. There are many tales I can share about the cows, horses, and goats. But the one critter that comes to mind today are the bees.

Throughout my childhood our family had an interest in bee keeping. Mom told me that Dad acquired a hive of bees last summer who decided to move into one of the old bee hives on their own accord. Dad had given up bee keeping for some years now, but I don’t think the bees have given up on Dad. That was the assumption until Dad checked the new residents out for their share of honey. The bees had honey in their own section but had chosen to not fill the sections of the hive where Dad collects the honey. They have taken advantage of a free residence.

As a child I can remember the family gathering at Granddaddy Daily’s house for robbing a bee tree. Wild bees built their homes in the hollow areas of trees. Someone in the family might see some bees gathering the pollen for their day’s work and they followed the bees back to their hive in the tree. You might think it cruel, but those bees could find a new home. The family’s intention was to cut the tree and rob the honey. In these cases the stance of the bees towards the robbers was purely random. Sometimes we came upon bees who forfeited their collection easily. Other times we had a rather interesting fight for the honey. The brave entered the battle with only a smoker and a loose fitting bee hat. The others taped down and sealed themselves from the possible onslaught. After the tree came down and the honey gathered, the wives often treated the wounded from the battle and processed the loot.

Dad decided to build bee hives at the house that were both accommodating for the bees permitted the humans to collect a share for their good. Thus began a working relationship that lasted many years at our home. At first the hives sat in the yard near the house. My sister and I suffered the occasional bee sting when we unintentionally interrupted the workers from their chores. Later Dad moved the hives down to the lower pasture which provided a safer distance for the humans. However, it took only one bump of a hive by one pony for the animals to quickly discover their new associates in the pasture. The animals gained a new respect for each other and shared territories for the remainder of my childhood years.

In the summer Dad would dress up in his bee visitation attire and carry the old smoker down to the hives to gather our share of the honey which we considered the rent. He lost his help from me as a small child when a bee helped us discover that cotton gloves weren’t the best choice for bee visitations. Dad would bring the racks of golden honey to the house where Mom used knives to cut away the liquid filled comb. In our house honey comb was considered a luxury, but many people who came by to get a quart of our harvest often preferred the honey strained from the comb. And thus we replenished our supply of sweetener for another year.

Dad became quite renown in bee keeping and often received a call to retrieve a rogue swarm from an unwelcome location. Our collection of hives grew to over a dozen at one time. But as my sister and I left for our own adventures Dad slowly retired from the hobby. It seems his new tenants want Dad to revive the sideline. I have a small piece of advice for the new residents. If they wish to retain the nice quarters and Dad’s watchful protection they should pay the rent. Once again the house will be buzzing with the commotion of collecting sweet golden honey.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Family Holiday [CCR]

Christmas automatically triggers memories of families and hopefully your memories glow brightly to cheer up our short winter nights. I often recall the many family gatherings around the glittering Christmas trees and the joy of us children excited over the packages under the tree. Looking back I don’t think the contents of the package mattered. Being included in family mattered most. Each generation initiates traditions merged from past traditions. It is one of the many mystical dynamics of marriage.

At the Smith house we carried a tradition seen in many families. The cousins drew names, mostly with the help of our parents, several weeks before Christmas. I don’t think we really knew who had our name until we gathered with the packages piled under the tree. We gleefully scrutinized every wrapped surprise to the extent allowed by our parents. Who had time for dinner? We were ready to peel the wrappings away and see what treasure lay inside.

At my eighth Christmas I remember the grandchildren all got cameras in the shape of Mickey Mouse. The nose was the lens and one ear was the trigger. It was a simple device without all the modern frills, but it was luxurious for us. I clearly remember Mrs. Lyle, my third grade teacher, taking us Easter Egg hunting the next spring and me carrying Mickey along for pictures. Sadly I don’t remember what happened to my Mickey. But I have a picture of my cousin Pam and I sitting on the couch with our cameras. At our recent Thanksgiving gathering in Memphis Pam told me she still had her camera.

My cousin Sherry and I had a special bond that lasted through the years. Every Christmas or birthday, whether it was hers or mine, we often got the same present. I remember the plastic fire trucks that provided hours of entertainment before bedtime. I stayed at Grandmother’s house that night so we had time to check out our new trucks. We were very young and the details escape me with exception to the fateful morning after. In our excitement the fire trucks were neglectfully parked on the front porch. Granddaddy’s dog made sure our new shiny trucks wouldn’t bring any harm to the house and thus our fire fighting adventures lasted less than a day.

Today our Smith family traditions are somewhat reminiscent of those days at Granddaddy’s house. We still gather as a family each year at one of our homes or other locations. The get-together has moved back to Thanksgiving as each of my aunt and uncles are now grandparents with their own traditional celebrations. Fellowship and honoring those we miss are still significant. We exchange ornaments for our Christmas trees to feed our memories each holiday season. This year Uncle Travis wore Granddaddy’s special Christmas sweater to facilitate the loving atmosphere that once smothered that old green house each year.

It is my wish that you have a most joyous holiday season no matter how you celebrate the many festivities. Menorahs will be lit. Trees will twinkle. Fireworks will fill the sky. But most importantly families will gather, recreate the bonds that make possible the trek into the new year, and celebrate the foundations of our unique traditions.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Starting A Business [CCR]

The spirit of entrepreneurship starts in the mind of a child. So it was with my cousin Tim and me. Our bold undertaking has rarely been disclosed, but it provided a lesson in both profit and risk. The Alabama roadsides were a treasure for young boys to make a little money if they had the time and energy. With the deposit on cola bottles at a nickel the profit potential was fairly decent.

Granddaddy Daily had a real nice wagon he used to haul the wood from the shed to the box beside the front door. Tim and I borrowed it one day when Granddaddy was gone and Grandmother was busy in the house. Our adventure took us along the road now known as Daily Loop to the Mt. Mills Road. We followed the Mt. Mills Road to the Davis’s store. That little store had just about anything you needed in the tradition of a rural country store. By the time we reached the store Tim and I had quite a number of bottles to exchange for nickels. In fact we bought a snack and a drink for each of us with money left for our investment. So we looked around and found our inspiration. Gulfwax paraffin would make wonderful candles. All we had to do was find a wick and melt the paraffin. So we bought a block.

We ventured back to Granddaddy’s house construing our plans for the candles while we consumed our snacks. It was a beautiful clear day for walking and planning.

Back at the house we gathered sticks and it wasn’t long before we had a small fire blazing beneath the giant trees in front of Granddaddy’s shed. We found an old cooking pot in the wash shed and brought it around to the fire. Surely we could melt the paraffin first before worrying about finding the wick. It was simple as melting butter. We propped the pot on some rocks near the fire and plopped in the paraffin. The wax oozed out into a puddle that allowed the block to glide along the bottom. Everything was proceeding as planned.

In a few minutes we found ourselves with a pot full of liquid candle material ready to go. Just before we went for the wick the surprise happened. Tim and I learned our first chemistry lesson when the paraffin began to blaze. Grandmother had no knowledge of our panic as we ran for the water bucket Granddaddy kept for the dogs. We had to stop this blaze before our adventure was discovered and future plans might be stymied. It was just about the time the water left the bucket that we actually realized our next chemistry lesson.

Alas it was too late as we both ran. Out of the pan came flaming paraffin shooting up into the trees. I remember looking up and seeing the fiery splash singe the leaves into glowing red embers. It was by pure luck that neither of us got burned. And we didn’t even burn down the shed. The flash fire was over and what was left behind was easy to quell with exception to the racing heartbeats. We quickly cleaned up the area to the point one could only know we had built a small fire. Grandmother never stopped her work in the kitchen. Granddaddy came home from his trip. I don’t think they looked up in the trees by the shed. To our knowledge they never knew of our escapade and we continued to our next adventure which will be a subject for another day.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Old Blue [CCR]

Winter continues to overtake fall here in Ohio. It was wishful thinking to ask for a few more warm days. So now I am taking a look at our vehicles to see what is left to prepare for the “frozen tundra” to come. Have you looked under the hood lately? I actually wonder if there is some sort of plan to build in complexity or if what I see is a haphazard approach to improvement. I never imagined having to place a car on a lift just to change the spark plugs.

Life was a little more simple back home. I still catch myself telling people a tune up consists of “points and plugs.” Younger folks just sort of give me a blank stare. It was just a little easier to check how things were working on our old Chevy truck. At least Dad made it look that way. I seriously doubt you could still find a six volt battery for the truck, but it was sufficient for our truck. Most people today would turn the ignition key waiting for the starter to turn the engine, not realizing they need to press the foot switch. Sometimes you had to let off the gas to let the wipers catch up since they ran off the vehicle vacuum system. But these “outdated” features still left us with a truck that was highly reliable and fulfilled our needs for many years, including my lessons in driving.

Even before I got to sit behind the wheel with the engine running, that truck provided hours of driving entertainment while sitting idle in our back yard. I could barely reach the pedals, which may have attributed to my safe play, but I had watched Dad and followed every queue on gear shifting. Then Dad began to let me shift the gears while he drove. Thus my lessons in driving began.

We kept both ponies and some cows which meant we had to provide food during the winter. Some of the local farmers sold Dad hay bales which we picked up while they were baling and others let us pick up the scrap corn behind the corn pickers. The farmers were always kind to us. Obviously Dad had to load the bales, so I finally got my turn behind the wheel of the truck. Dad would provide the instructions as I slowly weaved through the fields while he loaded the truck.

The old truck also carried our wood for heating our home during cold weather. I can remember traveling out to Mr. Buddy Malone’s field to gather wood. The old truck always carried its load, even though sometimes the final hill required two tries with a “running go” to get to the top. I don’t remember not making it up the hill.

Transportation for hunting trips was another duty for the old truck. Dad knew just about every dirt road in the county, something he learned from Granddaddy and I wish I had learned. They knew the name of every ridge and old home place. I can remember the day Dad let me behind the wheel. We were passing the old road near Robert Stanfield’s house. He was my great uncle. I was so proud to be driving the truck that I was looking out the side window grinning and almost ran over a whole line of pine trees. Dad’s careful watch saved me the potential endless embarrassment.

A couple of weeks ago Mom mentioned the old blue truck and how buying that used truck was a big event. I don’t remember any doubts about the vehicle. In a small boy’s mind nothing was grander. I can easily say it was the most important vehicle in my life. Dad ended up selling the truck to buy a camper and then trading the camper for a Jeep which played another important role in my life. Now I must go and find somebody who can diagnose my computerized ignition system. I guess I shouldn’t complain since computers and robotics have put food on my table for over twenty years. But I miss that old blue truck. It represented a simple life with few worries and many adventures of a growing Alabama boy.