My grandfather (bless his heart) was a man with big ideas and very little business sense. He married my grandmother, who was a woman of some means. Her father was an attorney and legislator for the State of Mississippi. He owned a large portion of Smith County that all went to her upon his death, when she was about twenty years old. Back then though young girls were not allowed to possess such wealth when they were unmarried, so two elderly aunts were given control of the holdings by the court, which meant my grandmother did not get much of the estate. She did; however, come into quite a large sum of money for the time.
After she married my grandfather he pretty much went through it. Let me be clear though, he was not an evil man. He wasn’t out to defraud my grandmother. He loved her dearly, as he did all his family. He just wasn’t a good money manager and he had one big problem…he had a brother named Prent who he thought hung the moon. Now Prent was kind of a rascal. He was always getting my grandfather into all kinds of “money making” schemes.
At this time, Prent had convinced my grandfather that beekeeping would be a real way to make money there in Simpson County. Bees were important to crop pollination and crops were the big business there in the area. They would set up a beehive and soon farmers would come from all around and pay them big money to leave them in their fields. “They”, however, usually meant my grandfather would do the labor and he (Prent) would do the sales.
Now this is where the story actually begins. My mother adored her father. She thought the sun rose and set because of him. So one day when she saw him loading up the Model A with all of his equipment, she just had to ask:
“Daddy, what you doing and where are you going?”
“I’m going to check on the beehive, honey. Would you like to come along?” He asked.
“Oh, yes! I’d love to” She replied.
She did not know what beekeeping was about and could care less. She was just delighted to be riding in that Model A with her father. She never got a driver’s license her entire life. She attempted driving with him once. She swore up and down that she ran that car into the bank of the road because he reached over and took the steering wheel from her. He always swore it was a case of “do or die”. I digress though, so back to the story at hand.
It was late afternoon when they left the house and headed up the road that led to the field where my grandfather had chosen to set up the hive. It was getting dusky-dark as he stopped the car and opened the trunk. He began to get his keeper’s suit on. He slipped on the heavy jumpsuit with big old gloves, a hat with the appropriate facial netting, and a smoker to calm the bees. When he was finally ready and as he closed the trunk he handed my mother the kerosene lantern and told her that she would be in charge of tending the light. She was thrilled and held it up high and proud as they marched off out into the ever-darkening field.
My mother always told me that she began to hear a most pleasant humming sound before they got to the hive. She thought it reminded her of the sound of someone singing a hymn a long way off. It was quite beautiful she said. As they arrived at the hive though she could tell it was the bees that were singing and they weren’t in a welcoming mood either.
“Hold the light. Hold it closer while I smoke them,” my grandfather told her, “They’ll calm down then.”
Well, sure enough the smoke calmed the ones around my grandfather down and he began pulling out the honeycombs. Then all of a sudden, my mother began to whirl around like some spinning top and screaming at the top of her lungs. Her arms were flailing around like a windmill. The light from the lantern lit up the field and you could see the bees flying up under the hem of her flair-tailed summer dress. She then took off running like she was on fire and all the while those bees were still circling and scooting in and out from underneath her dress and singing all around her head.
She was all the way down to the creek before it came to her to get rid of that lantern, and when she did, she threw that thing like it was a hammer-throw at the state track meet in Jackson. It sailed through the air; it seemed like forever, hit an unfortunate cow getting a late night drink, and wound up in the creek. There it hissed and steamed and sank out of sight with the bees still in pursuit. She kept running until she finally reached home. Later that night my grandmother had a long discussion with my grandfather and the next day Prent came and took charge of the bees.
My mother quickly forgave my grandfather the next day and continued to adore him until the day he died. She did; however, from that day forward, let it be known that she would not ever again be the light-bearer for any late night project.
The whole family went to the creek the next day and tried to find that lantern, but never did. Her younger sister laughed and said she probably threw it to the moon. I remember though that my mother said amidst her running and screaming down by the creek that night, that she thought she heard some singing and some laughter. I think it was gypsies. She told me there were families of them that would come through town sometimes and re-cane chairs and make baskets. I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that they got that lantern and a big laugh, but that’s another story for another day.
Bee careful ya’ll! Until the next time.