Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Bee Wars

When I was about nine years old, my brother and I were collecting a bucket of chestnuts from a tree that stood between our house and my Grandmom Martha's.  He and I would gather them and toss them up in the air to be hit with sticks.  It was early evening and it was summer, so we still had plenty of day left.  We were squatting down trying to retrieve the prickly things without getting hurt when we heard Martha call for us.  She was standing behind her dog kennel with a Winston dangling from her mouth and her eyes were following something hovering in the air.  She held an aerosol can tightly in her hand.  A bee began to hover near my head.  It seemed somewhat agitated, and I realized it was the focus of Grandmom's attention.
"You boys want to make some money?"
The lit cigarette bounced up and down as she spoke.  She was in a sleeveless blouse covered in spots of paints from the ceramics she painted and a pair of khaki shorts.  Sopping wet, Martha might have weighed 85 pounds.
Chester and I had fallen for this money trick in the past only to find that we would spend the rest of the day shoveling horse manure or stacking hay bales, so we were a little wary when Martha promised cash for work.
As we mulled the offer over, she suddenly raised the can of hairspray she had and began to furiously spray it at the bee.  The insect dropped to the ground and Martha stamped on it, twisting her ankle back and forth until the bee was nothing more than a stain on the concrete pad.
After she eyed her work for a moment, she took the cigarette out of her mouth and said, "I found a damn bee's nest next to the barn.  A couple of 'em stung Goldie (a horse).  Put her all in a fit.  I got the nest down, but now a mess of them are coming back.  And they are mad.  I plan to kill them all.  I'll give you boys five dollars a piece to help".
As far as job offers go, Chet and I figured that killing bees was a pretty good one.  After we agreed to her terms, Martha retrieved two more aerosol cans for us to use.  If memory serves me right, one was a deodorant spray and the other was Lysol.  We armed ourselves with the household products and began our mission to wipe out the bees.
The rest of the day was the three of us with our backs to the wall, fighting off the insect horde that was hell-bent to seek vengeance on the destruction of their hive.
My brother and I were both stung at least five times and Martha received seven.  She would yell out, "you little bugger!' and then laugh as if it was the funniest thing she had ever been privy to.  
I remember at one point my father drove up after his work shift and ambled over to see what was going on.  After Martha explained the situation to him, he just shook his head and walked into the house.  He had learned long ago that there was no point in talking sense to Martha.
When one of our cans ran out of ammo she would shuffle off to find another.  The heat of battle kept us focused and soon daylight grew so thin that the only thing you could see was the cherry glow of Martha's Winston, jostling to and fro in the darkness.
Our mother called us in for the night and Grandmom told us that we did well and to go on home.  My brother and I raced to the front door through the summer night with its sounds of frogs and crickets.
Martha was not the usual kind of grandmother.  She did not sing songs or sew or bake pies.  She did, however, fill me with a great deal of fond childhood memories like the time we killed bees together with cans of hairspray and rust-oleum.


  1. Great story! My brother used to kill bees with my mom's hairspray but I always go inside because I am allergic and, as you know, if they didn't die they would get pissed.

  2. I am glad to hear that others exhibited this behavior. It makes my family sound less bizarre.

  3. It's a wonder we lived past childhood. I will say that seeing Goldie strung up on a front end loader still makes me smile a little.

  4. Your grandmother has my grandmothers beat. What a funny story. I'd love to hear more about Martha.