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The Busy Bee

Submitted by Shiron Wordsworth

The Roaring Twenties were just about to slip into the depressed thirties. The year was 1928, and according to my grandmother, Mary Ann Langford, Mt. Vernon had a favorite place for her teens to "roar" with the rest of the country. It was called The Busy Bee. Recalling Grandmom's stories concerning this "hot" spot in downtown Mt. Vernon, I can't determine from her descriptions whether this establishment was a drugstore with a soda fountain or a cafe where food was served. But apparently, food and sodas were the least of it's charms. The Busy Bee was THE place to Charleston in Rockcastle County, in 1928. At least it was the one that figured the largest in Mary Ann Langford's sixteen-year-old existence.

My grandmother and her sister, Ina Judith Langford were the daughters of Rockcastle residents, Elza Langford and Carrie Lay. They were descendants of that first Langford who entered the county in 1790. Tragically, these two young ladies were orphaned when "Little Mary" was seven and "Inez" was nearly three. Mary went to live with her Uncle, "Tip" Langford. Ina went to live with Charles and Bessie Bethurum.

Uncle Tip provided a good home for my Grandmother, but she always said he was "hard on her." My mother and I quizzed her over and over about this "hardness." Early on we determined that my grandmother was not the victim of any abuse. But "Tip" Langford did have a strict code of conduct for young ladies in his care. It's equally true that he expected obedience. And his code of deportment did NOT include young ladies with their stockings rolled beneath their knees and their skirts above them dancing the hoochie-koochie in front of God and everybody in downtown Mt. Vernon. No siree! He told her to steer clear of The Busy Bee. In Tip Langford's estimation, The Busy Bee was a den of adolescent hormones and iniquity, not a fit place for "proper" young ladies.

Grandmom did what teens have done since the garden in Eden. She devised ways to sneak off and Charleston with the rest of Mt. Vernon's youngins' right there in The Busy Bee. Her friends assisted her efforts. In fact, they were absolutely necessary to her success as a local Flapper. You see, Uncle Tip would, at odd moments, stroll past The Busy Bee to see if Little Mary had fallen from grace. A friend stationed by the door with a good view of the street would give warning when Tip Langford was on patrol. When the alarm sounded, Grandmom had just enough time to slide into one of The Busy Bee's convenient booths and scrunch down far enough so that her auburn hair would not draw attention to the fact of her sin. When the coast was clear, she could party once more.

I have a theory that Tip Langford knew full well she was in that spot, garters, hose, short skirts, and all. His patrol was just a way to keep her on her toes and insure that she wasn't in any real trouble, and that she wasn't engaged is some totally lewd behavior such as kissing the local beaus. Maybe he was fooled, but I doubt it.

I have a particular fondness for The Busy Bee. I owe my existence to it! You see, in 1928, twenty-year-old Louie Roger Steenbergen was driving a truck for the state of Kentucky. His job took him throughout the Bluegrass. One fateful day in 1928, he visited The Busy Bee while in Mt. Vernon on state business. There he spied a red-headed Langford girl who could Charleston with the best of the era's Flappers. The rest is history...my history. Thank God for The Busy Bee, adolescent hormones, Mt. Vernon, and the Charleston!

Wouldn't it be great if we could push back the curtain of time for just a moment and enter The Busy Bee once more? Wouldn't it be great to hitch a ride on the running board of a friend's jalopy and sail through the streets of Mt. Vernon at the wicked speed of 30 miles per hour, owning the world? Wouldn't it be just "the bee's knees" to cruise to Livingston in a rumble seat wearing a raccoon collar coat, stealing chaste kisses under the stars? And wouldn't it be a blessing beyond belief if those Rockcastle residents who did so were with us even yet?