Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Honey Bear Farm-What People From Illinois Did at the Weekend in the 60's and 70's

Hello, I'm a 1970's country kitsch measuring cup holder. I've lived with Goody for quite some time now, but I was born in the gift shop at Honey Bear Farm resort, in Powers Lake, Wisconsin.

Goody has asked me to go ahead and tell this story because obviously, I was there and because I'm a wooden mouse. You don't get wooden mice telling stories on the Internet every day. Bonus? I'm vintage. I have a twin sister who sits atop a music box, who will get her own post someday. Why mice? I guess people got sick of owls and mushrooms, so mice were the obvious next in line. I'm hand crafted you know, not some cheap crap. Everyone says I look stunning for my age. The magic is what's in my tiny little spoon. It wouldn't help you, the mouse elixir.

Honey Bear Farm was bought by the company that owned Carson Pirie Scott around the time that Goody's dad was a food distributor at their restaurants. This worked out great for her dad who had an excuse to spend more time in Wisconsin making deliveries, and less time at home. I mean, I'm a wooden mouse, and even I can see the logic in that. Those people! Oh dear.

Still, at the weekend Goody's family, like so many other FIB's ("Fucking Illinois Bastards") would head North because there wasn't anything to do in tiny, little, provincial Chicago. A couple hours in the car works wonders for families, particularly if you can wedge the asthmatic youngest child between a couple cigarette smokers, one doused in Chanel 19 and the other in Azure, and a father puffing a cigar. With the windows up. On the Saturday ride up, and during the Met season, opera on the radio. Eventually though, they'd arrive in Wisconsin, stopping at the state line to stock up on cheap cigarettes, and lottery tickets.

By the time they'd arrive, Goody would be sufficiently carsick to have lost her appetite, but determined enough to suffer the consequences for a stack of pancakes, maple syrup, and flavoured boiled sugar sweets from the gift shop. Those were great. After the gift shop shut down for the evening, the wooden mice, the Honey Bear knick-knacks, and finger puppets would go raid the stand by the register with 25 different flavoured sticks of candy. I always went for the green apple myself. Most mice have a sweet tooth, but I do enjoy a sour lemon drop or apple stick now and then. The honey bear was predictable (and a bit of a dullard at that). I never liked him, with his blue and white stripped dungarees, huge ears, and "Aw shucks" demeanour.  Anyway, he'd get the honey flavoured ones *obvious*, and some fool would eat a bunch of watermelon sticks and the place would stink all night. Anyway, Goody was partial to butterscotch (she still is...I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be saying this, but sometimes she makes butterscotch sauce, and never uses it on anything but just eats it from the jar. I probably shouldn't be telling you this either, but sometimes she eats Golden Syrup when she hasn't made any porridge). She's gonna kill me for this. Right, so after the ride up, the kid needed some sugar to bring her round to a proper person again.

Where I lived, in the gift shop, we sold all sorts of great items. Parents would sometimes deposit their children there so they could go for a walk in peace, or go over to the lake and pretend they didn't have children at all. Sooner or later though, someone would come collect them, and they'd leave with a t-shirt, toy, or for the really awkward child, a set of copper measuring cups dangling from a wooden mouse. I might as well tell you (since I'm already in the doghouse over the last paragraph) that Goody once managed to steal a menu from the restaurant, and still has it packed away in a box of her childhood belongings. He mother was known to swipe tableware, and sometimes good napkins, but only from the really nice places. Honey Bear Farm would have been beneath her. Goody has a set of napkins from the Walnut Room at Marshall Field's that would likely fetch a good price on Ebay if she were inclined to sell them.

Given that her dad was supplying the place with some food products each week, he was on pretty good terms with the management and employees. That typically translated into the kids being given stuff, so that when Goody went through a phase where she was into trying different varieties of tea (before you grow up and settle into your brand) the gift shop manager would often send her dad back to Illinois with interesting tins of exotic teas. Or jelly candies, that would melt in the truck on the way back home, into a solid mass of psychedelic coloured candy (which was the best). In other words, they were nice to the girls, which took some effort because as children go, they were kind of sullen. Really, you'd think all that sugar would perk 'em up a bit, but those girls behaved like cracking a smile would kill them. Oh, they'd be polite enough, but asking for cheerful was more than they were able to muster.

One winter weekend, their dad took the girls up to Honey Bear Farm to make some sort of emergency delivery (try getting someone to come out on a Sunday to make a delivery in this day and age). It was a freezing cold day-sub zero, wind, the sort of thing Wisconsin is known for (besides cheese, and football). The manager of the resort was European. Everyone called him the "Swiss Hillbilly" but I don't think he was really Swiss. Or a hillbilly. For the life of me, I can't remember his name, but he was a large man, you certainly noticed him coming into the gift shop. We were kind of afraid of him, to be honest-like he was going to conduct an audit of the candy, and find out what we'd been up to. He wasn't the sort of person you'd want to argue with.

Remember, this was a sub-zero day. The girls were in the gift shop as their dad made his delivery, when they were informed that the manager had arranged a sleigh ride for them around the farm. It was a large resort. A large, windswept, freezing resort with a sleigh being hitched up to horses at that very moment so they could pile in, go for a ride and...I don't know what. Play out scenes from Doctor Zhivago?

"Jah", he said (okay, he probably said something that sounded like, "jah" but I'm a wooden mouse what do I know? I'm not being ethnocentric, he had a strong accent) "Ve can go see the lake, and you can have a gut time!"

Well, those sullen girls became quite animated, wouldn't you know at the suggestion they ride a sleigh in sub zero weather. I wouldn't say any feet were stamped in protest, but they made it quite clear they were not going. This lead to being called, "soft, and pampered", and probably seemed rude given the sleigh and horses were already hitched and ready. Now, Goody will say it was sensible, but I'm telling this story and I will tell you she was wrong. It would have been the polite thing to do, and it very well could have cost her father a valuable account had it been taken as rudeness rather than weakness. Fortunately, no business dealings were lost, but they were never invited back to the resort, and after that family weekend outings tended to be more mundane. There were still cigarettes, cigars, opera, and too much perfume, but without the promise of pancakes and candy at the end.

By the 80's, the place had closed, and Goody's dad was working almost entirely in Wisconsin with more deliveries than one person should have been doing (leaving at 5 am and coming home at 9 pm or later). Almost overnight, everyone forgot about Honey Bear Farm, and I was packed away in the cellar in favour of new, plastic measuring cups that stacked neatly in a drawer until Goody moved to Boston, and started using me again. Then, she too bought new measuring cups, so back in a box I went through a couple more moves until I was unearthed this last summer, and recycled into a bracelet holder.
Now, I get to make mischief in the dressing room, though the only candy available to me are those Tic Tac things she's so partial to these days. I'd kill for a green apple candy stick. Sometimes I shit on her dresser, but being a wooden mouse, it just looks like the old finish on the wood is chipping. She's not that bright, you know. As I'm not getting invited back for a future post (Come on, we all know she's going to shove me in a cupboard for another decade for spilling the beans about her habits) I'd like to say that although I was intended to be used as a measuring cup holder, I do a pretty good job with bracelets. You should look around your house for items that aren't being used to their full potential-you never know how we can be recycled. Besides, your 70's kitsch gets lonely. Been ages since I had a macramé owl hoot at me in the street. Bring us out, enjoy us again, but for heaven's sake, keep that terrible bear away from me.

I still think something isn't quite right about that bear! Don't turn your back on that one.


Northern mum down South said...

That's a great story, give that mouse some good quality cheese for a treat.
Looking at all your bracelets and bangles and other jewellery I might just have to do a return plane journey with you when you pop over to steal my coat and bag so I can go through all your stuff and choose a few pieces for myself. I have decided I need more accessories and I'm not convinced you would even notice if I didn't get too greedy. . .

Goody said...

The bracelets I might notice...the books on the other hand...

Accessories are great because you can typically afford them without too much up-front investment. Sure, it adds up over time, but who pays attention to that(she says with a merry laugh, and wave of her handbag)?

pastcaring said...

Genius. Another scene for the movie of your life! xxx

Goody said...

I'm not sure anyone would want to watch that. Maybe the John Waters fans would.

Propagatrix said...

I grew up very near Honey Bear Farms and I still have my creepy bear bank!

Goody said...


I'm so glad it wasn't just me thinking that.

I haven't been back in that part of the world for a couple decades, but my memories of the town itself is that it was rather nice. Must have been a pleasant place to grow up (creepy bears aside).