Ah, the bees. Just to start off, let me state that there were lots of bees. So many bees that I was put in agonizing position of feeling gut-wrenching, terrorizing fear for the first time in my life. But I had someone watching over me and my younger sister (who was just as frantically frightened as I was) who basically, in the span of two hours, cemented himself as my forever protector and “The Man Who Could Live through Anything!” I am speaking of my dad, the person without whom this entire story could never be written because he was the beginning, middle and end of everything I am about to share with you.
Back in the early eighties my family lived in a small one story house in Commerce City, Colorado. The neighborhood was okay and I never felt uneasy walking around the block but it wasn’t exactly the nicest area a person could live. Being a mere pre-teen back then I had no real concept of how lucky we were to have a roof over our heads that wasn’t provided by living in the homes of other family members. I knew enough to realize that we weren’t swimming in money but I didn’t know how much effort my parents had to put into feeding all nine of us (when the older kids were around) and keeping us in functional clothes.
My dad had left the Marines and was going to college and my mom was just starting to get some traction as an elementary school teacher in a nearby school district. We had money coming in, but we always needed something more. Being the jack of all trades that he is, my dad was helping fund the family coffers by “junking,” an occupation that essentially entailed him ,taking our dilapidated pick-up truck around various areas of Metro Denver and going through the “discards” of various homes and businesses. I say “discards” as a way of trying to make it sound a little nicer than it was, but essentially he was going through trash to find items that he could fix and re-purpose and then sell at the local flea market for profit. To be fair it wasn’t all trash (he could talk someone having a yard sale into giving up half of their items for twenty bucks—I swear) but it was usually things that people considered beyond repair and not worth keeping.
Days and days would go by and my dad would come home with so many things that they could be spread out in different piles—electronics, toys, clothes—you name it. We would all gather around and rummage through the findings like we were raccoons picking through a packed trash can. Dolls that I could never buy in the store would appear with smeared faces and torn dresses and they would be scrubbed and mended so that we could keep them. “New” pants and shoes were discovered and put to immediate use. The electronics would either be put aside to be fixed or to be stripped of copper wire. My dad didn’t waste anything. Even if it was an item that was too old or broken or neglected he would still throw it into a box or stuff it into a garbage bag and haul it to the flea market. Let’s just say that the man was very good at his business.
One very beautiful summer day my dad took my sister and me out junking with him. I don’t recall this being an event that happened with regularity and remember that I was pretty excited about being on the adventure. It wasn’t like either of us could possibly help out much since we were both so young and didn’t have a clue as to what would make a good sellable item, so I imagine it was more a field trip that was put together because there was no one else to take care of us. Now that I think about it though, my little brother doesn’t appear in any of this story, so I have no idea where he was. (Hmm, I think I just blew my whole theory out of the water.)
Anyway, there we were, driving around town in our old light brown truck. The bench seat squeaked every time we hit a bump and the windshield was so huge and the sun shining so bright that it was kind of like traveling inside an Easy Bake Oven. My dad had his oldies playing on the radio and we just kind of weaved in an out of neighborhoods stopping here, ignoring there, and going about our business. Somehow we came upon a cluster of houses that had alleys that ran behind or next to them and my dad found something that he thought was extremely interesting. Peeking out from a large tarp was what looked to be the wheel of a bike of some sort. He stopped the truck, told us to wait, and started to poke around the tire. It ended up being a small motorbike.
Deciding that he wanted to get his hands on the bike, he went to the screen door of the house and made contact with the owners. My sister and I were still sitting in the truck and the windows were rolled down but we still couldn’t really hear what was being said. But it soon became clear that the conversation had been positive because my dad marched over to the tarp and started pulling on the tire. He wasn’t getting anywhere with that tactic, so he decided to create more leverage by putting his foot in a hole close to the tarp and in the middle of a pile of who knows what.
Chaos exploded from nowhere. Or everywhere—I just don’t know. One minute everything was copacetic and then next it was like watching a nightmare. My dad literally jumped up and over the bike and started dancing around like his body was on fire. He was yelling and jumping and screaming. I don’t remember doing much more than screaming and crying because I was so instantly scared and I didn’t immediately realize what was happening before me. My sister was hysterical and through the open window I could see the look of horror upon the face of the woman that was still standing behind the screen door. It soon became clear that my dad was being attacked by a swarm of bees.
I was only a young girl and I knew that there wasn’t really anything I could do to help my dad. In fact, he started screaming for us to roll up the windows and get down. I jumped past my sister and tried to roll up the window, but the freaking door handle had no knob and was basically just a useless silver bar. I pulled and tugged and finally got the window rolled up and we just sat and cried as we watched our dad get stung. His glasses flew off his face as he twisted and turned and jumped up and down and it was basically a giant cluster you-know-what.
I don’t remember how the attack ended and I don’t know how long the whole incident took, but in my mind it seems to be about five minutes. I can see my dad picking up his glasses and limping to the truck (the bike stayed in the effing pile) and dragging himself inside. There were a lot of sighs and heavy breathing, and the occasional sniffle. I guess I can safely describe it as a shocked silence. My dad is no more stranger to profanity than I am but I don’t remember him saying much. His glasses were mangled and he couldn’t wear them to see where he was driving. Didn’t stop him, though. The truck engine roared to life and we were on our way.
Music played in the background as we slowly inched our way back home. I suppose my dad could sense that we were still on the edge of hysterics because he stopped at a convenience store and bought us both sodas. He never complained about the agony he must have been in. Or, if he did, I don’t remember it. I just remember being extremely grateful for the soda.
We got home and my dad carefully made his way to the bathroom. My mom was notified of the accident and she came home as soon as possible. My sister and I huddled around the bathroom door to see if we could hear anything, but aside from a muffled curse once in a while, it was pretty quiet. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Mom came home and rushed into the bathroom. She helped my dad from the bathtub (that he had apparently been soaking in) and took him to their bedroom. I looked into the tub and saw what looked to be millions of little bee bodies floating in the tub. In reality it was more like tens of bodies but it didn’t matter–dad lived through some pretty serious shit that day.
Turns out that most of the bees were from his hair (he had a pretty decent afro back in the day) and a few from around his neck and shoulders. There were some even still stuck in his clothes. I don’t remember if he ended up going to the hospital or if he just stayed home, but I distinctly remember being pretty impressed that he had lived through such an ordeal. Those bees had hurt my dad but had not taken him out. Little bastards.
As life went on I witnessed my dad surviving even more harrowing moments, but this is one of the incidents that made the biggest impression in my young mind. I found out that my dad was super human and that he could probably live through anything. I relished that fact that even though he was in terrible pain and probably confused as hell, he still had time to take care of my and my sister and make sure that we would keep ourselves together throughout the whole ordeal. I loved my dad so much that day. Probably in a way I never had before.
Somehow, after all these years, we still seem to do pretty well around bees. Well, two of us anyway–I have know idea what my sister thinks about them. I’d like to say that my dad doesn’t poke around in piles of “who knows what” anymore but that will never happen. He is what he is. I don’t think he’d be able to pull out of a bee attack like he did back in the day, but I have no doubt he would survive just fine.
I am lucky enough not to have anger or fear of bees today (hell, I’ve even been stung in the neck while driving on the highway) and I have grown to find them extremely fascinating. But, really, it could have gone either way. It was a terrible day, but one that made me more aware and a little bit stronger. Thanks, bees. Wait. Screw that. Thanks, dad!
© DRB 2015
featured photo: dailymail.co.uk
inside photo: newprotest.org