Each year, after the snow subsides with procrastination, the cherry tree by the driveway erupts in blossoms. The smell fills the house and we know summer is coming. For twelve Springs, the tree has purred as honeybees blanket the tree. This year, the blossoms erupted on schedule with the intoxicating fragrance of pink and white. The bees never came and the fragrance seemed not as sweet.
Two weeks before I graduated from college, my father had a heart attack. I was home that weekend for Mother’s Day. Mom and I came home to find him with chest pains and grey skin. I drove him to the hospital in a panic and he was rushed to ICU. Hours later, the nurses let me come in to see him. The man hooked to machines with too many tubes didn’t register as the strong, race-car driving, farming, hunting, baseball playing, and keep me safe from any imaginable childhood monster I could imagine father. I fainted for the first time. I was ashamed of my weakness.
He recovered quickly. He was as stubborn as he was strong. The cardiologists ordered him to ease up on his active lifestyle. To find a hobby that didn’t include twelve hours of hard physical labor. He had always been interested in bees, so he agreed to work less, play less hard, and tend a bee-hive. The doctors thought it was a fantastic idea. A year later, one hive morphed into more than fifty. Dad always had trouble doing anything on a small scale. The hobby became another full-time obsession that he simply added to his other work.
Each spring, when the bees would hum in my cherry tree, I’d call him and joke that his bees were stealing from me. He wanted every detail about how long they stayed and always threw in a lesson on the biology of bees that I didn’t pay enough attention to. It was a yearly springtime ritual.
One year he had another heart attack. This time he was alone in a remote field tending to his bees. He was nearly eighty years old and working outside doing what he loved on a beautiful fall day. He died looking up at a blue sky, eyes wide open, with bees humming overhead. Precisely the way he would have wanted.
After he was gone, I would unload the van of children or groceries, and hear the bees’ song in the cherry tree. The impulse to grab the phone and talk to Dad would be bittersweet.
This year, the blossoms burst and the fragrance saturated the air. But the bees never came. I opened the windows and listened for the nostalgic buzz that made me remember Dad with a smile at his memory. Instead, I heard the repetitive vocalizations of an autistic child who moved to our neighborhood a few back yards away.
Eric and I grew up in different agricultural areas of upstate New York. We spent our childhoods surrounded by cornfields and drinking well water pumped from the ground near our homes. I remember being thrilled when the airplanes flew low over the fields by my house spraying pesticide from the wings. Once, I managed to sneak past my mother and felt the rush of air as the plane flew overhead. Green spots of pesticide covered my skin and she made me take a bath to get them off.
My father belonged to the first generation that believed in a chemical solution to everything. He was one of the first to be vaccinated against polio and spared the fate of several classmates who died from the disease. Insects could be eliminated, creating increased profits from larger yields of crops. Antibiotics could stop illnesses that killed previous generations. He was part of a noble, hard-working group of people that had no real understanding of the science behind what was magic to them.
The bees are decreasing in number. Autism rates are up. It’s hard to any longer believe in magic.