Country Journal/November 20, 2015

A Meditation on a Lump of Beeswax

I woke up early this morning because I was cold. I investigated. Space heater was not working. Is it the space heater, the extension cord, or the wall outlet? I didn’t want to waste time with this so I mentally designated the task to George, who is the house electrician, went to the living room, switched on the lights, drew the doorway curtain (so the lights would not bother the birds), and did a little more work on the tedious task of sorting and organizing the sewing tools.

This means combining what was already in the living room, in the area designated for sewing, with items recently unpacked, and putting like things together. Some items had been stored in cardboard boxes near the little propane furnace and these I planned to transfer to new storage bins. I came across lumps of beeswax which, fortunately, I had sufficient sense to have placed inside freezer storage bags.

Good thing I did that because the heat from the propane furnace had melted the beeswax which was now in very odd shapes.

There are both benefits and disadvantages to our fairly new propane furnace. It is about the size of a small suitcase and penetrates the front (south) wall of the living room. It vents to the outside. It is efficient and there are no propane fumes at all in the house. That is necessary for the birds. This house was never equipped with central heat. The propane furnace does an amazing job, but it doesn’t heat the house evenly. The living room is toasty, but the north side of the house is always cool. I must keep some doors closed for animal control so the bird room and my bedroom are equipped with electric space heaters to supplement the living room unit. The electronic controls on the living room heater mean that if we lose power, which happens fairly regularly, we also lose all heat. Eventually I will have a wood stove for backup. Woodstove is in place and stovepipe is purchased but not yet installed.

I discovered that I must keep an area of about three to four feet in all directions from the furnace clear of anything that can be damaged by heat. I overlooked the beeswax.

I didn’t want to lose the beeswax. How do I go about heating it to reshape it. That question sent me to the internet where I searched “how to work with beeswax.” I was thinking double boiler but the answer was much simpler. Heat it in a bowl of hot water and that makes it sufficiently pliable to shape.

I carried the beeswax into the kitchen and then I remembered how I came to possess it in the first place. When we first moved to Arkansas we lived in a portable metal building on the Cherry Hill property. We had no electricity and no plumbing. We did have water at a frost free spigot in the yard. Eventually we had electricity installed. The place still has no plumbing. I had brought a modest sewing kit with me when we moved, but most of the sewing supplies and the sewing machines were packed. I was trying to mend something or other and I had trouble with kinks and knots in the thread. I said something to George, “I wish I had beeswax for this thread.”

George said, “No problem. I have two pounds of it.”

I looked at him.

He said, “What?”

Now granted that in all discussions with a person of the opposite sex one must keep firmly in mind that one is dealing with an alien intelligence.

“George, why did you think that you would need to bring two pounds of beeswax with you when moving to Arkansas to homestead in temporary housing? And how did you happen to have it in the first place?”

“Waxing thread.” That’s the way you do it when you restore a ragwing.”

I tried to understand why on earth he thought that restoring an antique aircraft would be the first thing we would do in Arkansas. Or the second, the third, or even the thousand-and-first thing. It made perfect sense to George. It made no sense at all to me.

He unearthed two pounds of beeswax from somewhere or other. I think it was from the depths of an old navy duffel bag. He cut off a generous portion and gave it to me–enough to keep me waxing sewing thread until I am a hundred and twenty years old, at least.

I stood at the kitchen sink and cut the beeswax into appropriate sized pieces, some larger, some smaller. I molded it into lumps that were more or less cubical. I refrigerated it briefly to harden it. The big bits I wrapped in aluminum foil for storage. The small bits went into my various sewing baskets. The reason I keep multiple sewing baskets is that I am apt to do hand sewing wherever it is convenient–the living room, my bedroom, or the home office.

After that I got a mug of coffee, went back to the living room and cogitated.

If there is to be a new arrangement, then what pieces will stay as they are, what will go to the warehouse, what will be brought from the warehouse, and in what order shall the work be done?

My mind went back to the beeswax. That stuff keeps almost indefinitely. How many years has George had that hoard? How valuable will it become if the bees continue on a path to extinction? The world’s honeybees are in big trouble. By the time the soaring price of beeswax regularly makes the news I will probably be long gone, but that is okay with me. I don’t think I want to live in a post Sixth Great Extinction world.

I pondered the arrangement of the living room. I’m stuck with the placement of the wall furnace, the corner cabinet, and the wood stove. That doesn’t leave much scope for arranging furniture. I’m also stuck with the fact that the only place to set up a sewing station is the living room. I reviewed the problem of the ironing board. An ironing board in the living room is–peculiar. Even more peculiar is hanging it from the living room wall to free up floor space. But putting it anywhere other than near the sewing area makes no sense at all because sewing and pressing are done together always. Never trust a seamstress who doesn’t press more than she sews. I went back to the internet and reviewed gadgets that allow one to hang a board on the wall together with the iron and other parts of the ironing operation. I read the reviews. Some were enthusiastic; some were not. Every single ironing board hanger I could find for sale received only qualified commendations with the most common criticisms being, in summary, “This is the finest workmanship from China. Wrong size screws, screws not long enough, screws and holes don’t align, this or that is flimsy. We managed to install it but it required a lot of backyard engineering.” What does not?

I caucused with George about the living room and about the bedroom space heater problem. He reported later that he had done the requisite troubleshooting. He had not, but that is another story. He then took off on a round of errand running. I persevered in the living room.

And, in the meantime, The rooms already cleaned and organized are immediately beginning to lapse into disorder, a process accelerated by macaws shredding newspaper and throwing food and water several feet from their habitats. Daughter Kit once described my cleaning operations as “Mom’s snowplow method.” But the snowplow slows down as one moves through the process because one must constantly backtrack to keep the rooms already completed from relentlessly returning to total mess.

By four in the afternoon, after hours of bouncing around among screaming macaws, trying to keep George on track, working on the living room, and also trying to get words down on paper, I had completed a section of the living room roughly four feet by ten feet. Time to open a bottle of wine.

Several more hours this evening were taken up by the continuing saga of the bedroom heater, but at this time, 8:00 p.m., I do once again have heat.