dk. The novel* tells the story of Meredith and her brother Matthew. After their parents’ divorce, the two are left completely to themselves by their mother. She often spends several days in bed with depression. The two siblings find their only support in their grandfather, a passionate beekeeper, who introduces them to the fascinating world of honey bees. He keeps several beehives in Big Sur on the Californian coast. The honey is processed by him in an old discarded bus.
Soon after their arrival at their grandparents’ house, Meredith and Matthew learn that bees only sting to defend their home. A beehive is comparable to a castle with a queen, but without a king. “All working bees are female; about sixty thousand daughters who feed their mother, bring her water drops and keep her warm at night. The colony would shrink and die without the queen laying eggs. But without her daughters to take care of her, the queen would either starve or freeze to death. It’s the need for each other that makes them strong.” Meredith also learns that bees not only produce honey, but also pollinate flowers to make fruit, nuts and vegetables grow. “If the bees didn’t produce pollen, grandpa explained, many things in the fruit and vegetable department in the grocery store would disappear. I would lose my beloved cucumbers and blackberries. No more pumpkins on Halloween. Summer without watermelons. The cherries in granny’s Manhattans – gone. The world would be dull and boring and flowerless without bees, he warned.”
One day, when Meredith is even bashed by her mother, she finds comfort in her grandfather. “‘Did I ever tell you about scout bees?’ asked my grandfather. ‘When their home isn’t good anymore, they look for a better one. Don’t lose courage because of your mother. You’re smart as a scout bee. One day you’ll find your own way.’”
Meredith actually finds her way, attends college and eventually becomes a journalist for the “San Francisco Chronicle”. Like her grandfather, she keeps bees, introduces other people to beekeeping, and in this way cultivates her grandfather’s legacy: “When Grandpa asked me to look after his bees, he didn›t just mean his last colony; he made me promise to look after all the bees, nature, all the creatures. In short, he asked me to look at everything through the eyes of a beekeeper, to be gentle with everything, including things that can sting.” Is there anything more beautiful than introducing your grandchildren to a fulfilled life in this way? •
*May, Meredith. The Honey Bus: A memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees, Park Row, New York, ISBN: 978-0-7783-0778-5
Meredith May is a journalist and author. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes for the “San Francisco Chronicle”. She won the “PEN USA Literary Award for Journalism” and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her book “The Honey Bus” has been translated into eleven languages.