60: Queen Bees

60: Queen Bees

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Queen Bees

When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.

~Abraham Lincoln

The hill was not very steep, at least not for me. I’m still a young 60, but my two companions are a bit older—94 and 96. These two senior citizens, my aunt and my mother, worked their way slowly up the incline, braced by their canes and pausing a few times to catch their breath. Each year, on this pilgrimage, their climb takes a bit longer and wears them out more, but they never miss it. Little did we know that the hill would be the least of their problems that day.

A cemetery is not the ideal place for a senior outing. But my two favorite elders have a way of making even a trip to the family resting place a laughable, enjoyable time. There were once four Crawley sisters, nicknamed the “Board of Directors” by their children because of their way of meeting life with an incredible optimism. Now there were only two left—my mother, Catty, and her older sister, Rita. Each year in the spring, they took care of their parents’ and sisters’ graves: cleaning up the grass, watering, and planting favorite flowers for each one. They had done this for years, but were no longer able to do this job or many others without help.

So I became the transportation and their assistant. Even though our trip was late that year because both had been in the hospital followed by a rehabilitation stay, they still insisted that the graves needed their attention. For the first time ever, a nephew had planted the flowers for Memorial Day while they both recuperated, both uneasy not to do it themselves. I thought they might realize that this particular job was just too much for them, but they would have none of that. As soon as both were able to leave the house, we set off. Of course, the graves are up a hill, and the sun beat down as the temperature rose.

They made their way slowly and carefully up the uneven ground. I stayed a step behind, ready to jump if either lost balance. They tottered, wobbled, paused, restarted, tottered some more, wobbled again and laughed all the way, even though I could see they were both in pain.

We reached the graves. My mother and Rita were upset that the mower had left grass all over, obscuring the names of their favorite people. They both insisted on bending down, working at the grass. With both of them bent over hard at work, I first heard the low sound of buzzing.

I saw my mother push against her hearing aid, thinking the buzzing was the battery going bad. Rita shook her head a bit, thinking the buzzing was a dizzy spell coming on. Neither had any idea what was about to happen.

From underneath one of the flowerpots, a line of bees emerged, upset that their homes were being threatened. They didn’t come out slowly; they sped out on their mission, about 10 of them, all ready for action.

The little brats came at Rita first. She straightened up really fast and let out a war whoop as she began to flail her arms around her head. One had gotten her in the left ear. Holding her head, she started swinging, kicking her legs, and spinning in circles as Catty came toward her. Of course, that was the wrong thing to do. Now the bees had two targets, then three as I tried to step in. My mother was batting the air around Rita with one hand and started swinging her cane with the other, spinning in circles even faster than her sister. With no thought at all of her aging body, Rita did a Cossack leap into the air to clear the cane that was my mother was swishing wildly. My plan was to swat at the bees, scaring them away, but my mother’s batting arm had been reenergized, and I valued my head. Besides, those two 90-plus girls were doing such a great job of hitting the nasty little flyers that they didn’t need my help at all. A few more high kicks, full twirls, arm thrusts and ear-splitting war cries (with some rather racy language mixed in, I’m not ashamed to report) soon made those bees head for the next county. My seniors had won!

They realized their victory and sealed the deal with a few more choice invectives about the attackers, then headed back down the hill. I handed each of them their canes, but they just draped the canes over their arms and took the hill in confident strides. I half expected them to break into a chorus-line kick when they arrived at the bottom. They got into the car with no assistance and belted up, and then we drove off from the field of victory.

I could see the fun in their eyes and knew the day was theirs. Rita’s ear had swollen to double its size, but she laughed as she looked at it in the mirror. They didn’t remember that they were old until the next morning, when complaints registered from all the muscles they had woken up the day before. Getting out of bed was hard for them, but I was glad to assist. The rest of that day was slow and careful, but we all knew that the day before they had been the Queen Bees.

~Anne Crawley

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