“I’m laying pipe, all night long.
Laying pipe…to satisfy that woman.”
– David Wilcox
Dennis, Corinne’s father, defied the stereotypical image of a school teacher with an intriguing side-hustle—he was a beekeeper. This wasn’t just a casual venture; Dennis presided over a buzzing empire of hundreds of hives.
On weekdays, when Corinne headed off to work, I found myself alone in their home, an environment that, for a young man navigating the nuances of social interaction, could be a tad unnerving. However, an unexpected door to camaraderie swung open when Dennis extended an invitation to join him in the mesmerizing world of beekeeping.
I’d already concluded that Corinne was a hell of a kisser, so I really had no choice.
The invitation wasn’t merely a casual suggestion; it carried an unspoken test, a subtle examination of the mettle of the young man Corinne had brought home. Would he prove to be a diligent worker, ready to face the challenges of beekeeping with grit and determination? Or would he be a disappointing whiner, recoiling at the first sting as if his arm had been severed by a chainsaw? The stakes were high, and with a sense of purpose, I embraced the opportunity, donning a spare white bee-suit and ready to get all up in those hives.
I’d been stung enough in the past to not have a pathological fear of bees due to familiarity. At least twice I’d stepped on a yellow-jacket nest as a kid. The good news is that honeybees only sting once, while wasps can sting multiple times. That will become important rather soon.
Dennis was a natural teacher, so he was able to walk me through the process. When a honey super ( one of the stacked boxes ) becomes full of honey, you need to take it away and give the little buggers a new one to fill. You can do this one of two ways…nice and gentle as to allow the bees to merrily go about their business, or like a clumsy bear and piss the hive off. If you know Star Trek, its like the Borg ( which is based on a beehive ). You can walk by them, but once you make yourself noticed, someone is going to get assimilated. My attempt at a pop-culture analogy earned me a bemused look from Dennis. It became evident that my sci-fi references were lost on him, and I quickly learned to stow away my attempts at merging intergalactic fiction with the intricate world of beekeeping.
You also learn quickly when you’ve messed up, as the bzzzzzz noise changes to a distinctly louder BZZZZZZZ. That’s generally when one discovers a bee-suit is not an impregnable fortress. Guard bees divebomb your mask, in an amusing yet disturbing way. So I learned quick that slow and steady would win the race.
Dennis had hundreds of hives in multiple farmyards, so every day we would venture from yard to yard checking hives, taking honey, logging activity. Then Corinne would come home and I understood why I did it.
Regarding my physical prowess…I found myself facing the formidable task of maneuvering single honey supers, each a weighty 70-pound behemoth, under the unrelenting gaze of a 30-degree Celsius sun. It was a physical challenge that defied my size, demanding some creativity to hoist these substantial honey-laden boxes onto the back of the truck, one by one. In a perverse twist of perspective, there was a strange sort of amusement in the struggle.
Another interesting part of every hive is the Queen. Every hive only has one, and she sets the tone. A lot of times you open a hive and everyone’s cool. Cool Queen, cool bees. But their zen-like disposition might come at the cost of a slightly lighter honey yield. On the flip side, you have the aggressive bees, the honey hoarders with a bit of an anger management problem—the Russians.
Identifying the Russian hives was no problem at all. The moment I stepped out of the truck, the guard bees, true to their reputation, executed precision dive-bombs, leaving no room for subtlety. Usually bees wait until you open the hive before giving attitude. Yet here it was as if they’d received an urgent memo declaring me Public Enemy Number One.
Burdened by the weight of 70-pound honey boxes, these communist-bred little jerks seized a golden opportunity. With surgical precision, they found an opening near my boots and launched a coordinated attack, stinging my legs with a vengeance. Yet, I had no choice but to ignore it. Dropping a honey box wasn’t an option, as ditching it to swat the invaders meant honey hitting the ground. And honey equated to cold, hard cash.
When we finally got home, it was pure bliss to grab a shower and enjoy a hot meal. As the evening set in, I took stock of the battle scars on my legs—a testament to the fierce confrontation with the Russians. A dozen stings adorned my shins, and a disconcerting palette of colors hinted at the aftermath. In my persistent efforts, I unknowingly garnered the unspoken approval of Corinne’s parents. The weird hues on my skin were badges of diligence, earning me the silent acknowledgment that, in their eyes, I was not merely a guy making moves on their daughter, but a hard worker with some potential.
As the days unfolded, my actions spoke louder than words, and the parents, with a nod of satisfaction, concluded that this one was ok. In the intricate dance of honey and hives, my journey from a stranger on their doorstep to a diligent worker had not only won the approval of the buzzing horde but, more importantly, secured the quiet endorsement of those who held the keys to Corinne’s world.