Picture of Janet


Bee Love

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Oak Hill street contained seventeen cracker box houses with ample backyards and rock or asphalt drives.

The road itself rose slightly from its intersection off of Country Club Road, emptying into a cul de sac, a word by which the circle at the end of our street was never called. Additionally, no one ever thought to beautify it. Perhaps someone cut the grass, or weeds, that grew around the patches of oil left from leaking, parked cars.

Oak Hill was a place of laborers: railroad men and dumptruck drivers, cafeteria workers, hairdressers and telephone operators. I suppose all that lived there made about the same money, for all appearances we lived within similar means and yet, as in any social group, there was a hierarchy.

All of my memories of that hierarchy are colored by childhood notions and while I don’t remember very much about the Golden’s, I do remember a little.

If you had not known their status in the neighborhood, I think you would have thought them a handsome family. I think I may have had a crush on one of the boys, the most handsome of them, Harlon, somewhat older than me with dark hair and eyes that promised. But to the best of my recollection, just as they occupied one end of the circle, they also occupied the bottom of social spectrum as defined by the occupants of Oak Hill place. There were rumors they had gypsy blood. Coincidentally, my family anchored that position on the loop free end of the street. My father was known to be a drunkard.

My brother 6 years younger than me, would likely recall things differently. By the time he was old enough to traverse and visit the various inhabitants of Oak Hill the lines had blurred a bit in judging sins. A number of failings had come to light and although the Golden’s and us might have captured the gossiping imagination of most of the more prominent citizens early, there were far more foibles present, some in each house. Time and truth evened things out a bit.

The patriarch of the Golden family was Ira, a wiry, thin, and swarthy man, rather unkempt smelling of farm and clothes worn in sweat. For whatever reasons, he and my brother developed a close bond, Ira mentoring Neil on everything from gardening to bee keeping.

It’s the bee keeping I want to talk about.

Ira’s house was messy, a home of rooms upon rooms filled with stacks of uncategorized mess. Among other things, the back wash room contained his apiary accoutrements.  Frames with wax starts, perfect hexagons, jangled precariously across old, useless washing machines. There were jars and jars of last years honey. A smoker stood at the ready.

Once I sampled the dripping comb that Ira dug out of a jar.

Another time I ran from the bees in his backyard as I unknowingly wandered into their flight path. I am not sure they were agitated, but I was.

But Neil and Ira, they shared the joy of bees by sharing their world. Harvesting honey, they month in and month out, monitored the health of their hives for invading bee neighbors and moths. Neil dadoed beautiful new hives made of cedar and  performed queen maintenance. They tasted royal jelly.

I wish I had though to stop and learn a bit more of that time, with my brother but I didn’t.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me even now how you be a beekeeper. I think its part soul and part science. It might be that some people have it and some don’t. I hope I am not one of those that don’t, because I would like to have some bees at the farm.

Someone around the farm has some, but for bees in search of sweets, their is a law of diminishing returns. Once out on a long flight to gather, you must use up some of what you have harvested to return. So I would like to have some bees, to drink from my orange blossoms and tupelo trees, from my tomatoes and grapes, my lavender and yucca. I want them to dust my flowers with pollen from neighboring flowers and make honey in their hexes for them and me.

Mostly I want to appreciate them in wonder.

Because wondrous they are.

A bee colony has it’s social structure dictated a lot by something called ‘royal jelly’, nothing as random as sins and omissions. If you get fed a lot of royal jelly  in the nursery of a hive, you are destined for queendom. As a future queen, royal jelly will make you grow faster, bigger, allow your ovaries to develop (you’ll be the only one in your hive making baby bees) and make you live longer. If you only get it for 3 days, you will never be more than a drone or a worker.  Ira knew how to find royal jelly in the honey comb and he knew where it came from  (glands on the workers bee’s heads) but as far as what was in it, was a mystery, to everyone until 2011.

A researcher named Masaki Kamakura did some really clever experiments, not easy ones mind you, ones that were tedious, took lots of time, and thought. He eventually isolated among  the heady mix of water, fats, sugars and vitamins that are royal jelly,  a specific protein that was the ‘active’ ingredient. It’s called royalactin.

So here’s what probably happens when royal jelly gets fed to the bee larvae. That protein royalactin gets into the larvae’s developing cells. Each cell is like a big soup of proteins all bumping, attracting, and complexing together making new compounds, activating others, and participating in the cell’s biochemistry. The royalactin interacts with those enzymes and hormones that direct the cells to grow and in the case of the queen bee, even makes her ovaries start to grow.

There are probably more thing that happen that don’t have anything to do with royal jelly, but royal jelly is right at the top of creating social hierarchy in a bee hive and it is pretty dang cool.

I want some bees.

They make sense.


5 Responses

  1. Janet, my oldest daughter has 2 beehives. They are amazing creatures there is al lot of work involved to keep them alive in the winter months and that one hive may be more aggressive than another. I never realized there was a heirarchy in your neighborhood, sad cause those Golden boys were really cute and look at all the knowledge their dad possessed.

  2. What a fascinating story! One, I had almost forgotten about Harlon, and you are correct, he was a handsome devil. Talk about resurrecting memories…wow. I think back on our neighborhood streets and they all seemed to have the same mind-set back in the day. Weird.

    But back to the topic of your story. I always wondered what “Royal Jelly” was. A shame it didn’t come to mind with google at my finger tips :-(. Of course your description was so intriguing and I had no idea that such a substance could literally create a queen! I’m a honey fanatic, but had no idea that some folks harvest and sell royal jelly for various things. What amazing creatures bees are! Now I want some!

  3. Janet,
    Thank you for your wonderful Oak Hill memories. What a great place to grow up. I always admired the self sufficiency of our neighbors who raised bees and gardens, caught fish and hunted. I too remember the sweetness of Mr. Golden’s honeycombs. I tried to start a garden in our back yard, but it was futile. Way too shady and rocky. We did have a peach tree that was mainly enjoyed by some type of pesky fruit worm. My brothers sometimes hunted in the woods out behind ore house and occasionally brought home a rabbit or squirrel but we didn’t count on them for supper. My sister, Joanie and I hunted too, but we preferred the live baby bunnies and turtles we’d find in the woods and bring home to raise in a shoe box.

    Anxious to read your other Oak Hill stories.
    Let me know where they are archived if you can.
    Thanks Again,
    Kitty (Francis) Austin

  4. Janet, thank you for your incredible story about Oak Hill Place. Having lived away from “the circle” for four years, I really have some fond memories of the neighborhood while I was there. Certainly not to be critical in any way, and maybe someone can confirm it, but I only remember one Golden son, Harlan. He had one older sister Sandra (she drove a really cool 56 Chevy) and a younger sister, Suzanne (or Susie as we knew her). Harlan and I were best friends for a very long time even through High School.

    Ira drove a truck for Strickland and was gone most of the time. Since we had an absent father, I remember Ira to be a man’s man, with lots of tools, motorcycles, (and bees). He was in fact a very wiry little guy, who didn’t seem to be afraid of most anything, or anyone (especially his wife). I remember the tension that Ira seemed to cause every time he’d come home from a long trip, when he would work very hard to reshape the household to his liking for the short time before he’s leave again. It seemed to be an endless cycle. I think the bees were a really good escape for him, and since none of his kids took an interest in them, he was always eager to share his bee keeping skills with anyone who would listen and engage. He really was a master bee keeper and gardener.

    Thanks again for your efforts, you truly have a gift! I hate that I rambled, but you really stirred some amazing memories. I hope that one day you’ll give your perspective on the Francis Tribe on “the circle”. I think that we provided lots of things for folks to talk and gossip about!

    All the Best,

    Tony Francis

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