man holding honey comb

Twenty-Seven Bees Versus One Shirt

If you are squeamish about bee stings then this one is for you. I was a young boy living in a corner of a small town in northern Indiana. I led a farmstead lifestyle. I grew up with horses, ducks, and chickens; everything that you expect on in a picturesque agrarian life. Life passed slowly as I chewed on long grass thistles. Down the street from us lived two boys that we were friendly with. My younger brother and I would play soccer in their front yard using four young trees as our goals. They were interesting to me for several reasons among them, their father raised bees.

And when I say raised, I mean everything. My nascent awareness of bees and their behavior flourished in these early days of my youth. Bees have an extraordinary way of managing their lives. From communicating food sources to building their hives. Did you know that bees have five eyes and six legs? Honey has natural preservatives and bacteria cannot grow in it. Male bees are called drones and female bees in the hive (queen not withstanding) are called worker bees. I learned these fun facts when I was friends with our neighbors. We would help out in the honey extraction process by standing back to back in a small room of their house where the honey was procured. Holding a vacuum cleaner, we would suck the bees in from the windows where they gathered. Then we would go outside and release them. Why? I cannot remember really. I think their father just wanted to give us something to do while he spun a hand cranked machine extracting the honey. It looked a lot like an old-fashioned washing machine and it was very effective. He made good money on his good honey.

One day, my brother and I got word from our two friends that they were moving to Tennessee. It was a sad day for us because we had gotten to become good friends. Such is life. They say that change is inevitable. I agree wholeheartedly except for perhaps vending machines. Sometimes you don’t even get the candy bar. But I digress.

With only a few soccer games left in their front yard, I could already begin to see the signs of a family preparing for a cross-country move. Boxes were stacking up. Garbage piles were looking taller. The father, the beekeeper, stopped by our house one day to chat with my father. In addition to raising bees, he was quite a good carpenter I had learned. My father always made time for him. They were not necessarily great friends, but very good neighbors for sure. We learned that they were moving on Saturday. If we were interested we could come by and pick through his garage. He had packed everything he had intended on taking, the rest was ours if we wanted it.

Stoked with curiosity and an opportunity for adventure, I decided to tag along with my father when he walked down to their house and wandered into the garage. A carpenter indeed! There were cabinets half filled with all kinds of tools, boxes of nails and screws, and some assorted lumber in the corner. I remember trying to pick up a monkey wrench that was taller than myself. What project could I use this on, I wondered? And that’s when it happened. The beekeeper father dressed in full beekeeping gear entered the front of the garage.  You can imagine him in a yellow outfit in full length, head to toe, tied at the ankles and wrist. He wore a beekeeper helmet with screened meshing over his face, which often intrigued me because there was always one bee inside there with him. He was holding a large smoking instrument, looking much like a watering can that was used to scatter bees while doing what beekeepers do. I noted his concern because he had just set the last box of bees onto the back of their moving truck. The boxes were hammered shut to keep the bees inside. The bees outside were not going to Tennessee and were not all too happy about that.

The next few moments always play back in my mind in slow motion. The beekeeper father was difficult to see, I mean, his face was blurry. I could not at first understand why. And then it came to my mind that there was a swarm of bees around his head. He was in the garage with my father and I. Now anyone who knew my father knew that he was a brave and courageous man. And I never seen him fear anything. So let’s just say that he became quite agile in scurrying out of the garage leaving me behind to ponder my escape. Again, in my mind everything was moving so very slow. And yet I missed so many things despite my life threatening focus. For example, I did not see that my father exited the garage and made a direct right turn into the forest, apparently safe from harm’s way. I also did not see the second swarm of bees hovering over the bee boxes on the moving truck.

No longer interested in the large monkey wrench or my father’s appropriate exit strategy, I sprinted pass the beekeeper out into the driveway and pass the moving truck. Only a fool of a bee would not suddenly find me extremely interesting. And so as it were, I collected a couple hundred bees around my body as I bolted across the front yard of our friends, our soccer field. Sadly, my mother had wandered down to say goodbye to our friend’s mother. Each of them receiving a bee sting in the process.  Later I would realize how much I would have liked my mother’s sympathy, but alas, contributing to other’s injuries did not play well for me that day.

At break neck speed I charged down our old dusty farm road trying my best to out run a swarm of angry “no longer going to Tennessee” bees. I could feel them stinging me on my back and head. And the next thing, I swear on my mother’s grave was true. I began to unbutton my shirt, one button after another until all were done. I had hoped to discard the shirt full of bees on the road in my tracks. But something rather amazing happened. There were so many bees on my back that the shirt did not fall. When the pavement ended, I followed on to the dirt road which led to the river. By the time I reached the river there were no more bees. I walked home slowly in quite a bit of pain. With the aid of a mirror I was able to count a total of twenty-seven bee stings.

Our friends moved to Tennessee. I finally healed. In the fall, I joined track in high school. I won many races. I still run to this day.

And yes, I will knock your grandmother over to get out of the way of a bee.

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5 responses to “Twenty-Seven Bees Versus One Shirt”

  1. Judie Jones Avatar
    Judie Jones

    Thanks for the nice memories brought back to me of my neighbors across the road . They had an avocado grove and I just got a reminder of watching Candises grandfather with the honey come and a big stainless steel spinning tub that spun the honey out of the comb, Then getting to suck and chew some sweet bees wax. .j.j.

    1. mikehemphill Avatar

      I’m glad you liked it!

  2. Wendy Flores Avatar
    Wendy Flores

    Wow! I can’t imagine how scary that must have been, Mike!

    1. mikehemphill Avatar

      I’m so happy you liked it!

  3. Allen Avatar

    Well written my friend, most enjoyable

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