Last night, I watched The Secret Life of Bees. I had read the book years ago and loved it. Watching the film stirred up a lot of memories, as my dad had beehives the whole time I was growing up. The hives in the movie looked exactly like the ones we had, and we had the same baggy beekeeping outfits and veils for protection in case they attacked us, but they never did, maybe because of the smokers. Smoke is supposed to calm them. When I look at the fancy smokers for sale online, I think his must have been homemade, soldered together. The honey we had was strong, full-bodied chaparral honey and didn’t taste like any other.
Daddy liked the light honey-colored Italian bees. He said they were docile and that dark-colored bees were meaner. People in the neighborhood would call him if they had a swarm of bees in their yard, and he’d take an empty hive box over and put it under the great buzzing ball of bees hanging from a tree branch. By the next morning, the bees would have moved in, and Daddy would have another hive, a mixed blessing if they were “nasty black bees.”
Daddy said bees were warm-blooded and couldn’t fly when they were cold. Sometimes he would find a stranded, sluggish bee that had gotten cold before it could make it back to the hive, and in a rare moment of tenderness, he would hold that bee in the palm of his hand until it absorbed enough warmth to start working its wings again and fly away home. I believe he truly loved them.