Profile of a List Maker

My beloved mother, Sadie Lee McCoy, on a hot, humid day in Kentucky. A trooper extraordinaire.
I found a slip of paper on the kitchen counter. Since Mom was nowhere insight, I seized the opportunity to investigate. Spy, in other words.
            I recognized my mother’s penmanship from her signature on my report cards. Mrs. Warren O’Brien. A woman of few written words, she seldom wrote a comment in reply to the school’s request.
            Thus must be Mom’s grocery list, I thought. Her lower-case cursive was small and clear with a break here and there between letters. What on earth did t.p. mean?
            Was it candy like M&M’s? Once in a blue moon Mom brought a bag home from A&P or doling out Saturday and Sunday night TV time. My sisters and I loved M&M’s with Disney.
            I heard Mom walking up the basement steps and decided to stay put and solve the t.p. mystery. She took the pen next to the paper and added more items.
            “Mom, what t.p.?”
            “Why, Iris, that’s toilet paper.”
            Yuck! I’d let my imagination run in the wrong direction.
            Mom put the list in her purse. After dinner she drove off to A&P without me. As least I knew what t.p. meant.
            In recollection, that inedible domestic necessity deserved more respect than my childhood chagrin and immaturity could pay. In the end, my family could’ve survived just fine without M&M’s. On the other hand, our family of six without toilet paper would’ve faces a serious sanitation crisis. And who would’ve borne the blame?
            Truly, that’s the bottom line, the ultimate lesson learned from Mom’s abbreviation. Mothers write lists for peace of mind and household harmony. It’s their duty to keep cupboards and the fridge stocked with food, and bathrooms supplied with toilet paper, soap, and clean towels.
            It’s odd. Not once did I hear Mom speak t.p. A busy woman, perhaps she reserved it for her grocery list, a matter of saving seconds. I see it as a type of forerunner for today’s lol, one of social media’s irksome offspring that dilute the strength of the English language and human relationships.
            Thus, I’m devoted to lists, and use acronyms sparingly. I say good morning to my daily to-do list, AKA Action Log, and goodnight with the next day numbered per priority. I shut down my computer and sleep like a baby.
            My husband thinks I’m obsessive, yet he’s not a planner, the go-to person in an emergency. And he doesn’t sleep through the night.
            I’ve heard men say it’s useless to write lists. “Why should I when my wife tells me what to do?” is a standard defense.
            Since life is too bountiful, beautiful, and brief to fuss over these inbred differences, it helps to keep a mental list to practice the way to peace and joy.

            Dear Reader, I praise pen and paper, that moment when my mother t.p. taught me the purpose of writing lists.

A Beekeeper's Pledge

Uncle Herm with a truck load of produce from his garden
While visiting Uncle Herm in Kentucky’s McCoy Bottom several summers ago, I asked him where he kept his beehives.
           He narrowed his dark eyes. “Honey, mites killed all my bees before your mommy died.”
           A novice beekeeper, my heart sank. Mom passed in 2007. If Herman Glen McCoy, third generation beekeeper, couldn’t fend off mites back then, how could I in the present epidemic?
           Snagged in a moment of sadness and defeat, we stood beside one of his vegetable gardens, the graveyard high on the mountainside overlooking us.
His father and grandfather McCoy are buried there. Their bees produced enough honey to feed their large families and sell to folks up and down Peter Creek.
During the Depression and WW II, their produce, poultry, eggs, and honey helped nourish those remaining in their Appalachian homeland. With most the young men off to war and the women working in factories up north, my grandfather hired women as farmhands. They’d sometimes show up in heels to hoe the cornfields, asking for food or cash in return.
           In the last decade of her life, my mother, Sadie McCoy O’Brien, often spoke of her father’s generosity, his bees and honey. “Dad was happy when he found wide-mouth jars for his comb honey. That’s the only way he put it up.”
           Mom moved from Michigan back to the McCoy Bottom in the mid 70’s. She built her dream house with a pantry spacious enough to hold the fruit of her labors. For over twenty years, her “brother Herm” deposited jars of honey and buckets of produce on her back doorstep.
Uncle Herm and me in his kitchen

           “Uncle Herm, did you ever go back to beekeeping?”
“No. Everybody lost their bees. Then Gearl got sick, and it was too much with growing the gardens.”
During my aunt’s illness and since her passing, Uncle Herm’s never missed a summer growing several crops, giving the bulk away.
I eyed his green beans hanging in clusters from corn stalks. “Do you still have some honey?”
“There might be some in the basement.”
I followed him down steps into damp darkness to a shelf of canned food.
He took a quart and wiped off the shoot. “I don’t know if this is any good.”
“It’s crystalized, that’s all.”
“Well, if you want it, take it.” He walked to a bench and picked up a hive smoker. “This was Daddy’s. I won’t be using it, so take it too if you want.”
I hugged my uncle and skipped up the steps with his gifts, brought them home, and have dutifully used them.
           Dear Reader, although our three hives from last spring didn’t survive the winter, they left honey behind for us. This week we’ll see what reward awaits our time, expense, and devotion. 
Then, if bee biology and other forces of nature favor us, I’ll use my forefathers’ smoker for our one package of bees May 19. I’ll face the mites and other bee enemies for their sake.

And to perpetuate my heritage—fourth generation beekeeper.