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Sugar Creek Gang 33 The Battle of the Bees
By Paul Hutchens
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1999 Pauline Hutchens Wilson
All rights reserved.
It had been quite a while since I had been caught up in the whirlwind of a stormy Sugar Creek adventure. It began to look as if I might have to live through the rest of the summer without anything worrisome happening to me. And as almost any boy knows, one of the worst things that can happen to a boy is to have nothing happen to him.
Also, as almost any boy knows, there are two kinds of adventures a boy can have around Sugar Creek. One is the hair-raising kind that whams into him the way a whirlwind surprises a pile of autumn leaves. It picks him up and tosses him into the middle of a problem or a mystery or a menace. It stirs up the boy to use his mind and muscles to help himself or somebody else out of whatever trouble he or somebody else is in.
The other kind of adventure is what my bushy-eyebrowed, reddish brown mustached farmer father calls the "educational" type. "It's the best kind," he has told me maybe seventy-three times, "and it will do a boy a lot more good in the long run." My grayish brown haired mother calls it an "adventure of the mind."
But what boy wants a lot of good done to him? I'll have to admit that I would rather have the hair-raising, spine-tingling kind of adventure such as the gang has had quite a few of in the past several years.
Maybe you've already heard about how we killed a fierce, mad old mother bear and a sheep-stealing wildcat; how we licked the afternoon daylights out of a tough town gang in the Battle of Bumblebee Hill; and all the nervous excitement we had when we tried to act out a poem every boy knows, taking a wet pet lamb to school one day. We certainly found out that that was against the rule, and it more than certainly didn't make everybody laugh and play-especially not the teacher. We've even ridden the world's longest chairlift, at Aspen, Colorado.
But it began to look as if the rest of our summer vacation from school would be a very ordinary one, full of ordinary things such as mowing our own lawns for nothing, working in our own gardens for nothing, and washing and drying dishes for nothing. One of my worst chores was to baby-sit my little sister for nothing. She was three years old and couldn't be baby-sat anyway, because she never sat still long enough for anybody to sit with her.
And I should explain that when my parents talked about educational adventures, they didn't mean reading and writing and arithmetic.
"All of life is a schoolroom," my father explained to me. "You can have an adventure in your mind every day, even while you are drying dishes or hoeing potatoes or weeding the black-seeded Simpson lettuce in the garden. Even while you're—"
Dad hesitated a few seconds, and while his sentence was still in midair, I cut in to suggest, "Or while I'm sitting on a log down at the mouth of the branch, with my line out in the water waiting for a bass to strike?"
My father's eyebrows dropped at my joke. Then he said something very educational and which, before you get through reading this story, you probably will decide is maybe one of the most important things in the world for a boy or even a girl to know.
"Son," my dad's deep voice growled out to me, "everything good or bad a boy ever does starts in his mind, not in his muscles."
"Not even in his powerful biceps?" I asked, trying hard to say something humorous.
Because we were standing halfway between the iron pitcher pump and the grape arbor with its empty two-by-four crossbeam, six feet high, challenging me to leap up and skin the cat on it, I felt my biceps ordering me to give them a little exercise. Quick as anything, I whirled, leaped for the crossbeam, caught it, and chinned myself three times. Then, quick as scat, I skinned the cat, swung my legs up and over, and in less time than it takes to write these few words, I was sitting up there and grinning down at Dad, feeling wonderful that my powerful biceps and my other muscles had done exactly what they had wanted to do.
"This adventure started in my muscles," I said down to him.
Dad lowered his eyebrows at me again and said, "Wrong! Your muscles didn't do that. You did. Your mind wanted you to do it, and you yourself—the you that is on the inside of you—ordered your muscles to do it, and they obeyed you."
Still trying to be funny, I answered, "I'm glad you admit I have a mind." I looked out across the treetops of our orchard toward the west, where Poetry, my almost-best friend, lived. I flexed my biceps and felt one of the most wonderful feelings a boy ever feels, as I filled my lungs with clean, seven-o'clock-in-the-morning fresh air. Then, like our old red rooster, I flapped my arms, lifted my face toward the sky, and let out a squawking, high-pitched "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"That," I said to Dad, with a grin in my natural voice, "was an adventure of the voice."
He shrugged and made it easy for me to come down by ordering me to. "There's something I want to show you before breakfast," he said.
He led the way from where we were to the row of flaming hollyhocks that grew along the orchard fence just west of the grape arbor—which was about thirty-seven feet from the west side of our house. There we stopped, both of us listening in the direction of the kitchen door to hear a woman's voice calling to us that breakfast was ready.
"Look," Dad began. He lifted a hollyhock leaf very carefully, the way he does Charlotte Ann's little chin when he wants to see into her mischievous blue eyes. Charlotte Ann is the very cute little sister I've already mentioned—my "first and worst," as Poetry describes her.
I focused my eyes on the large, coarse, round hollyhock leaf resting on Dad's forefinger. I was also looking at several big, circular, wide-open maroon flowers of which there were maybe thirteen on the tall hollyhock stalk.
"What am I supposed to see?" I said to Dad, yawning.
He answered, "Dew! Fresh, clean dewdrops. See how damp this leaf is?"
When I answered, "What about it?" I was surprised at what he said next.
"Notice that this leaf is as wet on the inferior side as on the superior." He probably thought I was old enough to learn the meaning of those two long words.
Then Dad went leaping and diving into the educational adventure he wanted me to enjoy with him. He was kind of like a boy already out in the middle of Sugar Creek calling back to another boy, "Come on in! The water's fine!"
"The hollyhock," Dad's deep voice rumbled, "is a Chinese herb, a garden plant of the mallow family. In Egypt its leaves are used for food—after they're cooked, of course. The hollyhock's botanical name is the Althea rosea, and, like most flowers, it is symbolic."
Most of Dad's words were too long for me to understand, and it seemed this wasn't going to be a very interesting adventure of the mind. It didn't have enough action in it—nothing to use my muscles on. I started to say so but yawned again instead and squinted at the hollyhock leaf. I was surprised to notice it did have as much dew on the underside as it did on its top.
"Furthermore," Dad went on, "the symbolism of the hollyhock is ambition. And that's the first half of today's educational adventure."
I had my eye on the hollyhock stalk right next to the one Dad was using as his object lesson. "What's the first half of my adventure?" I asked. My mind was in the kitchen where frying country sausage was sending its fragrance all the way out to our outdoor schoolroom.
"Ambition," Dad answered in a teacherlike voice. "Every time you see a hollyhock anywhere, you're supposed to say to yourself, 'Bill Collins, don't be a lazy good-for-nothing! Be ambitious! Wake up your mind and put it to work to be somebody worthwhile in life. Don't be a drone lying around a hive!' Does that make sense to you?"
"Does what make sense?" I asked, but I thought I knew what he meant. He expected me to be a hollyhock kind of boy—not an idler or a worthless, shiftless, lazy good-for-nothing, as he had just said.
Well, Dad and Mom and I were pretty good friends. All three of us laughed with each other at different things that happened around the place or at things one or the other had read or heard somewhere. We would sometimes have a joke between us for a whole day. So, even though I was sort of sleepy and also hungry, I looked up at the grin under Dad's mustache and asked, "Are you sure you're interested in my being an ambitious boy, or are you thinking about the garden out there, hoping somebody's only son will show a little more interest in it?"
"The garden, of course," was Dad's good-natured answer. Then he added, "Ambition in a boy's mind can do a better job controlling his muscles than three beech switches hanging on the gun rack in the toolshed."
My mind's eye looked right through the ponderosa pine wall of the toolshed and saw Dad's gun rack with two shotguns and my .22 rifle on it. I also saw, lying across the lower horns of the rack, three innocent-looking beech switches, and I remembered how Dad had once remarked to Poetry's father, "The guns are for wild animals, and the switches are for wild boys."
Right then Mom called from the kitchen door that breakfast was ready. It probably would be pancakes and sausage, milk, and maybe some kind of fresh fruit, such as yesterday's just picked cherries, which I'd picked myself from the tree that grew not more than twenty feet from the hollyhocks' last tall, spire-like stalk.
"One minute," Dad called to Mom. "I have to assign tomorrow's lesson!"
Dad assigned it to me quickly, seeming to be in more of a hurry than before Mom had called. I took my small notebook out of my shirt pocket and wrote down what he told me.
On the way back to the board walk that led to our kitchen's back door, I was thinking about Dad's assignment, which was "Look up page 204 in The Greem Treasury in our upstairs library and study it. Also look up the word dew in our unabridged Webster. Then read William Cullen Bryant's poem 'To a Waterfowl.'"
Tomorrow I was to tell my teacher-father what, if any, new ideas had come to me.
Before going into the house to pancakes, sausage, fruit, and whatever else Mom would have ready, Dad and I stopped for a minute at the low, round-topped table near the iron pitcher pump, where there was a washbasin, a bar of soap, and a towel. There I washed my already clean face and hands.
That was one of the rules at our house. A certain red-haired, freckle-faced boy I knew got to wash his face and hands before he was allowed to sit at the table three times a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. Say, did you ever figure up how many times you've had to do that since you were old enough to be told? Even in one year, it'd be over a thousand times!
"You first," I said to my father, since he was the oldest and was more used to cold water than I was.
While Dad was washing his hands and face, I studied the leaves of Mom's row of salvia growing at the other end of her horseradish bed. When I lifted the chin of one of the green leaves, what to my wondering eyes should appear on the underside of the leaf but as much dew as there was on top!
Later, while I was sitting at the table with Dad and Mom—Charlotte Ann was still asleep in her little bed in the front bedroom—I said to Dad, "I'm already ready for tomorrow's lesson. William Cullen Bryant was wrong when he wrote 'Whither, midst falling dew ...'"
I knew that those four words were the first line of Bryant's "To a Waterfowl." I'd memorized it in school.
"Dew," I said to Dad around a bite of pancake, "doesn't do what he said it did."
Mom, not knowing what on earth—or under a hollyhock or salvia leaf—Dad and I were talking about, looked at me across the table and asked, "What kind of talk is that—'Do doesn't do what he said it did'?"
Our senses of humor came to life, and for a few seconds Dad and I had a good laugh at Mom's expense. Dad asked her, "How do you spell do, my dear? Do you spell dew do or do you spell do dew?"
Mom's face was a blank, except for the question marks and exclamation points on it. Her kind of pretty eyebrows went down, and a nervous little crinkle ran up and down her forehead.
Dad explained what he and I meant, but for some reason, her sense of humor didn't come to life. So we changed the subject and went on eating our sausage and pancakes and cherries.
Because I was a boy with a boy's mind, having more important things on it than dew, which didn't fall at all but condensed instead, I felt the outdoors calling me to come and enjoy it.
There was, for instance, a little brown path—made by boys' bare feet—that ran as crooked as a cow path through the woods to the spring. It began on the other side of the rail fence on the far side of the road and twisted and dodged along, round and round, till it came to a hill that led down to the Black Widow Stump and on to the leaning linden tree.
Beginning at the linden tree, another path scooted east along a high rail fence to a wild crab apple tree and on to the place where the gang squeezed through the fence to get to the bayou.
Still another path ran from the leaning linden tree down a steep incline to the spring. From the spring, after you eased through a barbed wire fence, a cool path ran between the bayou and the creek, through tall marsh grass and all kinds of weeds to a clearing that bordered Dragonfly's father's cornfield. It ended at a well-worn grassy place under the Snatzerpazooka tree, where we had some of our most important meetings and where we left our clothes when we went in swimming.
That very place was the place where, at two o'clock that afternoon, the gang was supposed to meet—all of us that could. We were to discuss plans to spend tomorrow night at Old Man Paddler's cabin far up in the hills, beyond the cave and the sycamore tree and on the other side of the swamp.
All the whole wonderful Sugar Creek playground was sort of in my mind while I was at the breakfast table that morning—the morning of the beginning of the story of the Battle of the Bees.
In a sad corner of my mind, though, was something else—a garden begging a boy my size (with or without ambition) to come and do something about the small weeds, which, since the last rain, were growing twice as fast as the black-seeded Simpson lettuce, the Ebenezer onions, and the Golden Bantam sweet corn.
In the educational section of my mind was a row of hollyhocks with maybe a hundred many-colored flowers in full bloom. All the flowers seemed to have voices calling me to get out into the garden as soon as I could. "Ambition, Bill Collins! Ambition! Don't be an idle good-for-nothing! Don't be a drone lazying around at the door of a beehive!"
I'd seen hundreds of dopey drones lying around the beehives in Dad's apiary. While the worker bees were as busy as bees flying in and out, gathering honey and helping pollinate the clover in Harm Groenwald's field on the other side of the lane, those lazy, good-for-nothing drones did nothing at all.
Sitting at the breakfast table that morning, I didn't have the slightest idea that bees and beehives, Charlotte Ann, and a home run I was going to knock that afternoon were going to give me an exciting adventure of mind and muscle such as I'd never had before in all my half-long life.CHAPTER 2
You would hardly imagine that an ordinary breakfast at our house would be so important to a boy, but it was. You can see how important the ordinary things we said and thought were, and how they got mixed up in this story, if you will imagine yourself to be a ghost somewhere up in the air above our table, watching and listening. Keep your ghost eyes and ears open now, so you won't miss anything.
First, you see Mom in her chair between the range and the table where we are having breakfast. She is stirring her coffee. Dad is wiping his reddish brown mustache with his napkin. And across the table the long way from him is a red-haired, freckle-faced boy named Bill. The boy's plate is empty, and his silverware is lying across it the way you are supposed to place it when you have good manners.
Between Mom and Dad, you can see my sister Charlotte Ann's empty high chair. Lying on the chair's large wooden tray is a very old, gray, clothbound book open near the middle.
Out of that book, for several weeks now, our family had been taking turns reading, getting thoughts and ideas for what we call "garden time," which some families call "family devotions."
Excerpted from Sugar Creek Gang 33 The Battle of the Bees by Paul Hutchens. Copyright © 1999 Pauline Hutchens Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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