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Bees must have done it every summer, but I remember only one summer that several million colonies nested themselves under the eaves of our house.  They built drooping, lopsided hives that looked like the long ash I’d seen at the end of grownups’ smoldering cigarettes.  In typical bee fashion, they buzzed around their ashen heaps, bouncing in free and casual ways as though there were some kind of celebration for having found such perfect upside-down places to live.  And it was perfect, too.  We had played around with fire enough to know that ash (and, accordingly, ash-like things) did this wonderful poof when struck by something we threw, and we had lots of rocks to throw at bee hives.  Our goal wasn’t to dislodge the bees.  Our goal – well, we didn’t have a goal.  We had rocks and the notion that hives disintegrate when hit by rocks. Beyond that, significance and purpose were not something we bothered about.  So we threw our rocks, transforming the hives with every direct hit into explosions of fury.  Soon every spot the bees had staked out sported the empty and limp hulls of what resembled bombed-out cities.  They also sported lots of survivors no longer content and casual.  

And this is what I remember best about that summer.  This is the lesson.  For all our precision bombing, there was no disintegration, no obliterating.  The bees were still everywhere, perhaps temporarily homeless and hell-bent on retaliation, but in the best traditions of righteousness they managed with every sting to teach us some valuable skills – like how to run as if death were chasing us and to utter blood-curdling screams.  They didn’t teach us anything about stealth or invincibility – characteristics they seemed to possess and we surely could have used.  Mostly, like the good teachers they were, they taught us to feel really stupid.

When we learned that same summer that Mom had bought a beeless house in Phoenix, Arizona, and we’d be moving away from Smith River Road, we’d, of course, still not learned to think about consequences.  We accepted the news, stored it away, and tried sneaking up again on the bees, who relentlessly built more hives and stubbornly, no arrogantly, instructed us in stupidity.  Come September we were off to Phoenix smarting in our efforts to overthrow a few swarms and content in the knowledge that Arizona promised cloud bursts, cactus, flashfloods, horny toads, deserted arrowheads and dried unclaimed bones, gila monsters, lost goldmines, and who knew how many gulches – nothing about stupid bees.   What did we care why we were going?

Had we pondered the big picture, asked why there were bees or why we really were moving, even considered that Arizona meant more than we imagined, it’s doubtful we would have changed anything – the reason perhaps for not bothering.  Life was a day-to-day thing – not like grownups.  Except for Mom, we had started out for Arizona in the way we woke every morning and threw rocks at bees: without thinking much about what it meant to be getting up and going and throwing. 

Certainly we didn’t think that we started out anytime sooner than before the day we finally left – that Mom was set on moving us long before the September morning she woke us and stuffed the nine of us into our six-passenger Plymouth Savoy sedan.  It was not even daylight.  Our usual bowls of oatmeal awaited us.  The movers were coming and we had to hurry, so we sat in silence.  Not because there was nothing to say at this our last meal on Smith River Road; we were busy scooping up and hastily fitting one large spoonful after another into our mouths.  We didn’t think much about anything else.  Even when we packed ourselves into the car in a fashion similar to the way we had shoveled down the oatmeal, we didn’t think much about it.  When it was time to go, we knew we were going and we knew that one of us, as was the custom, would have to ride lying in the rear window of the car.  That way we could be four in the front seat and four in the back. But we hadn’t given it much thought about the day or the event that started us on our way to Arizona. 

The summer had begun with those bees, and it was ending with those bees without us.   There’s something profound to be made of that outcome, but we didn’t make it.  We were simply up and on our way.  No more throwing at bees.  We were starting out for Phoenix without thinking about the bees or the summer and, more profoundly, without realizing that we had started out for Phoenix long before the bees or the summer.  We began this trip 18 months earlier on a very chilly February day, the same February day Buddy Holly died.

Now, our move to Phoenix was not because Buddy Holly died.  I don’t think any of us even knew there was a Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959 – or, more accurately, no more Buddy Holly on that day.  Dad died that day.  That’s why we moved.  That’s what got Mom wanting to move us.

February 3rd on Smith River Road was an otherwise ordinary day – for Smith River Road.  It began with frost and by the afternoon was raining.  Dad came home from work, muddy and wet from the woods, pulled off his caulk boots before coming into the kitchen where as usual he found Mom at the stove and as usual nudged up behind her, gave her a little kiss, a gentle peck on the back of her neck, and a teasing but loving squeeze around her waist.  Mom let out a little squeal and a laugh, then shooed him off to get cleaned up for dinner.  Being that we were the kids in the family, we had planted ourselves in the living room on the couch or on the floor watching T.V., mostly unaware Dad had even come in or that he’d stepped over any of us on his way to the hallway and the bathroom where, as was also his routine, he’d lock the door, climb out of his loggers clothes and into a relaxing tub of steaming water.  He didn’t climb back out.  Mom banged on the bathroom door to rouse him, but he didn’t answer.  The doctor said a blood clot went to his heart.  Nothing anyone could do.

Lots of people showed up that night.  Lots of sadness.  Mom was pregnant that night, too, with her eighth; he’d get Dad’s name.

The next day the whole of Smith River Road must have known what had happened.  They may have known by then about Buddy Holly, too.  And they must have reached the same general conclusion that except for the deaths the night before of some rather notable people, everything was going to go on as usual on Smith River Road.   The frost was back and it was beginning to rain.  Even we were going to go on as usual; Joann and Dan, Mark and Therese, as usual were put out in the morning to go down by the road to the little shelter Dad had built for them so they could wait without getting rained on for the school bus, which on this particular morning was running just a little late.  But it would soon be there – school not having been canceled even for Buddy Holly.

The bus driver, a family friend, had spent extra time on his route on this particular morning cautioning all the kids he was picking up not to mention, that is, remind the King kids about their father’s passing.  “You’re not to say anything,” he warned. 

Everyone on the bus understood, at least would obey.  They wouldn’t say a word about it to any of the Kings – out of respect, maybe mostly out of fear of catching what the Kings had.   They couldn’t keep from talking about anything else among themselves, but grew stony silent, unusually silent as the bus rolled to a stop where Dan and Joann and Mark and Therese had lined up ready to board.

  All the faces in the bus were pressed at the windows fixing in wonderment on these four fatherless kids.  Dan was the first to begin his climb through the doors up to the landing next to the driver.  Everyone looked first at the driver, mindful of his warning, then at Dan as he ascended the steps.  They must have wanted to ask all the ordinary questions.  Then pondered only how not to: what should they say to him if no one was to speak about, well, you know what?  Could they pretend to look the other way and still watch Dan and his brother and sisters as they moped their way to vacant seats?  Should they be glad to see them or pretend not to notice?  Maybe they could think of a funny story just to help get everyone’s mind off what had happened.  Was there anything in their lunches that they might share and use to cheer up the King kids?  But before their musings really got that far, Dan had bounded into the aisle.  He was grinning and excited: “Hey, guess what happened at our house last night!” he shouted.

One Response to “Story 005 – Bees Do It”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Are you KIDDING?? Did Dan really say that? I guess that, like the bees, the death of a father doen’t really dawn on a kid till later. Big shock for the reader though, even though I knew the facts of your dad’s death being early and in Oregon. You were just a toddler then, you and your dang bees.

    Not so funny at the end, eh?


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