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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
June 10, 2018

Published as Family History
in a Gramma Letter
dated June 11, 1996

© 1996, 2018 by Bud Grossmann.
All Rights Reserved.

Bee (2013)
  Bee (2013)
© 2013 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, June 11, 1996

Dear Gramma,

      At this time of year, I often think about vacations my siblings and I spent at your farm when we were kids. I remember when I was twelve or thirteen, my parents brought us to Wisconsin from the East Coast shortly after school let out. We four kids expected to sleep on rollaway beds or a pull-out davenport in your living room, but that particular year you gave me and my brother Bruce—he’s three years younger than I—what seemed to be luxurious accommodations. We had an entire little house of our own, I suppose I might say.

      Yes, you allowed us the use of what Grampa referred to as “Ma’s house car”—an ancient, homemade travel trailer, that you had purchased several years earlier and lived in when you worked for the Del Monte cannery in Arlington. Often, at the end of a long day of providing meals for college boys working round-the-clock shifts on summer pea harvest crews, you were simply too exhausted to make the half-hour drive back to your farm, knowing you would have to return to the camp kitchen after only a few hours’ nap. The house car was your home for the night. When Bruce and I moved into the house car, though, it had been uninhabited since the previous fall, parked under the big maple north of your farmhouse, close to Rex’s big dog pen.

      As I remember it, the house car was flat-topped and coffin-shaped—narrower at the hitch end than at the rear. The outside walls were fiberboard, rippled and cracked in some places, and heavily coated in aluminum paint. A fruit crate served as the doorstep. The doorframe sagged so the door scuffed an arc on the linoleum floor and stopped about halfway through its intended swing. A double bed with coarse cotton sheets, several lumpy pillows, and a heap of faded quilts nearly filled the tiny room. Mounted over the bed was an electric light, but when you tucked us in on that first night, you told us the light did not work. You left Bruce and me a feeble flashlight and a warning not to waste the batteries.

      The next morning, when sunlight woke us, we went into the house. “How did you boys sleep?” you asked.

      “Pretty good, Gramma. But Rex barked a lot. And there’s a funny noise under the bed. Is there a pump that runs, sometimes, in the night?”

      “A pump? An electric pump you mean? No, your grandfather doesn’t have the power hooked up to the house car. And there’s no water out there anyway. It’s strictly a place to sleep.”

      The second morning I gave you the same report—I was sure I had heard the hum of an electric motor, cycling on and off several times in the night. “We’ll have to see about this,” you said. After breakfast, you went out with us to investigate.

      We squeezed past the reluctant door and stood in the stillness of the room. For a moment we heard nothing. Then, there it was: a hum, a buzz. Puzzled, you tugged up a corner of the mattress. Then you dropped it right down again and swung your arm at us boys. “Get out of here!” you bellowed. We boys scrambled out the door, with you following close behind.

      Halfway to the house we stopped, and you told us what you had found. “Some bumblebees have made their nest under your bed. I will have to get rid of them.”

      Armed with a fly swatter and a can of insect spray, you soon set out to evict your uninvited tenants. The weapons turned out to be insufficient. Although you succeeded in delivering a lethal dose of spray directly upon the nest, not all of your adversaries went down without a fight.

      Several bees circumvented your swatter and aimed for your eyes as you retreated. Someone summoned Grampa from the fields. He placed his hands on your shoulders and said sadly, “Oh, Alice, you look a fright! Your face is so puffed up, I can scarcely find your nose!” He put a paste of baking soda on your stings. For the remainder of that day, however, your eyeglasses had no place to perch.

      That night, pump noise no longer disturbed my slumber. Even so, I slept fitfully—your injured visage haunted all my dreams.

      I love you, dear Grandmother, sweet and brave.


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