Monday, October 5, 2015

The bees knees

Thinking of knees today 'cause I'm gonna have arthroscopic surgery on one of mine tomorrow. It's stuck and won't budge. Could be there's some cartilage gummed up or torn. 

So I looked up the saying, the bees knees, and whaddya know, there's no consensus on the etymology. 

But first, I'll talk about my mom's knees.

And I will mention that my mom (pictured above with one of my brothers) has a bum knee too, her right one too. Verry interesting. She fell over one day and hurt her knee and figured it would get better. It mostly did. But some years later the knee collapsed and doctors told her there was nothing they could do because arthritis had set in pretty good. And now she hobbles (happily, it must be said, she has an amazing spirit) and agreed to a wheelchair on an outing to Assiniboine Park recently. She is gracious and graceful and her equanimity is inspiring. I do aspire. And appreciate her amazing role modelling.
Zana, my mom, me, my son, and my two nieces: her first day with wheels!
Something else you have to think about when your parents get older is that aging is part of the cycle of life, right? It's not easy, of course, because in doing that we have to face our own mortality.
These are the steps to her childhood bedroom. I like to think of her sitting at the top of the stairs, looking out the window over the moonlit prairie night, waiting to see the headlights of her dad's car, coming home from Winnipeg. 
Spending time in her childhood home in Springstein, Manitoba, a CPR settlement stuck on the bald-ass prairie, was intense. Everything breaks down. Everybody dies. When I got home from this visit I cried for two hours. It's hard to see your mom get old, to see her suffer as her body breaks down. And it is amazing to experience her spirit, and to appreciate her legacy, and to own a part of that too. I was so happy to share this with my boys, and their cousins, and my brothers and sister too.

This was my mom's bedroom when she was a kid: she shared it with her five sisters.

Cousins on the prairie, where there grandmother was born and raised. She walked across those stubbled fields to school. 

Awesome, beautiful young women. My mom lived here when she was their age. 

And if you're still interested, have a read of some explanations for "the bees knees." 

When bees flit from flower to flower the nectar sticks to their legs. The phrase "bee's knees" means sweet and good, because the knees of the bee are where all the sweet, good stuff is collected. 
There's no profound reason to relate bees and knees other than the jaunty-sounding rhyme. In the 1920s it was fashionable to use nonsense terms to denote excellence - 'the snake's hips', 'the kipper's knickers', 'the cat's pyjamas/whiskers', 'the monkey's eyebrows' and so on. Of these, the bee's knees and the cat's whiskers are the only ones to have stood the test of time. 

Also... 'Bee's knees' began to be used in early 20th century America. Initially, it was just a nonsense expression that denoted something that didn't have any meaningful existence - the kind of thing that a naive apprentice would be sent to the stores to ask for, like a 'sky-hook' or 'striped paint'. 

Bee Jackson: One tenuous connection between the bee's knees and an actual bee relates to Bee Jackson. Ms. Jackson was a dancer in 1920s New York and popularised the Charleston, being credited by some as introducing the dance to Broadway in 1924. She went on to become the World Champion Charleston dancer and was quite celebrated at the time. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the expression became popular in reference to her and her very active knees, but 1924 post dates the origin of the phrase. 
Is there any value in the theory that "Bee's Knees" was originally defined as meaning insignificant, or of little value? I thought this seemed a peculiar suggestion when I first heard it, but it seems the other terms described - Eel's Ankle, Elephant's Instep (Gnat's Wing is another, although not mentioned here) - would have similar connotations.

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