I grew up in southern California, San Fernando Valley, to be exact…When I was born my parents had just built the house that I went home to. It was on of a chunk of property that my grandfather had bought when my mother was young. I actually got to see a “movie” of my mom riding her bike down the dirt road in front of their house. It was lined with orange trees as far as you could see.
In those days a movie camera was not a usual household item, but my grandfather worked for a recording company, which gave him access to such luxuries. Consequently childhood birthdays included blinding bright lights pointed at the birthday boy or girl while the candles were blown out and the presents opened…..for the ultimate reward…capturing the moment forever.
My grandfather’s amazing home was built by him on a piece of property that was later divided into three lots, one of them being where my home was built.
By the time our house was built, the dirt road was paved and there were several neighbors. Many of the orange trees were removed for houses, but what remained of the orange grove was enough for each house in the neighborhood to have enough oranges for daily fresh-squeezed orange juice, trees for us to climb and enough blossoms for my grandfather to have honey.
I remember when I was finally old enough to explore my grandparents large piece of property. Their section included about seven orange trees, lime, lemon, guava, avocado, pomegranate, plum and two fig trees, two outbuildings, a drinking fountain, a little rock waterfall and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. I remember my grandfather taking me and my brother and sister to the back of the yard to show us the bee boxes. That was forbidden….for safety. We were not allowed to go near them. I don’t know if I had been stung by then, but when he explained the danger I must have understood, or just didn’t want to be in trouble with grandpa, because I stayed away.
I know my grandfather loved the honey he collected from his bees, and I’m sure he loved the bees too, we just weren’t privy to the bee part of the process….. he was a cautious man. He put honey in his coffee and reveled in the fact that he didn’t use sugar, and that the honey was superior to any sweetener.
I remember catching glimpses of him heading out back wearing his beekeeper suit. This fascinated me and I wished there was one my size so I could go with him and see the bees. The grandpa-in-the-bee-suit sightings were often followed by a jar of golden honey on our family’s dinner table. This amazing treat always included the honeycomb, which was my favorite part. We would cut ourselves a chunk of the comb and pop it in our mouths with honey dripping from it. The honeycomb is wax so we knew it was something you shouldn’t swallow…just like the rules about chewing gum (I remember one neighbor’s scare story that if you swallow gum it stays in your belly for the rest of your life, and if you keep doing it, it will build up and ultimately kill you! Yikes!). But the chewing part is what I remember most. At first the honeycomb is laden with sweet, syrupy honey, but as it is chewed it becomes more like a piece of wax. You could chew that as long as you wanted, but I always wanted more with honey in it. From this I appreciated what the bees had done, and knew it was their hard work as well as grandpas that made the honey even happen. But the love was mostly about the honey.
Finally the day came when I got a closer look at the bees. I remember playing in our front yard and noticing there were a whole lot of bees clustered on the side of our house. We knew to be careful, but were also curious, so we got close enough to watch the bees. It was mesmerizing. They seemed to know what they were doing as the climbed over each other and flew away one by one and came back again. By this time grandpa had been notified. And by the time he came to inspect we had discovered that the bees were going in and out of a small hole in one of the boards on our house. They had actually set up house in the wall of our house! This was excitement beyond belief for me, but a little scary since all my experience with bees thus far had been mostly admonishments to steer clear for safety. We were told to go inside so grandpa, who was fully suited up for this, could get a better look.
Once inside the house with no view of what was happening I realized that the bees were just on the other side of the wall behind the couch. I could put a drinking glass to the wall (just as my older brother had taught me to do when you want to listen to your parents talk about Christmas presents) and I could actually hear the bees buzzing and humming! This was maybe a greater treat than watching them. Their gentle humming as they worked away inside left me comforted rather than afraid of them. I could visualize their golden-brown bodies climbing over each other on their honeycomb full of sticky sweetness, with their purposeful knowing of what they were doing.
I can’t remember how long the bees remained our guests, but grandpa seemed to know they would leave…..and they did. I was sad they were gone and hoped they would come back and make a new home in my bedroom wall. But another treat was yet to come. The board they lived behind was removed and the hive revealed. It was again mesmerizing. There was actually honeycomb and honey….the evidence of the work that was going on as the bees hummed in our wall. The honey was darker than what we were used to seeing and there was not a lot. I wanted it. From what I remember we were told that as it was scraped off the boards it ended up having bits of the wood in it, so at first the answer was, no. I don’t know if my disappointment was obvious, but apparently some good pieces were salvaged because I finally got to chew on a small piece of that dark, sweet honeycomb created by my hard working, comforting friends.
Since then I have always dreamed of beekeeping and thought one day I would do it. So far it hasn’t worked out, but I suppose there is still time. But even if I don’t I will always have a love for the hardworking, comforting bees.
Special thanks to Pixabay for the beautiful images used in this post.