Of Cats and Bee Colonies and Keeping Both Content

By Gould, John | The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 1996 | Go to article overview

Of Cats and Bee Colonies and Keeping Both Content


Gould, John, The Christian Science Monitor


Grandfather took my little hand in his calloused grasp and led me down through the grass to his apiary in the apple orchard, where he was to satisfy my ambition to help him "take off" some honey.

I was 8 and now big enough to go by myself on the choo-choo to have a couple of days with Grampie in the big farmhouse. His associates were Plug-Ugly, the dog, who was trained down to a whisper about farm duties, and Mephistopheles, the cat, who had one eye left and the disposition of hired assassins. There had been two cats at one time, Mephistopheles and Mrs. Topheles, but the happy bride had called it quits after a short honeymoon and disappeared.

Grandfather proclaimed Mephy the finest barn cat in Maine and told for sure that he had once repulsed a fisher seeking poultry. I believed, because Mephy would rake my shins whenever I came to see Gramps. His only friend was Gramps, who would feed him with one hand and hold a shovel in the other as essential armament against an unprovoked attack. Then, his tummy full, Mephy would climb onto Grampie's lap and cuddle like a cosset lamb. Grampie had told me, "Next time you come, we'll take off some honey and I'll make a pan of biscuits."

This was happening, and we were among his 25-or-so colonies of three-banded Italians. It was clover-bloom time, and the air was full of working bees that paid no attention to us. Grampie told me no bee ever came back to any hive but his own, and if he started the day on clover he'd stay on clover all day, never mixing his nectars. We walked along the row of hives, and Gramp thumped his fist on each in turn and spoke kindly to the queen. He told me their names as we went. Then he said bees are deaf and have no equipment whatever for hearing. They have some way of communicating, but not in terms a human can comprehend. So I said, "Why do you talk to them?"

He patted my head. He said, "Johnny-Boy, we're not so smart that we can take chances. Suppose you were a bee and didn't have any ears, but in some way God had fixed you up so you could hear me just the same, but He didn't tell you that. Now, wouldn't you like to hear me say something?"

That afternoon we did take off the first section of new clover honey, and in the cool of the evening we cut two- pound combs of it into a soup plate, and we polished off the pan of hot cream-tarter biscuits. Mephistopheles sat in the corner rocker and snarled at his own black thoughts.

All that Gramp ever taught me about bees had already been taught 30 years earlier to his son, my father, so when Dad achieved his own "piece of land" he wanted a colony of bees. Grandfather said he'd donate one if we'd come and get it, but this was back before trucks were common and gravel roads were meant for horses.

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