Tuesday, June 16, 2009

George "Buzz" Bee

Chapter Seventeen

George "Buzz" Bee

It's not until you sit down to write about the preceding two generations of your family, that you realise how little you know. And unfortunately those who could have filled in the gaps, George and Ada's children, are no longer with us. So from childhood memories, and little tit bits here and there, here is our story.

It seems George was one of the 'red-headed Bees' early on in his childhood, and that probably helped identify him, given the number of George Bees around.

His rovings as a young man took him to Foxton, where he invested in a flax mill with his cousin George 'Shardy' Bee. That wasn't successful. He was also known for his keen interest in horses, and apparently ran a few racing nags at one time, while living in Shannon. George met and married Ada Kennedy, one of a large family, who I believe came from Napier.

George and Ada were to have five children — Marjorie, Frank, Jack, Fred and Alice. Freddie was to die very young, the result of a diphtheria epidemic.

During this time the family moved to Takapau, in Factory Road, Otawhao. George had drawn the 145 acre property in a civilian farm ballot. Some years later George died in his fifties, leaving Ada or Mater as she was known to her children, to bring up the family.

The reasons for George's death are obscure the most ambitious tales say he was drowned in a creek on his way home in the horse and buggy from the Takapau Hotel, one stormy night. However, other family sources say he died of a heart attack while out fencing the farm following a grass fire. My father, Frank, would never talk about his father's death, only that it was a shock to the family, with the children still young.

Ada was no more forthcoming about the early years of the marriage and this seems to have been a trait —not passing on the family history.

Their eldest daughter Marjorie married Jim Seed and they had a son, Leslie, living most of their lives in Hastings. Marj worked for many years in a dress shop in Heretaunga Street.

Frank married Betty Logan, whom he met while on active service in the Guadalcanal during World War Two. Frank was known as 'The Bishop' to his sisters and brothers — we have no idea why. He trained as a teacher at Christchurch Teachers College and spent time teaching in Tutira, Masterton, Nireha, Mangamarie and finally Havelock North. Frank and Betty had four children — Ailsa, Roger, Vicki and Sharon.

Frank's younger brother Jack married Jeanette Boyd and they had two sons Russell and Nelson. Jack was a plasterer by trade and did his apprenticeship in Havelock North. He worked in the Rehab Office following the war, helping in farm settlements and the Maori Affairs Office. Jack worked for many years in Wellington and Takapau, before taking over the family farm at Otawho, which had been leased out for 30 years.

Alice, known to us all as 'Bink', was to remain single, although it's said she got her nickname from a boyfriend 'Binkie' who was a jockey. Bink was born with a deformed hip and had trouble walking in later life.

Bink was Ada's companion and the two lived for more than twenty years at 76 Te Mata Road in Havelock North — a wonderful old villa bought for them by Frank. Bink worked at Minor Parcels in Hastings for many years before retiring and taking over full time care of her mother. Frank always referred to them as ‘the girls’, but our generation of seven cousins always knew them as Gran and Bink.

Ada lived well into her nineties and remained a strong and independent woman till the Iast, still mowing the lawns with a hand mower at 91. I remember one tale she used to tell of life on the farm at Takapau with George. It involved a serious grass fire which swept across hundreds of acres of farmland. Ada wrapped up the family dinner set and china in an old sheet and lowered it down the well on the property, before leaving the farm for safety. I remember drinking out of one of the dinner set cups and being told the story of their history. It's a pity we didn't ask more about the exploits of the family itself.

Nelson Bee remembers the story of Ada feeding an escaped prisoner, when living at the farm. A swaggie turned up at the door asking for food late one afternoon. Ada said he could have a meal, as long as he chopped the pile of wood outside the backdoor first. She gave him the axe and sent him to the woodpile. He did the job, had a meal and left. The village constable arrived on horseback a short time later asking if Ada had seen a stranger, fitting the description of the `swaggie'. It turned out that he was an escaped prisoner locked up on a murder charge.

Our side of the Bees have some identifiable characteristics though. George and Ada's children all had a strong interest in the racetrack and putting some money on the horses. They had a keen sense of humour, a wonderful wit and a deep feeling for the land.

As the grandchildren of George and Ada, we have fond memories of the family get-togethers at 76 Te Mata Road — the toys behind the screen in the fireplace in the spare room, the not allowed to go into the lounge 'rule' or the rocking chair that Gran would sometimes let you rock in, if your behaviour was up to scratch.

On the wall of the lounge hung two very old pictures, one of them said to be our grandfather George 'Buzz' Bee, the other thought to be Nellie or Mary, at the time our only link with a family we have since re-discovered through the re-union.

Ailsa Litchfield Blenheim

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