From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

A Sweet Lesson

The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.

Henry Ward Beecher

My father loved honeybees. When a wild honeybee came buzzing around, Dad would stop whatever he was doing and wait for the bee to get its fill of nectar. As soon as it was full, it would take off as straight as an arrow to its hive in the woods. Our father would then set off after it. Even if he lost sight of it, he could approximate where it would end up because honeybees don’t waver from a straight beeline when they go home.

Whenever Dad found a hollow tree with a swarm of bees in it, he’d visit the landowner and get permission to cut the tree. Dad always gave the owner all the honey in exchange for the bees. That was how he built up a large apiary, which eventually provided a major portion of our family income.

A hive of honeybees could die of starvation during the winter if its supply of honey gave out before the flowers were in bloom. Beekeepers routinely helped their bees survive the cold months by feeding them syrup made from sugar and water.

During World War I, our nation had a severe sugar shortage. The government rationed sugar, along with many other things. This created a great demand for honey as a substitute. Because of this need for honey, beekeepers were given an extra ration of sugar to keep their bees alive through the winter. We kept our government allotment in a barrel in our summer kitchen. We kids knew that it was to be used strictly for feeding the bees.

Because of these shortages our country suffered during World War I, it was often difficult for mothers to cook good meals for their families. It was especially a struggle when company came to visit.

One day we received word that some favorite relatives, who lived several miles away, would be coming to visit the next day. We were so excited. Mom started to plan the dinner she would prepare for their visit. Wistfully she said, “Oh, how I wish I could bake a cake!” She prided herself on her beautiful cakes. However, our small ration of sugar for the family had already been consumed, so cake baking was impossible.

Of course we children wanted that cake as badly as she did! We begged her to take enough sugar from Dad’s bee ration to make it. We argued that there was no way the government would know about it. Finally, she gave in. She went outside to the barrel of sugar in the summer kitchen and used it to make her delicious yellow cake recipe. It took skill to bake a perfect cake in a wood-fired oven, but our mother could do it. When she finished decorating it with her special meringue icing, we were so proud to serve it to our guests.

A few days later it was time for our family of seven to receive our monthly allotment of sugar. Dad went to the grocery store to buy it. The grocer put it in a tiny brown bag and tied it securely. When Dad got home he sat it on our table.

Mom looked at that package for a moment. Then she got out the utensil she’d used for measuring the sugar for the cake. As we children looked on in awe and disbelief, she measured out exactly the same amount that she’d used. Then we solemnly followed behind her as she went out to the bee sugar barrel and poured it in.

The scanty amount left at the bottom of the small paper bag was meager for a family of seven, but still it had to suffice for our month’s family ration. Quite a sobering thought for a small child who loved sweets. Mom made no fuss over it. No fanfare. She didn’t preach to us about honesty. It was just a natural action on her part, in keeping with the integrity with which my father and she lived their lives.

I’m ninety-two years old now. It’s been a long time since I was a small child standing on tiptoes peering over my mother’s kitchen table. Many things have changed in my lifetime. I still make a cake when company comes to visit, but I bake from a mix now because I can’t stand up as long as I used to. I no longer have to use a wood stove. There is certainly no shortage of sugar in our country.

But some things should never change. And so I have told this story about my mother’s unconditional honesty many times to my children and grandchildren and even to my great-grandchildren. Mom was like those honeybees my dad loved to follow. You could always count on her making an honest path through life, a beeline straight as an arrow. Because of that, she quietly shaped four generations of our family’s conscience.

Mildred Bonzo

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