When I was young, my parents owned a vacant lot next to our home. My brothers and I, along with other neighborhood children, used the space as our private park. There, we played kickball, baseball, and chased fireflies. When my brothers were older, they raced go-carts around the perimeter.
Our neighbor, “Jim,” told my dad that a school in town was replacing their football goal posts. He thought it would be fun to put the old ones up on the lot so we kids could play football. So they did.
One summer evening, my brothers and I were playing, and I wandered over to a goal post. There was a small hole in the pole where I could hear some high-pitched buzzing, whining, and whispering coming from the spot. I was 8 or 9 and very naïve. I think I still believed fairies like Tinkerbell were possibilities. Though I knew the sound was not human, I wished it was from something magical. I stuck my finger in the hole and felt something crawling on my finger. Panicked, I quickly pulled out my finger and what ensued was nothing short of a nightmare.
Instantly bee after bee came pouring out of the hole and began stinging my face, neck, arms, and chest. I tried to cover my eyes and run, but couldn’t see where I was going. I screamed for all I was worth. It was supper hour, and Mom was indoors cooking. Dad was in the backyard working. Everyone heard my screams and my brothers ran for help.
Dad started running for me, yelling to Mom, “Get the hose!” The stinging continued, and I was never so afraid in all my life. I kept running and swatting, as Dad ran to me. He took off his t-shirt, and began batting the bees, wiping them off me and covering my head. Then he picked me up and ran—making, himself the new target, and taking the stings. When we reached the house, Mom was ready with the garden hose turned on at full force. She aimed and blasted away our attackers.
Injured and sopping wet, we made it into the house, where Mom proceeded to nurse our wounds. She carefully inspected us and found no stingers meaning our attackers had not been bees but likely wasps or hornets. If a bee stings, their stinger gets stuck in your skin, and when it tries to extract its stinger, its abdomen comes apart, killing the bee. Wasps don’t do this and can sting repeatedly.
Mom made a paste of baking soda and water and applied it to our welts, as we sat in total shock. My little brothers watched with curious and frightened eyes. Fortunately, Dad and I weren’t allergic to stings. Otherwise I would not be able to share this story.
Not long after the incident, the goalposts disappeared. I never again stuck my finger in holes, and whenever a wasp or bee was near, I gave them a wide berth and sought cover.
At mid-life, I became a Master Gardener. One member of my Master Gardener group was an old beekeeper who also ran a Beginning Beekeepers Club. Glen would come to our meetings and talk about bees. Then, he invited us to his farm to learn more about beekeeping. I was curious but apprehensive.
I told Glen my story about the stinging incident. He didn’t think I’d been stung by bees but some other insect. He encouraged me to learn more about honeybees and explained that bees and wasps react for specific reasons. By learning more about bees and their behavior, I could be better prepared and more appreciative of them. Glen was old and had a happy, calm demeanor. If he could be positive and fearless about bees, maybe I could learn to be so too.
I attended the meeting at his house, and he made beekeeping seem so easy. With just a little smoke, and slow, gentle handling, the bees were utterly docile as he pulled the honey-filled frames from the hive. I wrestled in facing my fear of bees and all things that sting. But, I appreciated these little hard-working pollinators and wanted to know more.
Seven years passed. My husband and I were newly retired. I mentioned the idea of us becoming beekeepers. At first, he balked and suggested we should research it for a year or so and then decide. I soon saw a notice in the paper inviting people to an informational meeting about beekeeping. I thought, why not? We wouldn’t be committing; just researching. So we went. It was fascinating listening to enthusiastic beekeepers sharing wondrous tales, and we saw that they were participating in something magical. At the end of the meeting, the Bee Club president announced they would be taking orders for packages of bees for the spring. People were rushing to fill out their orders.
We went home and talked about it. It’s now or never, I said. Why wait? So we called the club president to place our order, and within a month, we were beekeepers.
Four years later, we still love this pastime and the other beekeepers we meet. We gather loads of honey, share it with family and friends, and have sold some at a fall harvest event. I also make candles and lip balm from the wax. In partnership with our local park district, we’ve established a community apiary and have plans to offer public education opportunities about beekeeping and the importance of pollinators.
It all started with some stings and a need to face my fear. I still get stung from time to time. But honestly, it’s okay. I forgive my bees, because overall, they make our lives so much sweeter.
(There are a great many books on honeybees and beekeeping, but for a beautiful and moving story, I recommend the children’s book Honeybee: The Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. You can read more about it under Recommended Reads. I’ve also provided a bee craft activity for children under the Activities section of this blog.)