Driving in to the office one day last week, we heard a report on NPR about beekeepers, those hearty souls who ride herd over the bugs that make the honey. A beehive is a great advertisement for cooperation and self-sacrifice, we think, with every one of the furry, heaving multitudes contributing, over the course of a lifetime, a few drops of liquid gold for the greater good before passing on with a bee-ly sigh.
It got The Observer thinking about dear old Dad, who had a few hives on the family stead, way out in the boondocks of Saline County. Dad was a doer, and when he did anything he did it all the way, so soon after he came home with his rattling pickup truck full of empty bee-boxes he'd picked up at an estate sale, he had to get the rest of the beekeeper's accoutrements: the white suit, the bellows-equipped tin smoker, the bee-keeper's helmet with fine mesh all about the face and elastic at the neck.
Every time we saw him in that getup, we couldn't help but think of astronauts tottering around on distant planets, the mesh keeping out those pesky Martian mosquitoes, as big and angry as Spitfires.
After he was gone — more than 10 years in the grave as we write this — The Observer learned that our father had been a Pentecostal preacher once in his youth.
He had settled into a much more peaceful understanding with the Universe by the time he took up the bees, but we suspect it was the ritual of beekeeping that appealed to our father's fallen-away heart: Smoke the bees to calm them. Crack the lid of the hive with a flat crowbar. Pry out the frames, breaking loose the hard wax. Lift the frames out, the capped and filled honeycombs translucent gold, amazing and impossible, sunlight seeping through each perfect chamber. Such architecture!
Though Intelligent Design has been ripped off and turned into a rallying cry by zealots these days (and a good scientist could probably explain to us those identical hexagons without the need for the Almighty with enough time and cussin'), The Observer learned to know God in our youth by looking at those tiny cells, each one designed and made — somehow — by an unimaginably smaller brain.
There can be no randomness to this, we thought then, only some Higher Order.
That first harvest, once the frames had been safely stolen away and spirited back to the barn by the mammals, a few determined bees clinging to our rattle trap International Scout for awhile before giving up and turning back, we remember Dad taking off his gloves, opening his Case knife, then plunging it into the raw honeycomb, the amber honey rising to meet the tip of the blade. He sawed out a rough, dripping square, and held it out to us.
That's how we remember him there: clad all in white, smiling at what he had made, holding out the dripping comb to a son who would one day stand in awe of him but not then. We remember how the anticipation of sweetness rose in our mouth — rose, rose, rose, as it still does as we write this.
Here's another thing we didn't learn until after he was gone: A good memory is much sweeter than the sweetest honey.
Surfing the Internet the other day, The Observer came across a website that's been clearly needed for far too long: www.devastatingexplosions.com.
It's exactly what it sounds like: a hand, hovering over a big red button like the one we imagined sitting on the president's desk back when we were a kid. Click the hand, and you're treated to a devastating explosion. That's all it does.
We don't know if it's a work of genius or a testament to the fact that some folks have too much time on their hands, but it sure does help blow off some steam after Christmas shopping.