Monday, May 18, 2009

The Beepot's Burden

My mother is one of the last Home Economics teachers in the country. Disappearing from school systems near and far, Home Ec is now called Family & Consumer Sciences, and now includes Sex Ed and Early Childhood Development. Mom's curriculum features detailed photos of real STDs, ("the kids are scared to death,") a life-like doll called "Baby Think It Over " that simulates infant behavior and records the number of times it is shaken, and of course, how to tell when your Crisco has gone rancid. (Smell it.)

It's really a shame that traditional Home Ec, sewing and cooking, is going the way of Wood Shop. Think of all those potential designers, chefs, and artisans that will never discover their callings. Or of those accountants, tax lawyers, and secretaries that could've lived a different lives, outside-the-box lives. Beekeeping certainly falls outside this box. I hadn't realized that "the box" existed at all, until I stood outside of it. Now that I realize that life outside is more interesting, more relaxing, and more whimsical than life inside, the idea of trying to hoist my weary self back into the overcrowded, ruthlessly judgmental, rush-rush-result box seems absurd.

A few weeks ago, my mom went on a teacher retreat to Old Sturbridge Village, Mass, a "living museum" of colonial New England. I went there for a 4th grade field trip. I remember thinking it was cool back then, but if I were to go today I'd be wearing bee-colored glasses, seeing the world through a lens of yellow and black. There must be a hive somewhere in Old Sturbridge Village. I mean, its supposedly a model of rural life at the turn of the 19th century and I would imagine (although I make no claims) that honey would be one of the only available sweeteners. If I could, I would watch colonial bees all day long, building their elaborate comb formations, spilling out of this tree or that outhouse, pollinating everything in sight. I wonder if they'd buzz differently, as if accented.

My mom didn't see any honeybees on her trip. Instead, she and her fellow teachers prepared a colonial-styled feast using the old methods of food preparation. They strung a whole chicken up above a roaring wood fire, and hung a big black pot beneath it to catch the fats and juices. They hand-mashed potatoes and churned butter. For dessert, they made a gingery, clove-scented spice cake and whipped fresh cream to put on top. The meal was delicious, according to my mom. And she's a Home Ec teacher, so she should know.

This past weekend my mom brought me a present she'd bought in the Old Sturbridge Village gift shop: a bee teapot! (Beepot?!?!?) How quaint!
Seems innocent enough, right?

Wrong. 20 years of maternal guilt brewed inside this teapot. According to my mother, before my school trip to Old Sturbridge Village she gave me money to buy something at the gift shop. I bought a beautiful geode and gave it to her. Now, my mom claims that she did not dislike the geode. However, in her thanks she reminded me that she'd given me the money to buy something for myself, as in, "You shouldn't have!" To my sensitive, 8-year-old ears, this sounded like rejection. Like, "Take your stupid rock, kid." I cried, she profusely apologized, and, unknown to me, carried this shameful burden for two decades. Until this teapot.

Truthfully, I don't remember the geode brouhaha. I was a mercurial child; my "episodes" blend together in memories. I tended to take every possible emotion to the Nth degree; happiness was elation, but sadness was tragedy. It doesn't surprise me that my mom remembered the geode, even though it had slipped into the annals of the past for me, probably between another forgotten geode and a chunk of wood from the Petrified Forest.
I do have one viscerally vivid maternal rejection memory. I went through an artistic phase in which I would scribble hard and circular in one color crayon, and call it a Monster. Although I was capable of drawing actual things, such as flowers and (admittedly distorted) people in my family, my Monster period was a time for me to redefine my conception of "art," much like the abstract expressionist artists. Today, I would describe my Monsters as Pollock-like in production. They required intense strength, and the kind of brutal concentration that is only achieved by sticking one's tongue out of one's mouth and biting it. My mom is not an Art teacher, and therefore did not recognize my unique creative perspective. I know this because I happened to be the same exact height as the garbage can, which shot open for just long enough for me to notice a stack of original Monsters partially obscured by dirty trash-things. I remember the shock that reverberated through my 5 year old body. I thought, This is the Picture Graveyard. Suddenly, I realized that the Monsters only accounted for a few of the fallen pictures. Dozens and dozens of other lovingly drawn pictures had met the same fate, never to be seen again. As I recalled the casualties, tears welled up in my eyes... they were gone and I could never get them back. Drawing them again, (mom's desperate suggestion,) just wasn't the same. I couldn't recreate the exact same Monster. They were one-of-a-kind, and they were gone.

I've never forgiven my mother. (JUST KIDDING MOM! Happy Belated April Fools/Mothers Day!!)

No, here's the truth: my mom is going to become my assistant beekeeper this summer! (Surprise again, mom!) My parents are letting me put some hives in their backyard in CT, and I pick up two 3-pound boxes of Italian honeybees in Massachusetts on Saturday! I'm looking forward to, among other things, 1) Naming my queens, 2) Comparing the city bees to the country bees and fabricating far flung, fanciful facts about city life and country life, 3) Painting my boxes purple and yellow (like pansies.) I've also decided to try some new things, which I'll elaborate upon when photographs of them materialize.

Here's an apt quote from Paul Bowles, one of my favorite authors:

One never took the time to savor the details; one said; another day, but always with the hidden knowledge that each day was unique and final, that there would never be a return, another time.

... and also that each Monster is unique unto itself.

Well, I added that last part myself.

In the meantime, I'll be preparing for my new bees, caring for the Spies and Secret Service, taking photos of things that tickle my fancy, and existing in my magical world outside the box.

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