My Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life. He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing. I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.
He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping. During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.” I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck. He didn’t. Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I. We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.
Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal. He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.
We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery. Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering. I suppose he was gentle about it. The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business. Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.
If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly. Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing. But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.
On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck. I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung. She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy. Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.
I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker. I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember. I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected. I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey. It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up. I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.
I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning. My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.
Beehives enter my textile work frequently. The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting. I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame. The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs. I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot. It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece. The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.