Grandpa and the Honey Bees

Grandfather and the Honey Bees

The last time I ever saw and spoke with my Grandfather in 1992, he was 98 years old. His mind was ravaged by Dementia and his kidneys were failing. Yet, all he could talk about that day were his bees. He wasn’t making much sense about anything else, but for some reason that day he had the bees on his mind. You see, he had been a beekeeper almost all of his life, and he was worried about them. Very worried.

As far back as I can remember there were always bee hives surrounding his old two storied clapboard house. They were not out in some distant field somewhere. They were within feet of the front porch, resting on large flat rocks that Grandpa had brought down behind a mule from near the top of “Johnny” Mountain which loomed tall just across Uncle Lark’s corn field straight out in front of the home place.

They were neat little white painted wooden boxes, with another one of the flat rocks on top. Simplicity in design beyond today’s comprehension, but workable nonetheless. I used to be mesmerized as a child watching these tireless workers fly in and out, and in and out of the little hole cut in the bottom of the wooden box, which served as their one entrance and exit from the hive. I could watch them for hours on end and never tire of the wonderment of their movements and the soliloquy of their buzzing symphony.

They would zip around my head as I sat on the front porch swing, and I once made the mistake of swatting one of them when he got too close. Not only did I get a sting from the bee, but a lecture from Grandpa. “They won’t hurt you, if you don’t hurt them first” he said. “They’re out helpers, and you gotta let ‘em be” I had to take this advice literally, coming from a man who more often than not would rob a hive of bees wearing no extra clothing besides a heavy pair of leather gloves. He talked to them as he took out the honey, telling them he was leaving enough for them to survive the winter. Talked and hummed all the while.

But late that afternoon in 1992 he was worried about them.

“Will you take care of the bees this year?” he asked “I just don’t think I will be up to it”

“And mind you, don’t swat none of them, we need them every one”

“Sure Grandpa” I answered. “I’ll take care of them”

Now we are looking at the very real prospect that something is very wrong with our Honey bees. The populations are disappearing, and with them the possibility of apple and peach trees that don’t get pollinated, corn fields and soy bean crops that may be lost, perennials that may not bloom again. How important these creatures, who we hardly ever notice, unless they sting us, really are to our society. If they were all to disappear today, would humanity survive? We may find out unless the energies of our government and scientist hone in on what it is exactly that is making them disappear.

I remember nothing so well as the sweet taste of the fresh harvested honeycomb, and how the honey would drip from the edges of my mouth when I bit into it. I would hate for my grandchildren and their grandchildren to never have that chance. I personally feel like I have let my Grandpa down because when I spoke with him that day in 1992, I thought it was just the ramblings of an errant mind, and I didn’t think anymore about it.

But Grandpa knew how important these insects were. “They’re our helpers, we need them everyone” he had said.

We certainly do, and all of us had better realize it before it’s too late.

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