By: Khalilah Bilal
Mr. Wade was eighty-five years young, a little taller than a broomstick, weighing about one hundred and thirty five pounds. His skin tone was just as natural and perfect as midnight. The color of his skin made his teeth gleam like pearls. If you had tweezers, and a magnify glass you could not pick-up one strand of hair from his head. He was my Guru in beekeeping. My Guru (Mr. Wade) had been a student of Dr. George Washington Carver.
Dr. Carver had the friendship of Henry Ford, Edison and three presidents-Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR is quoted as saying to Dr. Carver “you are a great American, Professor. What you have done in your laboratory has made all the nations stronger”.
Kings and princes journeyed thousands of miles to see Dr. Carver. He maintained a yearlong correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi, which had began when he worked out a nourishing vegetable diet for the frail Indian leader.
Even with this impressive resume of friends Dr. Carver had, Mr. Wade would let you know with quickness that though Dr. Carver taught him many lessons, the credit for his beekeeping skills came from his father.
When Mr. Wade attended Tuskegee it was called Tuskegee Normal. In later years it became Tuskegee Institute today it’s called Tuskegee University. As the name changed the quality of education changed.
Mr. Wade was the last of the Mohegan’s from the old school of beekeeping at Tuskegee Institute. He thought with eighty-five years under his belt the sand in the hourglass was just about to run out. He wanted to pass on his family trade on, but not to a WOMAN. Not that he had anything against women, but in his time and space a woman had certain jobs they could do within the mores of society and beekeeping was not one of them.
By the time I met Mr. Wade he was desperate to pass on his skills and knowledge of the Art of Beekeeping. You see all the men folk that had came to learn the art of beekeeping from Mr. Wade had run off after a few bee stings. So, I guess there’s nothing else to do when all the men folk get to running, but to give the job to a woman that would stay. I was that women.
I don’t want to sound heroic because I’m not. I read somewhere that one attracts what they are; not what they want.
My Guru realized the man he was looking for was a woman after I had been released from the hospital for more than hundred beestings.
There were Three Golden Rules of beekeeping according to My Guru. They were the following: 1. always keep your body, so that the wind hits the beehive first. 2. Never hit, slap or swing at a bee. 3. Never run from a bee.
There are approximately fifty to eighty thousand bees in an average health hive, each bee as a specific assigned duty. No matter what the job description all working bees are females (nurse, educator, housekeeper, scout, maintenance and repair, forage, protector and the queen’s own personnel staff). Females do all of these duties without exception.
The males very important duty is to sleep, eat, and procreate. The male fast enough to get to the queen first while in mid air will lose his life after intimacy.
Mr. Wade had reviewed the three Golden Rules as we headed out to the bee farm. I decided I was just going to do everything he did. What could go wrong! Nothing if I could stay focus.
Mr. Wade didn’t wear bee gloves so I didn’t, he didn’t wear a veil so I didn’t. But he kept a cigar in his mouth I did not. I was standing behind him. I’m sure he could feel my breathe on the back of his neck. He Tai Chi his way in another direction and opened the top lid of the hive. Instead of moving with him, I stood there trying to figure out why he had moved. My mind finally said “The Wind! It was too late.
A dark pillar of cloud accompanied with it the sound of a thousand Buddhist Monks chanting
Aum. Swiftly coming toward me. The first couple of stings I just groaned and grunted. Then ouch, ouch became louder after that was a blur of remembrance.
One by one the Three Golden Rules were broken. The wind had changed and I had not. I hit, slapped, swung and punched. Then I began to run, Jessie Owens would have envied my speed.
By now I’m out of Mr. Wade’s bee farm into the street. I’m far away from my Guru the only person that had the knowledge to save me.
Every time I looked back there was still a cloud of bees behind me. So I would take off running again. Incomprehensible ill-breed sounds were coming out of my mouth. I was wearing baggy military pants, dashiki top (African Shirt), with dreadlocks not quite long enough to lay down on my head, but short enough to look like buckwheat on the Little rascals; running down the street swinging and hitting at something that was not visible from a distant. So to someone watching me it must have appeared like some strange Voodoo ritual Dance.
I stopped again there were only a few bees that stayed with me. One of the bees came over to me; she looked me directly in my eyes and flew away with the rest of the remaining bees.
I made my way to the hospital. My right hand swelled three times its normal size. I regurgitated a lemon-lime substance. My throat started swelling. They immediately started an IV of Benadryl in the Emergency Room. I heard someone say we may have to do a tracheotomy. I slept for twenty-four hours. I left hospital, still a little drowsy from all the Benadryl.
I went home and stayed for a couple of days. It never was a thought in my mind to give up learning the art of beekeeping.
After my recuperation I went to go see Mr. Wade. Like a real cowgirl that’s’ been thrown from her horse. I wanted to know when I could start back with my studies. I rang the doorbell, a little nervous and ashamed. Mrs. Wade opened the door. She said, “My God child is you alright (I figure Mr. Wade must have told her what happened). I said yes mamma I went to the hospital. She interrupted with a loud call “Wade come see who’s here. You could hear the chair pullback from the kitchen table. He came out of the kitchen. He said, “Are you okay? Yes sir I replied.
Mr. Wade went on to say, “I didn’t think I would ever see you again. I didn’t answer. He said “the last time I saw you you were running up out of the yard; headed up the road. Mrs. And Mr. Wade broke out laughing. I was embarrassed, because I had done everything he taught me not to do. He said, “While the bees were out chasing you I harvested the honey. Mrs. Wade tried to hold the laughter in, so her belly moved like jelly beneath her clothes. Mrs. Wade now with her hands on her hip said, “You are something else. You know all the men folks ran off after two or three stings; never to show up again. Well it looks like you have been fully initiated. My Guru smiled and said, “ You are a beekeeper alright”.
Mr. Wade continue to teach me, rendering wax for candles, catching swarms from the wild, identifying the queen, rendering pollen, royal jelly and propolis, also how to take one productive bee-hive and developing an infinite number of bee-hives.
Other Golden Rules were added to my list like: Never feed your bees sugar water. Never give the bees antibiotics. Never kill a queen. Never take all the honey from the hive. Only take the royal jelly and pollen for medicinal purpose.
At each level of learning I received different quantity of honey. One day my Guru presented me with my own beehive. The lessons went on until my Guru passed away.
I had the privilege of restoring Dr. George Washington’s Carver apiary at Tuskegee Institute with gratitude and reverence, for my Guru.
This is the origin of my life with bees. A relationship based on respect and communication. I have more than a hive full of bee stories that are swollen with mystery and sweet wonder.
I could read this story a hundred times, and still find more wisdom in it. Thank you, Khalilah, for sharing your experience with us!