Monday, January 12, 2009

Heirlooms of the Week

We are getting to the end of the Mason relics. Now we have items that belonged to my great-grandmother Nettie McAfee Mason.

The square honey dish is antique pressed glass. The pattern was revived in later years by the Indiana Glass Company, who issued reproductions of the design in a rainbow of colors, still with the splayed feet. Ultimately the fragile splayed feet were replaced by functional, blunt feet by Tiara, who issued another set of colors which were sold at Home Interior parties several years back. Now, all versions are highly collectible. But I have the real thing. (I also have a large collection of the reproductions in light blue, cobalt blue, white, black, green, pink, amberina, amber, and frosted, along with two other honey dishes in a different pattern. Another collection that I didn't really intend to have. And I still need the red...)

The little honey dish was designed to hold a quarter comb of honey. All around are embossed images of bees and beehives. The Masons actually raised honey bees for a time, as evidenced by my grandmother Lucy Hodge's memoirs:

"We had about fifty stands of bees. Every fall was time to rob the bees and extract the honey from the cone. I was about 9 years old when I started helping with the bees. I worked the smoker for Dad. The smoker was a little box like thing that you put some wool rags in. If you had some wool it made the best smoke because it burned slow. Or just any kind of rags. It had a sort of spout on the front side and a back that was hinged on. The sides were something flexible. I don’t know what, but it didn’t burn. You would squeeze the back and the smoke came out the spout. When you went up to a hive you just raised the lid a tiny bit and blew the smoke in. (The hives were all two story.) You only took honey from the top story. You left the bottom for the bees to eat through the winter. Also the bottom half was where the baby bees were.

To start the hive you had this box about 2½ feet square, 1 foot high. You placed frames in it. They were made to fit about 1 inch apart to give room for the bees to build cone. They would always have one queen bee to the hive. As soon as they got cone built she would deposit one egg in each cell of a frame and the workers would seal it over. That is where the baby bees would hatch and eat their way out of the cell. The top story was the same size, bottomless box that set on top of the other box. The smoke would drive the bees down into the bottom half. Then Dad would lift out the frames from the hive and lay them in a wash tub and take them to the house. We had a long L-shaped back porch. That is where we extracted the honey. The extractor was a can shaped thing with a door on one side to put the frames in, 2 at a time. One fit on each side of a center piece that turned round and round when you turned a crank. That would sling all the honey out of the cone and you put the cone back in the hive for the bees to fill again.

There was a spigot on the side near the bottom of the can. We kept lard cans to catch the honey. In a good year when the mesquites bloomed good we would usually have about 50 gal. of honey to sell. But before it was ready to sell it had to be put in qt. jars. Just before Christmas, maybe in November, it was time to go to Austin to buy groceries for the winter. So late in the afternoon they would load the honey in front of the wagon on some hay. Had to take hay and corn along to feed the mules. Then the sacks of wool went on the back because he always got the wool sold first before he went up town to sell honey. Sold all the honey and bought all the groceries up and down Congress. "

The little honey dish had a lively life. Nettie Mason had promised the little dish to her namesake, my mother. After her death, Nettie's oldest daughter Ellen, who took charge of disposing of Nettie's effects and knowing full well that the honey dish was supposed to have gone to my mother, gave it instead to her own sister Annie Mae. (Aunt Ellen was something else. It may have been to spite her sister, my grandmother, and it may have just been that she felt mean that day.) It remained in Aunt Annie Mae's possession for 20-30 years. I can remember going to visit Aunt Annie Mae and Uncle Jim when I was probably about 12. They had moved to Rusk and we seldom saw them. On this occasion, I'm sure we made the slight detour to Rusk on our way to or from Gladewater to visit my paternal grandparents.

While we were there, Aunt Annie Mae brought out the little honey dish and gave it to Mother. She, too, had known her mother's wishes in the matter and the honey dish finally came into the possesion of the one for whom it had been intended. It was still in perfect condition, little splayed feet still intact.

The ring in the picture was Nettie Mason's wedding ring. My grandmother passed it to me when I began showing interest in family history. It is a paper-thin circle of gold, worn down from 40 plus years of wear. It resides in the little blue box inside the honey dish, alongside the leather pouch with the silver dollar discussed in an earlier post.


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