Bee Charmer

My grandfathers were very different from one another.

One was a butcher by trade and managed to save well while pinching his pennies, often even holding onto food too long – as we often laughed about.

The other was a pentecostal preacher and hovered in and out of poverty at times, working other jobs to pay bills while also operating as a full time pastor.

They shared some similarities. Both were veterans. However, one was a wartime veteran who saw combat while the other did not.

One told me war stories and talked to me in French. Both said a German word here and there. One told jokes, teased, and pulled practical jokes incessantly and sang silly songs he made up and knew: my favorite being “The Thousand Legged Worm”  – which I called “Hop Around” when I would ask Pawpaw to sing it.

One made amazing spaghetti – the best. We had it every New Year’s Day.

One made the best drop biscuits, fried chicken, and gravy. We had it for breakfast on Christmas mornings.

Both helped teach me to drive, to fish, one to use a hammer, and one to ride my bike.

One was within walking distance. One was within a short drive. Summers were spent with all the grandparents and great-grandmothers.

Both grandfathers worked a garden and broke ground under a hot Southern sun. Both worked with wood and had a wood shop at home in which they crafted amazing things. Both told me they loved me and hugged me often. Neither was perfect, and both left behind many memories when they died. Both are alive in my memory.

Both kept bees.

I remember the white hive boxes, up on the hill behind the house for “Pawpaw Boots” and down near the river bank, yet far enough up from floods for “Pawpaw on the River.”

I remember, as a very small girl, walking near the hive boxes with Pawpaw on the River. I remember walking slowly and steadily alongside him and watching him check on the bees to see how the hive was doing. I remember how gentle and quiet he was with them. I remember not being afraid.

I remember being very little and eating honey at Pawpaw Boots’ house. Rich golden brown honey, from his bees. I remember it was there that I had my first taste of honey comb, and I so look forward and anticipate having another taste one day.

From bees of my own.

When I think of the reasons I want to keep bees, I do think of the benefits of helping the bee population and doing my part to help them thrive and survive. More than that though, I think of the memories I have of my grandfathers, and how, for some reason, I keep coming back to their bee keeping as one of the greatest legacies they left behind.

Because I grew up around bees, I do not fear them. (Note: wasps and yellow jackets are a different story, and a different creature all together.) I learned about the nature of the honey bee, and grew up loving the little fuzzy flying insects. When other’s might run or jerk back when they see a bee, I naturally stay calm.

I want the same for my children, and hopefully, my children’s children.

I also want bees to survive for my children and my children’s children. I want, desperately, for the bee population crisis to come to an end by helping bee communities to be safer and live better. I want to help encourage people to stop using so much pesticides and herbicides and to start using natural products and plant wildflowers, fruit trees, and organic heirloom vegetables instead of GMOs.

I want to preserve both bees, and the art of bee keeping.

I think of one more reason that comes to mind when I think about my own journey into keeping bees.

Idgie Threadgoode.

As a young adolescent, I remember watching the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” for the first time. I remember crying and laughing throughout it, and feeling my heart strings pulled at Ruth and Idgie’s deep connection. I’ve watched the movie countless times, and there is one scene in particular that moves me.

Ruth and Idgie have gone on a picnic together, and are sitting under a beautiful tree. Idgie walks away with a jar in hand, and walks into the middle of a nearby hive. She calmly reaches into the hive and pulls out a honeycomb dripping with honey. No bee suit, no gloves, no protection whatsoever. She brings back the jar to an upset Ruth who was worried. Idgie explains that she does it all the time, then Ruth tells her about bee charmers, “That’s what you are Idgie Threadgoode, a bee charmer.”

While Idgie Threadgoode is not the picture of a perfect lesbian role model, her bravery, her love for Ruth, and her goodness to others made me look up to this fictional character. And while I have no intention whatsoever in trying to charm bees instead of wearing protection, I like having a small connection to a literary lesbian who has meant so much to many gay women, including myself.

Now it is time for the rest of my day to begin, and to continue to work toward the day (though it will certainly be a couple of years) when I begin beekeeping, and to make breakfast and iced coffee for D, my lovebug, who is already outside weed-eating at 7 am.

Love,

C.

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Friendship Like Honey

I have been thinking on friendship lately: its changing nature, its steadfastness, the roles we play and the love we share. In an episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy and Ethel, in one of those glowing moments, sing a song together that includes the line, “Friendship – it’s the perfect planship.” Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball’s true friendship behind the scenes shines through in their smiles and glow.

I have been incredibly rich and blessed to have such wonderful friends. I would never attempt to name all of those dear ones, but I can share some lessons I have learned so far about what it means to be a true friend and the importance of friendship and how it really is “the perfect planship.”

I have learned that true friends listen well. They listen fully without judgment and with support.

True friends ask difficult questions and challenge us to be our whole authentic selves and to live up to our full potential.

Friends speak up but never say “I told you so” when we have made mistakes we have been warned about.

Friends help us to laugh and to find beauty and goodness even in the middle of pain,  whether it’s through telling stories or baking bread.

Friends hold our hands, hug us, and hold us.

Friends dance with us in celebration.

I have had so many of these beautiful moments with friends and more. Friends also come to us when they need us. They know it’s OK to call any time. They speak even when it is difficult for sadness, fear, or anger.

Friends amend and repair when needed.

I love symbols of friendship: key chains with paw prints, those little friendship bracelets we made in elementary school, ceremonies and group hugs and prayers.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of symbolizing friendship came at my and D’s wedding. It was an idea our friends J & V had incorporated into their own ceremony, and ever since I sang at their wedding, I knew I wanted to include this in my ceremony one day.

Near the end of our ceremony, after the homily and the vows, we asked for our friends and family to place flowers around us, forming an eternity symbol while we played “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Sufjan Stevens.

VLPlr_95For us, this act symbolized the eternal bond we vowed to one another, our lifelong covenant and commitment. It symbolized our commitment to Christ, and how our Triune God ever rejoices over us with singing, strengthens us, and sustains our marriage. It also symbolized the importance of the support of our community – our friends and family.

In this act of placing the flowers around us, our friends showed their own commitments to love and support our marriage to one another (legal or not.)

Marriage is a beautiful commitment between two people, but it is also a commitment to community and by community. To do life together, to support, and to give and receive – as friends.

As J placed her flower down, she looked me in the eyes and said, “You did this for me. Now I get to do this for you.”

The supportive love of friends is gold. It is the stuff that makes life even sweeter, and the stuff that holds us all together.

Like honey.

Love,

C.

Caw! Caw!

Growing up, my parents used to play a game with some of their friends while I played with the other kids, or as I got older, watched the other kids. I was always curious about the game, and wanted to play, but always told I wasn’t old enough.

I can’t help but recall this every time my mother-in-law or my wife takes out the playing cards with a black bird on the backs of every card. (Aside: mother-in-law is such a misnomer for our not so lawful marriage). There are cards with numbers in black, green, yellow, and red, and there is a bird card.

The bird.

The rook.

He or she seems to look up at me, ready to trick me again. Peering at me and ready to mock me and my truly futile efforts to win or to at least play well.

Deanna, her mother, and I have only played a handful of times, and it is usually spaced out by weeks or months.

Last Sunday, we visited my mother and grandmother, and then for dinner, we made some turkey burgers and invited Deanna’s mother over to eat and to play Rook if she wanted.

Of course she did. (imagine that with a slight tone of sarcasm and a pinch of worry and embarrassment because I never remember how to play.)

We exchanged some recipes after dinner and had a few good laughs, then I took our boxer/hound mix, Izzie, outside for a walk.

I came inside to find Deanna and her mom sitting at our vintage green Formica kitchen table, poised and shuffling the cards, and with a pad and pen to keep score.

However, not only do they keep score, they keep scores. There is a record of who won every game I think they ever played. And now my embarrassing totals join the ranks.

As I sat down, I asked to be reminded how to play – though nothing they ever say makes since to me when it comes to this game’s instructions. It always takes a few deals for me to think I have it, the deal when I bid on the nest and get it and “go set,” and then the next few deals to recover, and then I actually understand how to play. Then the game is over, and I am far behind.

Sunday night followed the same routine. I was careful with my bidding and then I made a gutsy move – only this time, I really did it. I was in the negative, and when I say in the negative, I mean by a hundred, while the other two were neck and neck for the win at 500 in the positive. I’m not usually a sore loser, but I felt like one after that game, and even during it. I wanted to say “Okay, well thanks for coming. I have to get ready for work tomorrow.” I wanted to give Deanna some secret signal, so maybe she could do it.

I looked over at Deanna, and she was smiling. Her eyes were bright, and she had a child-like glow as she began shuffling the cards and asked her mom to stay for another game. I looked at Juanita, and her eyes had that same bright expression.

As D shuffled the cards, something happened that also happens every time we play. They began to talk and tell stories. Stories of playing this game with friends. Then stories of playing this game with family, with Deanna’s grandparents, after holidays and get-togethers, around the kitchen table

a Formica kitchen table

positioned where we have it

in the very kitchen that was once D’s grandparents’

and is now ours.

They laughed heartily about how granddad used to bid anything just so he could see what was in the nest. They laugh with tears in their eyes about how grandmom would say “caw! caw!” (mimicking the sounds of a crow) when she had the bird card. About how before Deanna was allowed to play, grandmom would ask D to spy and then let her know who had the bird. About how D sat in her aunt’s lap or her mom’s lap to learn how to play. About how no one from church could come over because Jolene (grandmom) would cuss when she wasn’t doing well – “well, shit shit double shit.”

I realized in those few moments, that this game is not about this game or keeping score; nor is it about winning or “bettering” someone else. Not for them.

For them, it is about memories and family and laughter. It is a way to be with loved ones again who have passed on, through remembering and connecting.

I love hearing those stories. I love living in the house where Jolene laughed, decorated the house with Santa things at Christmastime, and made Deanna feel so incredibly loved, that D called her “mom.” And where Gus made moonshine (the best around, of course), wore overalls, and smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

I feel connected to them when I see their pictures and feel the wooden floors beneath my feet. I feel honored to live in a house rich with history even before D’s grandparents came to own the place. I feel more connected with Juanita.

I feel more connected with Deanna.

And I find more of her to love and cherish.

We resumed playing, starting a new game, and this time, I just relaxed and enjoyed the stories as they continued through the night. I laughed and smiled and found myself falling in love with D even more.

I won the game for the first time that night, but it doesn’t matter.

What matters is my score joined the scores of Jolene, Gus, and “good ol’ Uncle Max.” That I am connected and part of this family, just as I am part of my family I grew up with.

That Deanna and I connected even more, and that this connection will pass on to our children when we teach them to play.

(But not until they are old enough).

With love,

C.