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Bogum, bees and needles in a bottle

Bogum Senn was a real character.

I would rather sit and listen to his stories – or lies – whichever he was stringing at the time, than eat sugar candy.

Daddy always said that Bogum was one of the smartest men he had ever known. He read Shakespeare like the rest of folks read the funny paper.

I don’t ever remember not knowing Bogum, but I learned to really appreciate him when he sanded the floors in the house we were remodeling. While he worked, I pulled up a chair or a crate or anything handy and enjoyed his company.

One morning, to my surprise, he didn’t come to put the first coat of varnish on the floor. The next day he didn’t show or the next. He was holding up work that had to be done so I hunted him down.

No apologies, no excuses. He didn’t come back because he wasn’t ever coming back.

“Chimney sweeps,” he said. “There’s chimney sweeps in the fireplace and I ain’t about to let them come swooping out on my head.”

“You’re scared of birds?” I said amazed.

“They ain’t birds. They’re chimney sweeps and, yeah, I’m scared of ’em. One time they were in a fireplace and came swooping out and knocked me down and tried to peck my eyes out. I ain’t coming back.”

He did come back after the chimney sweeps were “flushed” out and the chimney plugged.

My boys were as fascinated by Bogum’s stories as I was.

I had gotten a little concerned that one of them was too long in coming home from the barbershop.

“I was just up there listening to Mr. Bogum Senn, Mama,” he said. “Is all that stuff that he tells true?”

I said that Bogum probably embellished his stories a bit to make them more interesting, but I was sure there was a grain of truth in them somewhere.

If Bogum’s stories had been 100 percent true … well.

In later years, Bogum’s health declined. He was diagnosed with cancer. He stopped by to tell me and he was handling it really well. Some time later, I was “down the road” below Brundidge, and he was out in his yard and waved. I turned around and went back.

“Come on in. I want to show you something,” he said.

He opened a cabinet and took out a Mason jar.

“It’s alcohol – rubbing alcohol – and that’s needles in there,” he said. “Nine needles. Not eight, not ten. Nine needles. It’s what I’m doing for my cancer.”

“You rub it on you?” I asked and he shook his head.

“You don’t drink that stuff?” I said, alarmed.

“Nah. You just keep it in the cabinet and, when the needles are gone, so’s the cancer.”

I said that was plum crazy, and he’d better get to a doctor and forget about needles in jar.

It was some time before I saw Bogum again. Months. When I did bump into him, he had good news. His cancer was in remission.

“I reckon the needles worked after all,” he said. Then he added almost as an afterthought, “Course, I was going through the prayer line at the church at the same time.”

I assured him that it was the prayer line, not the needles in a Mason jar, that he had to thank.

What got me thinking about Bogum and needles was getting stung by a yellowjacket the other night. I’m allergic to bee stings and wasted not a second getting in the house. My mind raced as to what to do. Tobacco? I didn’t have any. Aloe? For burns. Clorox? I’d used the last drop? Meat tenderizer? Yes.

I ran my hand under the water faucet and doused it with meat tenderizer. All the while I was sending up an earnest prayer.

The next morning, to my surprise and delight, my hand ached slightly and itched but it was barely swollen.

“That meat tenderizer really works!”

But then I thought, “That’s plum crazy. I was going through the ‘prayer line’ at the same time….”