Bumblebees? Surely You Jest!

Bumblebees? Surely You Jest!

James R. Aist

“Some people live and learn; others just live.” – Gene

In an earlier story (click HERE), I introduced a childhood activity that we called “fightin’ waspers.” Growing up in the early-to-mid 1950s in Cypress Valley, Arkansas – one of the more rural areas of the state – did not afford much opportunity for the more standard kinds of leisure recreation, to put it conservatively. We lived on a dirt road off of a dirt road, and our friends were few and far between, literally. Consequently, we were often left to dream up novel activities to entertain ourselves, using whatever meager resources were at hand. This particular “adventure” took place when I was about 8-10 years old.

One of the most exotic and creative “games” we came up with to counter the boredom was what we called “fightin’ waspers.” Now, we were already into sneaking up on large “hummingbird” moths feeding on flowering shrubs and smacking them down with home-made ping pong paddles, or “snapping” them with home-made, woven “whips” constructed from cotton string. But we didn’t dare mix it up with our local wasp population, because we didn’t know how to make such an endeavor end well for us.

Not to worry, though; help was on the way. Through the intervention of a family friend, a Mr. Johnson, we learned that wasps cannot sting you while you are holding your breath. Well, it didn’t take long for us to put this new information to good use. But, how could we come up with a plan to, finally, take on the waspers and emerge victorious? After our twisted little minds had mulled it over for a while, we came up with the following rules of engagement: 1) decide beforehand whether we would either a) all stand still and let the waspers fly past without trying to sting us; or, b) strike them down with hand weapons fashioned from small persimmon bushes and try to actually kill as many as we could when they attacked; 2) walk along the dirt/gravel road looking for suitable wasp nests in the bushes lining the ditch, and then throw stones at them until we hit the nest, causing the wasps to “explode” off the nest looking for an enemy to attack; 3) always hold our breath, just in case we were attacked, despite all of our precautions; and 4) everyone will do the exact same thing (freeze or fight) each time we engaged the “enemy.”

After numerous successes, “fightin’ waspers” became established as a permanent part of our repertoire for dispelling boredom in Cypress Valley. Many a time, Johnny and I would summon Herman Lee, Fred Ray and/or Danny Lee to come over and play “fightin’ waspers” with us. And, as God is my witness, I can recall only two or three times anyone got stung, and that was only because they happened to take a fresh breath at just the wrong moment during the fight. Amateurs!

But this, admittedly risky, game took a turn for the worse one fateful Sunday morning. Tommy Joe, Herman Lee, Fred Ray and Danny Lee had joined Johnny and me at our house to “chill” until it was time to walk over to the local church for Sunday School. Now, Tommy Joe had heard about “fightin’ waspers”, but he had never actually participated in any of our wasper fights, and he didn’t know the rules. For some reason, while we were waiting in our living room to walk to church, Tommy Joe asked if we could play “fightin’ waspers” right then and there. When I heard him say that, “Satan entered into me”, and I devised a sinister plan to play a practical joke on Tommy Joe. Boys will be boys, you know.

So, I explained to Tommy Joe that we didn’t have time to roam the road-side looking for a suitable wasp nest, but there is a bumblebee hole (nest) – in the road embankment almost directly across the road – that is easy to find. “But”, I explained, “we only fight waspers, because bumblebees are so big, fly so fast and pack such a wallop in their stingers.” I was sure that would end the conversation. Not to be denied, however, Tommy Joe insisted that he wanted to fight the bumblebees anyway. So, thinking that he was really just bluffing, I led Tommy Joe through the front screen door and out into the front yard to show him the bumblebee hole. Without hesitation and to my surprise, Tommy Joe picked up a stone and proceeded to hurl it at the hole. By that time I was running like the wind back toward that screen door and the protection it would afford.

Alas and alack, and as luck would have it, Tommy Joe’s aim was true, and out came the bumblebees, mad as a hornet (so to speak)! Next thing we knew, Tommy Joe was making a bee-line (pun intended) for the screen door too, yelling and screaming and flailing his arms in panic. Once he was inside the house, we quickly gathered around him to see if he was alright. Well, he was not alright, not at all. A bumblebee had “nailed” him right on the tip of his nose, and his face was already beginning to swell up and turn red. The pain must have been intense, as he was crying and holding his hands to his face. This ruckus attracted the attention of my Mama, who rushed into the room to assess the situation. The moment she asked, “What in the world is going on?” I realized that this was not going to end well for either Tommy Joe or me.

With “such a cloud of witnesses surrounding me”, I had no recourse but to tell the truth and face the consequences. The exact sequence of the ensuing events was like a blur to me, but Mama dealt appropriately with me, making several swift and strategically placed contacts with my rear end, before driving Tommy Joe home and apologizing profusely to his Mama for what had transpired and for the now fully inflated, beet-red face of her poor little boy. And, much to my chagrin and regret, that was the first and the last time Tommy Joe was given permission to attend church with us. Go figure!

To this day I feel really bad about this – perhaps somewhat innocent – practical joke I played on my friend, Tommy Joe. If there is a moral to this story, I suppose it would be to carefully think through a practical joke before you set it in motion. Or, perhaps better yet, don’t set it in motion at all, because it could turn out to be a serious and irreversible disaster, as this one did. That said, “Y’all have a ‘fun-filled’ day, now, ya hear?”

(To enjoy more of my short stories, click HERE)

Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

BonnieDéjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

James R. Aist

If you have cats, you know that they are consummate creatures of habit. And it is often said that they usually forget things after a few weeks. Well, this true story may well be proof positive of those two kitty characteristics.

It all happened on Snyder Hill, just a little southeast of Ithaca, in upstate New York, about 15 years ago. We had two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, but we had to let Clyde “go” because he became mean and unruly. That left just Bonnie, whose personality blossomed after Clyde’s departure, especially her assertiveness. And it was a good thing, too.

One hot summer evening (yes, it does occasionally get hot in upstate New York, believe it or not), Bonnie and I were in the living room when we heard a neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was approaching the living room window, which was open, with only the window screen between us and him. So, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats in like manner. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. Suddenly, Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the screen. I knew that something violent was about to come down, so I summoned my wife, Janet, to come quickly, so she wouldn’t miss out on the ensuing encounter.

Just as Janet entered the room, the intruder leapt onto the screen with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the screen in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a few moments, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between challenger and defender. Then, realizing that there was no way that he was going to get at Bonnie with the screen separating the two of them, the would-be intruder gingerly relinquished his grip on the screen, dropped to the ground…kerplunk, and slinked away into the night. Convinced that she had won the day, Bonnie then abandoned the screen and returned to her place in the living room, as proud as a peacock. And we, too, were quite impressed and proud of our vicious little attack cat.

But, that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Fast forward a few months. It’s now Fall, the nights are cold, the screen was up and the glass sash was in its lowered position. The evening began innocently enough, but we were in for some exceptional entertainment. Bonnie and I were, once again, in the living room when we heard the same neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was, once again, approaching the living room window, which was now closed, with only the window glass between us and him. So, again, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. By this time, I was already saying to myself, “No-no-no, surely he wouldn’t, not with the glass in place now. I don’t know if I can survive the intensity of the ensuing laughter if he were to do that again.” But, just in case, I beckoned Janet into the living room once again, so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun. Anticipating what might be coming, we were already about to burst out in laughter when, low and behold, it happened.

Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the glass. As anticipated, the would-be intruder leapt onto the glass with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the glass in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a split second, but that pose didn’t last long. Like Wiley Coyote who, chasing feverishly after the Road Runner, failed to make the turn just before the cliff and was briefly suspended in mid-air before crashing to the ground…kuh-thump, so, too, these valiant feline warriors seemed suspended in time for a brief moment before the reality of gravity set in, and, bug-eyed and terrified, they came crashing (more precisely, sliding rapidly) down. At this point we were so consumed by uncontrollable laughter that we had zero concern for Bonnie’s well being following her fall. But, not to worry, we finally regained our composure to find that the couch was soft and had afforded her a perfect landing place. I can’t say that the other cat fared as well, though.

And that was the last we heard from this unwelcome, wannabe intruder. I guess his memory must have lasted more than a few weeks that time!

(For more True Tales on my website, click HERE)