In the late summer of 1998, I visited my parents in Washington state. At the time, my grandpa was living with them, and I was eight months pregnant with our first child.
Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, grandpa was a dairy farmer in Minnesota. Once they relocated, he became a firefighter, but the farmer was still a part of him, and he took up beekeeping.
I spent hours watching in fascination as he “suited up” in his white bee farmer jumpsuit, hat with the funky face netting, and metal smoke can as an accessory.
I never got to “suit up,” I was too young, but my grandma made me a bonnet, and she’d yell, “Krista, do you have a bee in your bonnet?” then giggle.
When I reminisce about grandpa, bees are the first thing to come to mind.
You could assume I was well-versed in the world of bees, but you’d be wrong.
One of the last interactions between the two of us showed my ignorance ... in so many things.
It was hot ... August-hot. My clothes were sticking to me, and my belly was huge. I was miserable.
I sat on the steps of my parents’ front porch with my sweaty belly resting on my knees.
I watched grandpa “play” with the bees he and my dad were keeping. Like in all things, grandpa moved slowly, taking his time checking each of the five hives. And as always, he was wearing his white bee farmer uniform.
Those days, grandpa’s large hands were riddled with arthritis, and he needed help “suiting up.”
“How were the bees?” I asked him as he walked toward me.
(He’s a man of few words.)
I unzipped the front of his jumpsuit. “Gramps, are there different kinds of bees, or do they all make honey?”
“What are they?”
“The queen, worker bees, and drones.”
“Gotcha,” I said. “What does each do?”
“The worker bees do all the work,” he explained. “The drones get the queen bred.”
I was stunned.
“Are you kidding?”
I couldn’t believe it. The neurons in my brain moved ever-so quickly ... visions flashed.
Little House on the Prairie. The mercantile. Adam and Eve. Brick ovens. Oliver Twist. The Pollyanna movie.
That crazy lady who supervised Pollyanna hanging prisms in all the windows of the lady’s home.
I was Pollyanna, but instead of being in awe about rainbows on walls, I was blown away by the queen bee’s diet.
A true epiphany.
“How did people, all through time, know to feed her bread?” I asked.
My grandpa looked at me strangely.
“Did it matter what kind? Wheat? Pumpernickel? Wonder bread? What if nobody baked bread that day? What would the drones do? It’s not like they can bake bread. Everything I’ve ever known is a lie.”
My grandpa grunted.
“Oh, no!” I looked frantically toward the kitchen, “I took the last piece of bread to make toast this morning. We have to let mom know she needs to buy more. We can’t let the queen starve!”
“No, Krista,” he gestured to my swollen belly, “bred, like you.”
I’d like to say I successfully convinced him I was joking, but the slow shake of his head when he saw the “click” behind my eyes, told me he was no fool.
Now, it’s been almost 22 years since that mortifying day, and I can still see the look of pity in grandpa’s eyes.
You’d think the embarrassment quota was met for the day, but ... nope.
After my second true epiphany ... bred versus bread, I escaped to my parents’ bathroom and took an extremely long, cold shower.
I wasn’t ready to face my grandpa. But I didn’t need to worry, because our next encounter had nothing to do with our faces.
I finished showering, walked across the main floor, and dropped my dirty clothes and towel in the laundry basket. On the way to my bedroom, I noticed the red blinking light on the answering machine.
“Maybe it’s mom,” I thought.
I leaned against the counter, nekked as the baby in my tummy. Gravity did its thing pulling down my basketball-sized belly and the other parts of my body that were hanging low.
I pushed play on the machine and listened to my mom carrying-on about dinner plans. I turned around and saw grandpa tiptoeing down the basement stairs.
“Oh, no,” I groaned, banging my head on the counter. “That poor guy is having one helluva day.”
At dinner, I broached the subject. “So, gramps, did you see me naked this afternoon?”
“I’m really sorry about that,” I said, resting my arms and the upper third of my body on the table.
“Well, we’ve just had a full day of the birds and the bees, haven’t we?”
“It could’ve been worse.”
“No, it couldn’t have,” he said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, you’re right.”