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The Manchester Enterprise: A Boy's Memories Bits of Clay

Courage and the bees

Honey, when I was young, was a prized commodity. No one around us had bee stands and I don’t even think it was even sold in stores. If it was, we never bought any.

We did have molasses made from sugar cane and that was almost as good but it too was sometimes hard to come by. And honey, well it was even harder to come by.
The way the old timers got honey was the old fashion way. A honey tree was located and the sweet nectar was robbed from it. But finding a honey tree wasn’t an easy task.
Momma and Daddy told us that we could sprinkle flour on a honeybee’s tail and pay close attention to the direction that he flew. Dad taught us that a bee, after filling his belly with nectar from flowers would fly straight to the bee hive to unload his booty. The flour made the bee more visible in the sky to track his flight.
I’m sure all of you have heard the old sayin’ “He made a bee line out of here”. What that meant was, he took the shortest and fastest way home. That’s the way a bee flew home, in a straight line, the fastest way.
Getting the right amount on a bee’s tail was a little tricky. You have to get enough to see the white flour as he flew to the hive but too much and the bee couldn’t fly at all. You also have to be lucky enough that you choose a bee that is full enough from the nectar that he’s ready to fly home.
Well, we were constantly trying to find the right bee and trying to get the right amount of flour on the bee where we could track his flight. Sometimes the bee would try to fly and all he could do was stir up the flour to where it looked like he was on fire. Other times we picked a bee that didn’t or couldn’t fly straight. But one time it worked.
We dusted the bee’s tail with flour and off he flew into the sky. We all got our eyes fixed on him and somehow we could see his flight for a long, long way. When he disappeared from sight we had a pretty good idea as to where in the woods the beehive was to be found. That turned out to be even harder than the tracking of his flight.
Dad told us to just hit the woods and spread out. He said listen for the “humming” of the swarming bees as they flew in and out of their hive bringing in the nectar to be stored in the honeycomb.  He also told us to keep our eyes fixed on the canopy of the trees. A beehive would be found in a hole in the tree trunk.
Like I said before, that day we got lucky. Not long after walking to the woods where we last saw the “floured” bee fly the day before we started noticing more bees in the air flying in the same direction. We gathered and started following the bee’s flight. When we lost sight of one bee another one would fly in soon and lead us a little closer to the hive.
It didn’t take long before we started hearing a humming noise of more and more bees entering and exiting the hive. It was in a big oak tree about twenty feet off the forest floor.
“Now what do we do,” I asked.
None of us had ever robbed a beehive so we marked the spot with some broken bushes and headed home to tell of our find.
Daddy was a little surprised, I think, that we had actually found a bee tree. He told us it had been a long time since he had robbed a hive and he didn’t know for sure if he could still do it. My uncle Lloyd was there and told us him some of our cousin could get that honey.
I followed them into the woods the next day to watch the robbing of the tree. It was a hot summer day I remember. The hole in the tree was about fifteen to twenty feet up. Bees started flying franticly as the young men surveyed the situation. I saw them pass around a bottle of something and I asked what it was. “This is a bottle of courage,” one of them said. The liquid was certainly alcohol of some sort, I thought.
The bees began to get a little agitated and one of them got stung. “Ouch”, he screamed. More “courage” was ingested. I back off about 20 yards. Then, another got stung and more “courage” was drank. I back off 10 more yards. I had heard lots of tales about how the whole hive would fight to keep the honey and I wasn’t about to challenge them.
I was watching closely as the guys fought the bees and tried to scale the tree with a lit smoking rag to keep them off. I was feeling a little nervous when I felt something on me ear. With quick reflexes I smacked and almost tore my ear off. It was Ronnie with a weed. We both laughed but I made sure I was behind him from then on.
It took a little while them to reach the hole waving the smoking rag at the bees as they began to appear in more numbers now.  Those boys were a lot braver than me or maybe it was the bottle of “courage” that now was empty after passing another round in the crowd.
Finally after a about 15 minutes one of them reached the hole but the bees weren’t budging a bit. After a few more screams of pain down the tree he came with everyone laughing aloud. The courage wasn’t working to good, I thought. After hitting the ground he took off in a hard run and the others of us followed with the bees in hot pursuit.
No honey was found that day but they came back another day with more bee protection and I’m sure more liquid courage and robbed the tree. Me, well I never got any. But I did get a good laugh or two and I learned a lot about robbing a bee tree.
Always bring along a face net and a hat, wear lots of clothes, take plenty of smoking rags and leave the “courage” at home. That stuff will make you see doubles.

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The Greatest Show on Earth

I don’t know what it is about kids, or at least me, but they love things that blow up. And at the top of the list would have to be fireworks.  I don’t know if it is the noise, the flash or the power of it all but kids love fireworks

Back when I was a boy about the only fireworks Daddy could afford was usually a carton of 72 packs of 16-count Dixie Boy firecrackers. He could buy a carton for around $4.00. That’s when firecrackers were firecrackers. Them babies would crack like a shotgun going off.
Today’s firecrackers are about as loud as a cap gun. That was long before everything began to be made cheaper and cheaper each year to increase profits for the manufacturers.
When we got a little older Daddy bought a carton of cherry bombs. Now let me tell you they were like a small sticks of dynamite! The cherry bombs looked exactly like what they were named after, a cherry with the stem on it. Even though my parents warned us time and time again to never light a cherry bomb while it was in our hands we didn’t listen too much. We did lots of crazy things with them.
The roundness of the cherry bomb made it easy to throw straight and true. They also fit well in the launch of a slingshot. It took two people to shoot cherry bombs safely in a slingshot, one to hold the slingshot and the cherry bomb and the other person to light the fuse. A person didn’t want to hold a cherry bomb too long after it was lit. That would have been a bad mistake. I know of quite a few people who actually lost fingers to the little monsters.
Late in the 60’s we began to get a few silver solutes or, as we knew them, M-80’s. These were even more powerful than the cherry bombs if you can believe it. The M-80’s looked like a 20-guage-shotgun shell with a fuse was in the center of it.
The only drawback (if an M-80 had one) was that they were a little harder to throw accurately. Plus, when they were shot from a slingshot you could hear them coming a long way off as it turned end over end humming in flight. That killed the element of surprise.
But M-80’s could do something else that cherry bombs had trouble with. They could be shot underwater. It was an easy way to stun a few minnows in the branch to take fishing to the creek. And if the fish weren’t biting, the M-80’s were pretty good to fish with too if the fish got too close to our M-80’s.
In the winter we would light them and stick ‘em through a hole in the ice on our pond and blow huge chunks of ice in the air. It looked like a land mine went off with the flying pieces of ice.
The cherry bombs and M80’s were lots of fun but the most fun of all was on the 4th of July. We got to go watch the big fireworks show for free at the Family Drive-In. It was billed in the newspaper and on the radio as the “Greatest Show on Earth.” And every year, the Miller family was there to take it in.
People would fill the parking spaces fast to get to see the show. Those who didn’t want to pay to get in could park along side Highway 80 and anywhere else to take in the fireworks show.
Some would bring blankets to spread on the ground to see the spectacular aerial show. People would be sitting on hoods of cars, on the tops of cars and in the beds of pickup trucks. You can’t do that today with the new cars we now have. If you did, it would crush the cheap metal. Back then cars were built cars to last.
The night always started with a movie (or sometimes two) before the big fireworks show began. The place where they shot them from was at the base of the big movie screen. After the last show everyone would start getting out of their cars or trucks to wait for the telltale “ka-boom” from the first launch of the fireworks as they made their upward flight into the dark sky.
Then a clap of noise like thunder sounded off as the payload exploded high in the sky showering down colorful flashes of fire. The crowd would “oohh” and “aahh” all in unison as they voiced their appreciation for the beautiful display of fireworks. Sometimes you would hear an occasional baby cry or a scream of fear from a young child because of the loud noise of the explosions. Daddy said it sounded very much his up-close experience of a battle in a war zone.
The loudest ones I remember were the “duds”, the ones that didn’t blowup properly. They shook the ground like an earthquake. When that happened, everyone screamed!
The air around the drive-in filled with gunpowder smell and smoke. Small paper embers rained down upon the ground and on the cars from the many explosions.
The fireworks show was one that was looked forward to each year to everyone in the county. The drive-in was always filled to capacity.
It was a show that most people could never have seen if it hadn’t been for the folks at the Family Drive-In.
It was surely something that I will never forget. The fireworks show surely lived up to it’s billing. To us, it was the greatest show on earth.

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The magic chickens

“Daddy,” Lloyd asked “have you ever heard of a hen that would lay twice a day? A man down on Crawfish swears he has one and he’s selling her eggs for a dollar a dozen.”

“I’ve never heard such a story in my life. Ain’t no chicken can lay more than once a day. And who would pay a dollar for a dozen of eggs?” Pap Paw Burkhart answered.
“Well I figure a dollar for a dozen of eggs would be cheap if the hens laid twice a day. It wouldn’t take long to get your money back and then some. We could sell our eggs for a dollar a dozen to other people just like he is doing.” Lloyd came back with.
“I think maybe your right, Lloyd. I’ve got a couple of dollars I could spare. It wouldn’t hurt to take a chance on a couple of dozen, I guess.” Pap Paw said nodding his head. “I’ll get the money and you go get them eggs. Be sure not to shake ‘em up to much on the way back. They might not hatch out if you handle ‘em too rough.”
As Pap Paw walked towards the house, Lloyd laughed to himself knowing his plan had worked like a charm. Lloyd needed a little spending money and made up a story of the chicken that could lay twice a day. He would go to the neighbor’s house on Paw Paw and by two dozen of eggs for .25 cents a dozen and have a whopping $1.50 left over to spend on pop and cigarettes later.
He told the farmer he wanted the freshest eggs he had because Pap Paw wanted to hatch off some laying hens. The farmer got the eggs he had just brought from the hen house and told Lloyd, “It don’t get any fresher than these.”
Lloyd took a little longer than usual to make the trip back home to make Pap Paw believe he had really gone to Crawfish. “Here they are Daddy, just gathered today. I was really careful with ‘em. They ought to be in real good shape.” Lloyd said as he handed his Dad the basket of eggs.
Pap Paw then took the eggs to the barn where he had a hen setting and carefully placed the eggs underneath her. Twenty-one days later, all but one hatched off and Pap Paw was smiling. He couldn’t wait until the chicks were old enough to start laying.
After about six months, the small chicks had grown into hens and a few eggs began to show in their nest. Every day he would check the nest and all he could find was one egg in each nest. Something was wrong, he thought.
“Lloyd, just who did you get those eggs from? Them hens aren’t laying but one egg a day. I want to ask him what we’re doing wrong.” Pap Paw asked puzzled.
Lloyd had to think fast. “Daddy, he told me we had to fed them that special feed called Layena made by Purina. He bought it down at the feed store.” Lloyd told his dad.
“Well, why didn’t you tell me that before now?” Pap Paw answered back.
Next day Pap Paw went to the feed store and bought a bag of Layena. When he got home he quickly opened the paper bag of feed and threw out a few handfuls to the waiting chickens. They really liked it as they fought with each other over their new meal.
Lloyd late that night slipped to the refrigerator and removed a basket of eggs and ran to the barn placing one in each of the hen’s nest. He then quietly slipped back into his bed.
Next morning Pap Paw was up early and grabbed the egg basket and made his way to the barn to check the nests. He came back with a basket full of eggs and a big smile. “Looks like that Layena really works, Lloyd! I got two eggs from every nest.” Pap Paw exclaimed proudly, and patted Lloyd on the back for a wise purchase of the magic chickens. He then asked Lloyd if he knew why the eggs felt cold? Lloyd told him it must have something to do with the Layena or the fact that the hens were working twice as hard laying two eggs a day.
As the weeks went on, every day Lloyd would rob the refrigerator of the eggs and place them in the hen’s nest at night. And every morning Pap Paw would gather the eggs and place them in the refrigerator.
But after about a week or so, Pap Paw began to get a little suspicious. He was noticing the eggs weren’t building up in the refrigerator as they should and the story of over-working the hens didn’t make sense about the cool eggs. “Were the chickens really magic or was it a magic trick being played by Lloyd?” he asked himself.
Pap Paw retired early to bed early the next night so he could get up earlier than usual to set a trap. Next morning he was up before Lloyd and slipped quietly to the barn and hid in the loft. Right about daylight a small beam of light appeared at the back door of the house and slowly made its way to the barn. Lloyd opened the door to the hen house and carefully began placing one egg into each nest as Pap Paw watched from above. After Lloyd’s job was done he made his way to the door once again and then Lloyd heard a low voice from above, “Don’t forget my egg!” Pap Paw growled.
Lloyd ran as fast as he could to the house with Pap Paw on his heels promising to teach Lloyd a lesson. But at the house both were laughing so hard at each other for the well-planned joke that no punishment was given.
Pap Paw learned a lesson by believing “… something that sounds too good to be true, most of the time wasn’t true.”
And Lloyd learned a different lesson “… never use cold eggs from the refrigerator when pulling the ‘ole two eggs a day in a nest trick.”

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The Miracle Melon

The Miracle Melon… a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

My mother’s most favorite summertime thing from our garden was a watermelon. From the first sign of warm weather until the harvest she looked forward to her first watermelon of the season. She loved watermelon more than anything else from our garden and the Georgia-rattlesnake was her favorite variety.
Anyone who has tried to grow melons has probably found out it’s not as easy as it looks. Watermelons grow best in a sandy type soil and need lots of water but at our home on Paw Paw, we had neither. But, Dad didn’t let a little thing like that keep him from trying.
Every year he tried and tried to grow Momma the watermelons she loved but never had too much success. He planted the seeds in hills, a mound of soil raised about two or three inches in a circle about 16 inches in diameter after being flattened off smooth. Then he would take his finger and make a small hole with his finger about 1 inch deep and place one seed in each hole and about 6 holes per hill. When the seeds sprouted and were about 1 inch high, he would thin out the hill to the 3 strongest plants.
Dad had an ingenious way to keep the plants watered during the hot spells of summer. He came up with an idea to take a large, tin coffee can, punch a small hole in the bottom of the can with a nail and bury the can about two inches deep in the center of the hill of plants. About once a week we would carry water to the garden and fill the cans to the top with the water and slowly the water would leak out the bottom of the can, soaking the roots.
He tried to grow melons every summer and sometimes we would harvest basketball size melons but rarely anything bigger. Some were picked before they reached their prime or kids living on the holler stole them before we got the chance to pick ‘em ourselves. But, Dad kept trying.
In the late 70’s, Dad got lucky. Miracle Grow had just hit the market and he was mixing it in every container of water he carried to the garden. Everything fell into place and that summer he had the best crop of Georgia-rattlesnake melons he had ever grown.
I was visiting Momma and Dad one hot, July day when he just had to show me his prized patch of melons. He was so proud of them. Carefully we walked amongst the watermelon vines as he pointed out each melon. These were noticeably bigger than any he had ever grown and he gave all of the credit to the “new” fertilizer, Miracle Grow.
Momma was almost as proud as Dad was of the bumper crop of melons and couldn’t wait until the day when she could cut one to satisfy her craving. She would walk through the garden, flipping the melons with her finger listening for the “thump” that would let her know when it was time for picking.
She sometimes would carry a small straw plucked from her kitchen broom to place on the center of the melons and watch for it to turn on the top like a compass towards the connecting vine to also give the message as being ripe.
I was working at IGA that summer and we had just gotten in a load of some of the biggest Georgia-rattlesnake watermelons I had ever seen. One tipped the scales at 79 pounds and I just had to have it. I had something in mind for the huge melon.
Late that night, under darkness, I snuck into Dad’s garden with my gigantic melon on my shoulder. I carefully made my way to the watermelon patch and carefully cut one of the smallest melons from the vine. Then, I gently placed the big melon on the ground in its place. I took the vine from the small melon and attached it to the large melon with a toothpick. It looked almost too good. I laughed to myself, as I made my way out of the garden and back home.
It didn’t take long to get the phone call from Dad. The very next day, about 4:00 in the evening, Dad called me at work and said, “Rod, you have got to come and see what that Miracle Grow has done. I just found a melon in the garden that I hadn’t noticed before and it must weigh close to 100 pounds!”
“Don’t pick it until I get there,” I answered, “I’ve got the see this for myself.”
I left work at 5:00 and drove straight to Dad’s where he was waiting on the porch. “Where’s this big melon at?” I asked as I met Dad in the yard. Dad smiled as he said, “Follow me.”
I didn’t have to be shown, I already knew, but I followed blindly along behind Dad. “Just take a look over there!” Dad said, pointing to the melon clearly the biggest in the field. “Man, that’s the biggest melon I have ever seen!” I told Dad reaching down to size up the monster.
I then, rolled the melon over and the stem came a loose from the vine. “Well, this one is ready to pick. You can tell how easy the vine broke from the melon.” I told Dad.
“Well, I was hoping so. Your Momma is ready to cut into one and this one doesn’t need to get any bigger. If it did we couldn’t get it out of the garden,” Dad said proudly.
I agreed, as I picked up the melon and carried it to the house where Momma was waiting with knife in hand. “Boys, I’ve been waiting on that melon for 20 years. Stand back,” Momma said as she thrust the long knife deep into the melon’s hull.
It was the best melon Momma had ever eaten, she said and Dad couldn’t have been more proud. And me, I’ve kept my secret until now.

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The Wig Party

The Wig Party…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller


Looking back on that weekend, when were having so much fun with the wigs, little did I know that our time together would be so brief.
My Momma’s sister, Cleo, had recently found a lump that needed to be removed and it turned out to be cancer. After the surgery, the doctors also recommended that Cleo needed to have radiation treatment as well to fight the cancer. It was only a little more than four. years ago.
After the treatment, Cleo had come down to Momma’s to spend a few days with her. She was feeling the effects of the treatment and needed to have someone to help take care of her for a little while and also to spend time with Momma. Cleo was more than just my Mom’s sister. Cleo was like one of Momma’s large family.
Momma hadn’t found out yet that she too had a cancer and was trying to nurse her younger sister back to health. And if anyone could have done that, Momma knew she could.
All of my Momma’s sisters were very attractive women. So when Cleo started loosing her hair from the radiation treatment, it really depressed her. My Momma then came to the rescue. She decided that loosing a little hair didn’t have to mean you still couldn’t look pretty, so she bought Cleo a really nice wig.
Momma also had a couple of wigs of her own that she had gotten somewhere and one weekend, to lighten things up, Momma decided on a wig party.
What’s a wig party, some of you might ask. Well, it’s probably not what you would think. I only called it a party just because we had so much fun that weekend with the wigs. We were all trying to cheer up Cleo because she felt bad and Momma always said, laughter is the best medicine.
Most of my brothers, Uncle Lloyd and I had gathered at Momma’s for a little get together and we decided it would be fun to put on the wigs and see how each one of us would look wearing them trying to make light of Cleo losing her hair. There was a short blond wig, a short dark wig, and a long dark wig.
We grabbed the camera and as each one of us tried on the wigs and we began to take pictures of the hilarious moments. It was as much fun as I had had in a long time. All of us tried on the different wigs as someone took the pictures. We all looked so silly.
Momma and Cleo were having a ball. When either of them put on the wigs they also got into acting like different people and began to talk in funny voices. Sometimes acting and talking like a southern belle and other times like a hillbilly hooker. I laughed so hard my side hurt.
The “party” went on for most of the night as all of us got into the act. I still smile when I think of Ronnie and Anthony in that blonde wig, they looked so funny. Especially Ronnie, since he has had slick shaven head for years. But each time a different person put on one of the wigs someone would snap a photo. It was a weekend I will never forget.
After a week under Momma’s care, Cleo began to feel a little better and she returned back home to Cincinnati.
Not long after that, I began to notice little changes in Momma. There were small signs at first that told me something wasn’t exactly right. Momma started complaining more often of bad headaches. Her personality had changed a little too and as time went on she began to stumble more and sometimes, even fall.
Momma slowly began to get weaker that summer and was hit with another tragedy when her brother Lloyd, suddenly died. She was almost too weak to walk as we led her into the cemetery to bury her youngest brother. Momma was getting worse by the day.
After being in and out of several hospitals trying to find out what was wrong with Momma, a doctor in Somerset said he thought there was a chance she might have a brain tumor. The test was run and the results weren’t good. There was a tumor and it had been there for quite some time.
The doctor said the tumor had grown deep into her brain. He told us he could operate and maybe that would give her a few more comfortable months, but he thought it was only a matter of time.
We all agreed on the operation, deciding it would be best to try to remove the cancer. After all, Momma was the strongest woman I had ever known. But, sad to say, the doctor did his best but couldn’t remove the entire tumor.
After the operation, the doctor suggested that radiation treatment was now needed to slow the growth of the tumor and just like her sister Cleo, after the treatments Momma began to loose her hair. My sister Darlene remembering the wig party we had thrown for Cleo and how it raised her spirits, bought Momma the best wig that money could by to cover her balding head.
Momma would spend the next few weeks living with my sister Jackie, in London, where she would took care of her. We brought Momma home for her last Thanksgiving that fall because she wanted to spend it at her home on Paw Paw. Momma wore the wig as she posed for pictures with her family.
It was sad to see such a once strong woman, now so weak and frail. But in every photo, Momma was still smiling. Momma died the following February. We buried Momma next to my father in the Miller Cemetery where her bother Lloyd was laid to rest just months before.
My Aunt Cleo was now getting weak, as her cancer had started to return again. She couldn’t even make Momma’s funeral. Just a few months later, Cleo also died.
Within just a two-year span, Momma, Lloyd and Cleo all died too soon. Today, I think back to that weekend of the wig party and it seems like it was only yesterday when all three were laughing, joking and full of life as they enjoyed each other’s company, one last time.
It was a weekend I will remember forever.

 

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e-Edition B-Section 4-17-14

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