The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Biscuits and Honey

By Rose Payne © 1990

Issue: September, 1990

I have many happy memories of my childhood in an isolated mountain area in Ashe County, North Carolina. One of the most unusual is my grandmother's special talent.

My grandmother's house was a rambling frame structure built in stages about the turn of the century. It was located on a rise above the rich "bottom land" beside the South Fork of the New River. Steep hills rose behind the house, rich green in summer, and snow covered in winter.

Along with cows, horses, sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, cats and a dog, my grandparents kept bees. The bees lived in bee hives, which were like little square wooden houses set in a row on a low wooden shelf just at the edge of the steep backyard. The boxes and the shelf were weathered to a soft shade of gray.

Behind the hives (my grandmother called them "bee gums"), was a rusted, once decorative wire fence and beyond that was the orchard. The trees marched up the steep hill in uneven rows: pear, cherry, peach and plum trees, along with several different varieties of apples. The bees covered the blossoms in spring and buzzed around the ripe fruit in summer and fall.

Whenever I came to visit my grandmother, she would hear about my dolls and the new kittens at my house and any other exciting news that I had to share. Then she would say, "I'll bet this child's hungry." Of course I was!

She would check inside the "warming closet" of the big blue enameled wood stove. There were always biscuits fresh from the last meal there. "I'll be right back," grandmother would say and taking a bowl and a knife, she would go out through the kitchen door and straight to the bee hives. The tops lifted up like the lid of a box and inside honey comb was attached to the walls filled with sweet golden liquid.

Grandmother wore no protective clothing - just her gingham work dress and her big blue apron. Sometimes she would put on her sunbonnet or my grandfather's old straw hat, but usually she went with her silver white hair shining in the reflected light of summer.

She would raise up a roof on one of the bee hives. Immediately a squadron of "guard bees" would fly out buzzing angrily. Grandmother went right on cutting a little bit of honey comb from their store house, putting it in the bowl and heading back to the house as if she were picking tomatoes from her garden. Usually the bees would light on her arms and in her thin silvery hair while others buzzed excitedly. Grandmother would brush them gently away and say, "Don't get your stingers up little bees, I just took a little. You all got more honey than you need." After following her part way to the kitchen door, the bees would circle around and head back to the hive.

Grandmother would put the bowl on the table and bring the still-warm biscuits, a glass of cold milk and I would enjoy the special treat while grandmother visited with me or went about some chore.

I never knew my grandmother to get a single sting and this same honey gathering was repeated every time I visited in summer or fall. Neighbors and friends often teased grandmother with the claim that the bees were a stingless variety. That was definitely not true. My grandfather and other family members were stung several times just for venturing to near to the hives.

I have read about people with a talent for handling bees, but I never knew anyone except the very special lady who talked to her bees and always knew when I needed a treat.

My grandmother died when I was five, but after more than fifty years, I never eat bread and honey without remembering the wonderful special person in my earliest memories.