Growing up was a bit different in the 1950’s then it is today. Most of my days I spent outside playing. There was very little organized time and if there was, I wasn’t part of it. I do think there may have been a tap dancing class, some things like that but I wasn’t coordinated and shoes for tap dancing were expensive.
There must have been a lot to do seeing I was always outside with the neighbor kids, exploring, making tents from our bikes and old blankets, playing cars in the dirt, making hollyhock dolls, all creative and exciting 🙂 The adventure I’m writing about today I loved doing. Didn’t take anything much to do it and I had an ulterior motive (a pet).
Catching bees, bumblebees, the big fluffy ones (there are over 250 species of bees and I’m not going to try to find the exact variety I liked to catch). It wasn’t a skinny variety, it had to be fluffy, yellow and black, and a look like it wanted to become my friend. As I think back I assume that ‘look’ was determined by me!
Hollyhocks were the best! You could even pick a hollyhock bloom fully open and trap the bee inside! It took bravery and evidently that had not been one of the times I planned on a new pet! There was no way out for that bee but to drop the flower or peek and open and release. It was exciting too feel the buzzing, vibrating bumblebee and the threat it was going to sting me! Yes! Bees did sting me many times but so what, no one ever worried that you might swell up into a balloon and die. I ran home for some ice and carried on with my mission.
To prepare properly for catching bees you need a few things. First up, a nice big jar with a tight fitting cover. A mayonnaise jar worked very well, peanut butter too, it had a wider top. Next an ice pick, always warned that you are going to stab yourself or something dreadful with that pick, never a warning you’re going to get stung, or don’t drop that glass jar! Puncture wounds were bad, stings not so much. The cover needed many well poked holes so the bumblebee could breathe after it was captive. If one does the job well, maybe more than one bee can live on and on in the rarefied environment I’d create. I made the jar nice inside, put some sugar on the bottom, bees must like sugar because they do make honey. Right? Than add a few flowers, preferably the same kind the bees were enjoying at the moment. Often the flower was a hollyhock but there were other shrubs and flowers with swarms of buzzing bees. A stick was a good addition; bees need something to sit on when resting. Ah, a perfect home for a bee! At least perfect in the mind of a child who believed in fairies and who’s imagination was unending.
The art came in getting your jar very close to the back of the bee and the flower it was using. Slip the bee and flower into your jar and wham! A bee and an extra flower. Often the bees were dusted with yellow pollen seeing they had been busy all morning. Even better I was certain then it (the bee) could make honey right there in my jar. A pet and honey! Be still my naive little girl heart.
I was pretty good at this art and often had two or three bees in a jar. I suppose someone should have told me what I was doing was not nice. I was going to kill the bees and a bee would not make a very good pet. Seems I didn’t learn that lesson until many bees went to the beehive in the sky. Plus, all the other kids did it too!
When I found them in the morning (always put them next to my bed, we were going to bond), they didn’t look good. Jar was usually rather moist, droplets running down the side somewhat like a steam bath, and the bees a bit soggy and not moving much. Of course the flowers wilted and there weren’t any bees happily singing a tune on the stick I provided.
Didn’t take long to realize that the one or more bees were dying or already dead. Well, when a person dies they get buried, I knew that much. A child’s mind is practical. I did have a proper amount of sadness, I didn’t cry over the death of the bees (a bird or fish I would have). At that time in my life I didn’t understand my catching of the bees and their certain death. A funeral would be planned and under the porch I would go.
Under the porch was cool, moist soil, a few weeds on the edges, worms, many other burial plots, an old push mower and a supply of broken glass and stones I had stashed for just this purpose. Bee funerals happened often, even toad or frog funerals. I’d dig a nice neat hole, wrap the now dead bee in a fresh flower, place it in it’s grave (each bee a separate grave) and then bury it. The marker would consist of one of the lovely pieces of glass I had stored or a stone. Broken green glass from a pop bottle was always nice. Most likely a few words were said to the bee. Next came the flowers to decorate the stone. Small ones, like a forget me not, worked really well and just think of the sentiment!
When I think back on the entertainment I found as a child it is amusing and sometimes bittersweet. I very much wanted a pet (the bittersweet), I did like the bees and the flowers and had no idea I was killing what I wanted for a friend. There were lessons learned: I could get hurt (a little sting), things die when you mess with them, and that dead requires a mourning or celebration. Lessons we learn on our own often stay with us, experience is a good teacher. I’m sure there are other former bee catchers out there:-)