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.
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.