We were going camping. Mom told the kids to load our ancient panelled yellow station wagon with firewood.
My parents fought an endless battle against bees, wasps, and hornets at that house. Night after night Dad suited up in jeans and a leather jacket and ventured out to spray wasps that had dive-bombed the mailman, or yellowjackets lurking in the lawn tractor’s path. Maybe the real battle began when Mom accidentally dragged a garden hose against a white-faced hornet’s home. That did not end well.
A yellowjacket nest occupied one niche in our wood pile behind the garage, so Philip, as eldest, gingerly extracted split wood from the stack’s other end and threw it a safe distance away for collection.
I stood twenty feet off, scooping up logs and jumping aside as spinning chunks of kindling hit the ground around my feet. Suddenly – ow! Ow! OWWW! Gold and black dots streaked by, and three or four yellowjackets jabbed their stingers in at once. They’d ignored the sacrificial-goat brother and charged straight for the eight-year-old.
It was my first bee sting. Philip sat on a bumblebee at age four. Peter bounced on a playground toy with a nest in its springs. I’d escaped, until now. We didn’t yet know that I’m allergic to stings and bites. Any sting aches and burns for weeks, swelling around joints until I can’t bend them; it’s only gotten worse with time. I rarely cried over injuries by that age, but as searing waves of sharp pain replaced the shock, I burst into agonized howls and streaked for the house.
“Auughh!” Through the vegetable garden. “Gaaaahhhh!” Around the garage, over the grass. “Baaaa-aaaah-aaaaaah!” Up the driveway, banging through the back door with an imagined swarm of avengers at my tail. “Daaaaaaaaaaad!”
Dad was in the kitchen, surrounded by camping gear and last-minute checklists. “Dad! Daaad! Aaaaaah! Yellow jackets…..*wail*….wood pile….Aaggghh…stung me here and here and here and….” Through tears I rubbed at my searing skin, lymph nodes beginning to throb. Dad checked for stinger remnants, then opened the kitchen cupboard.
“It’s okay. I’ll get you something for that.”
He began pulling small bottles from the shelf and sprinkling their contents on a paper towel. I drew a shaky breath as the sobs slowed down and curiosity and expectant relief took over. Dad handed me the compress: “Hold this on the stings.”
It still hurt. Or did it? Maybe it was a little better. Yes, definitely. I sat on the back steps regaining my self control and rubbing the towel on my leg and arm.
When Mom arrived home from errands the tears were gone, leaving only red-rimmed eyes and hiccups in their wake. She took in my face, the compress clutched to my shin, and the delicate green flakes on my skin.
“I got stung by a bunch of yellowjackets, but Dad gave me this and it’s getting better.”
She said something sympathetic, gave me a look I couldn’t quite interpret, and walked into the house to talk to Dad. Eventually I threw out the bandage and went back to work stacking wood.
It took me years to realize basil and oregano are not a treatment for bee stings.
Image found here.