This past Sunday Brother Robbie Caldwell preached his last sermon as pastor at New Harmony Baptist Church. He is retirin’ after more than fifty years as a pastor; twenty-six of those at New Harmony. He is not leavin’ New Harmony Baptist Church, just retirin’ as our pastor. I have had the privilege of travelin’ with him on three different continents and can say I’ve never met a finer man. I wrote this story about him more than 20 years ago, and it is one of my favorites and yes, it is true.
You know, there’s nothin’ better than a mouthful of honey. I mean straight out of the hive. Unfortunately, most people don’t get the chance to enjoy it like that, but I do.
No, I don’t raise bees, but I have a few friends that do. When it’s time to rob the hives, they call me to help. Well, actually I call them.
New Harmony’s Kevin and Don Ferrell, and Brother Robbie Caldwell, our preacher, have bee hives scattered all over New Harmony and Mount Sylvan. When it’s time to rob them, I start callin’.
“When are you goin’ to rob the hives?” I asked Kevin Ferrell.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked back.
“So I can help.”
“We really don’t need your help,” said Kevin, tryin’ to sound polite.
“Oh, I don’t mind.”
“Uh, well,” he said. “Listen Rusty, if we let you help us, do you promise not to eat as much honey as you did the last time?”
“Why Kevin,” I said innocently. “Whatever do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Kevin,” you make Winnie the Pooh look like he’s on a crash diet. You know, we’d like to have a little left to sell.”
After a while, I had bugged him enough and he agreed let me tag along (this is the same technique I used to get my wife to marry me). Oh yeah, he never did get me to promise.
On the designated day, I drove over to Kevin’s to meet him, Don and Brother Robbie.
“What’s he doing here?” asked Don.
“He’s going to help,” said Kevin.
“Great,” said Don sarcastically. “There goes the profit.”
“Where’s Brother Robbie?” I asked.
“Couldn’t make it,” said Kevin.
“Too bad,” I said, and I really meant it. Brother Robbie is one of my favorite people, although havin’ a preacher around if you get stung can be tough. Normally if I get stung, or I should say, when I get stung, look out Jack. There’s no tellin’ what’ll come out of my mouth.
But if there’s a preacher around, you’ve got to be really careful about what you say. Then it’s more like, “Well, shucksey darn, that little booger has done up and stung me,” all the while with a fake smile on your face.
Plus the fact, that when Brother Robbie is around, you’re more likely to get stung. Take last year for instance.
After the long process of beggin’ to help, they decided to take me along. For some reason, the bees were a little more aggressive than normal. Since I really don’t know what I’m doin’ when it comes to bees, they put me in charge of the smoker.
Smokin’ bees is not the process of stickin’ one end of the bee in your mouth and lightin’ the other, but usin’ a device to puff smoke into the hive. The way I understand it, is that the smoke causes the bees to gorge themselves on honey and it makes them less aggressive.
Well, we must have come upon a group of anti-smokers because the more I pumped smoke into the hive, the meaner they got. I was pumpin’ the little bellows on that smoker so fast it would have made a blacksmith proud.
“Hey!” yelled Kevin. “Go easy on that smoker. You’re going to burn down the hive.” I looked, and sure enough, I was shootin’ a pretty good flame out of that thing.
Well, after we gathered up all the supers (that’s the part of the hive where the bees make the honey) we took them back to Kevin’s house to extract the honey.
When we got through, Brother Robbie volunteered to take the supers back and place them in the hives. By then, I was full of honey and was really ready to go home and take a nap, but I was unable to come up with a good excuse to leave. After all, it’s really not a good idea to lie to a preacher, so I went with him back to the hives.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a bee man, you know he wears protective gear. I don’t have the professional stuff like the other guys because I’m too cheap to buy any.
All I have is an old flight suit that I picked up at a garage sale, so Kevin loans me the rest of the stuff I need.
When we pulled up to the first hive, I still had not put on my stuff. Normally we would have stopped a couple of hundred feet off to get dressed, but not this time.
Brother Robbie already had everything on but his head net when he pulled his truck right beside the hive, on my side. This hive was the one with the meanest bees, too.
He stopped the truck, got out, and started puttin’ on his head net. His truck was a little too small for me to get my suit on in, so I opened the door. I had one leg all the way into the leg of my suit and the other about halfway in, when I heard Brother Robbie holler.
I looked at him, and there, inside his head net, were five bees circlin’ his head. His eyes were tryin’ to follow them around. Now, this struck me as funny, and I started to laugh. It was about this time that I noticed that the cab of the truck was becomin’ increasingly crowded. Although Brother Robbie was not in there with me, about 4 million bees were.
It was then that I felt a little burnin’ sensation on my stomach. And then another, and another. Before I knew it my legs had taken over my body and I was travelin’ at a rather high rate of speed across the pasture. Now, coordination has never been one of my strong suits, and although one of my legs was unhindered, the other was still stuck halfway down my makeshift bee suit.
One leg would go down normally while the other would pull my body down unmercifully, all the while my left hand was holdin’ up the top of my suit beside me while my right hand was tryin’ to dislodge a bee from between my shoulder blades.
Finally I out ran the flyin’ fireballs and collapsed in heap.
Brother Robbie had climbed back into his truck and pulled it up next to me, and, although stung in several place on his head, was in somewhat of a jovial mood. I could tell this by his laughter.
When he finally got himself together, he looked down at me. “Wow!” he said, “That was quite a show.” I just looked at him, too exhausted to answer. “And,” he added, “that’s quite a vocabulary you have.”
“Huh?” I said, lookin’ scared. I couldn’t remember what I had said.
“By the way,” he smiled. “What does shucksey darn mean?”
I love you Brother Robbie. And don’t worry; I’ll save you a seat back on the back pew.