Honey. Orange blossom honey to be precise.
While shopping at our local natural food grocer, my wife spotted a jar of orange blossom honey. She knows that it is my very favorite kind, but it is awful hard to come by here in West Texas, for there are no orange trees to be found on the South Plains.
Upon seeing it, I began drifting back in time, all the way back to my years living in Southern California and my high school summer job working at Gibbs Apiary in Valley Center, CA. An apiary is a honey farm and many of the high school kids from our church youth group spent summers working there, either processing the honey from the bee boxes or working in the fields placing and collecting the bee boxes. At 16, I worked in the “honey house” working with the boxes to load them into machines to extract the honeycomb and honey. It was hot, sticky work and I got stung more than a few times. I was starting at the bottom, moving boxes, cleaning tanks and learning the ins and outs of the bee business. Along the way, I got to taste honey, all different types of honey. In case you didn’t know, honey tastes different depending on where the bees are doing their work. For example, avocado honey is quite dark in color and tastes very different than say, cotton honey as we have here in West Texas. But my favorite, by far is orange blossom honey. It is light in color and in taste with just a hint of citrus in the aftertaste. So perfect.
I did not love the job as it turns out, I am more of an “indoors” job kind of guy. But, I was following in my older brother Ben’s footsteps. By the time I worked there, he was already on his third summer and was now working out in the fields, wearing the bee suits and doing the “fun” stuff. I was proud to be doing what he had done and it gave us another thing to connect over. That was my one and only summer there but Ben continued on for a year or two longer. He took his love of bees and bee farming with him as he moved to Chicago. He set up bee boxes in and around his yard and made his own artisan honey, which he sent out as gifts for the holidays. I cherished those jars of honey and remembered.
After my brother passed away, nearly two years ago now, I went up to Chicago with our dad and helped begin the process of cleaning out his home. In doing so, we came across his bee suit and saw some of his bee boxes set up in the area. He had kept up with his passion for honey and working with bees up until the end, and that gives me joy. Ben always chased his passions, no matter what direction it would take him in. In that way, I’m still trying to follow in his footsteps. I miss him so very much but in seeing that jar of orange blossom honey, I felt connected to him again, and that felt good.
Oh, and you know I bought that jar and brought it home, and it tastes like that sweet summer memory.