Recently Driving through persimmon and agarita embellished limestone and granite hills here in central Texas, I distractedly passed up my intended destination. I was bound for Bar B Que but instead found bees. Millions of them, owned by Jefe and Lucy Auslander (not their real last name or first names, however Jefe and Lucy are their actual nicknames). Jefe is a retired road construction engineer and foreman and Lucy is a retired college biology teacher. Jefe in Spanish means boss and Jefe was the Boss over working men most of his years, although he doesn't actually look the part. He kinda looks like he could be John Denver's grandfather - - round wire rim glasses and all. Lucy, now in her late sixties, has a gorgeous, unruly, mane of vermilion red hair (she very strongly asserts is natural) she does look like she could be a relative of Lucille Ball.
Standing at a roadside mailbox, they were both shuffling through junk mail, when I rolled up crunching gravel, struggling to roll down my window - - the handle is broken, as is my right headlight and hood latch. My old pick-up is literally wired, roped and taped together. Jeffe started grinning widely. Lucy grabbed his arm and, with exaggerated curiosity, led him to my, now open, window. "Hi, I'm lost. I'm looking for the Bar B Que joint that I thought was around here". "You passed it about three miles back", said Lucy, eyeing the likewise poor condition of my truck interior. "You don't look like a Republican", Jefe said, pointing to the two faded and partially obliterated, overlapping, American flag stickers on my rear windshield. "They came with the truck" I said, extending my hand, "Kevin Tully." "Good to meet you Kevin, Jefe, this is my wife Lucy." Jefe hugged Lucy tighter, affected what, surprisingly, seemed to be a Richard Nixonesque voice and manner and said, "Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." "That's a Lucille Ball quote", Lucy said as she gently nudged her husband to get a better view of my floorboard, tousled her husbands hair and said, "Lucy also said", "Love yourself first and everything else falls in line." Jefe, theatrically and with exaggerated hubris, moved Lucy out of the way, grabbed my door frame with both hands and asked, "What do you do for a living, it looks like your a carpenter, where you from?" "Yep, I'm a carpenter,and an artist, I live in Johnson City." Lucy stuck her head under jefe's arm, got so close I could tell she had had coffee recently, looked me straight in the eye and said, "We're miel dachniks*." I liked these guys immediately.
Jefe said the Bar B Que down the road wasn't as good as it used to be and it certainly wasn't better than Lucy's wild hog Chili and Italian cream cake, made with honey -- they were beekeepers. My hosts led me, giddily marching hand in hand, through their gate and the scrubby tangle of white brush, persimmon, mesquite, prickly pear, and the occasional live oak into an unexpected little piece of magic. The narrow limestone caliche road spread out into a small clearing with a little house and setting that looked straight out of a Tolstoy or Chekov short story. There was a red and green painted dacha** surrounded by brightly colored and ornamented bee boxes, intentionally set amongst stands of prickly pear and evergreen sumac.
The chili was outstanding and the Italian cream cake was amazing. Having lived with one of the country's best bakers -- I can tell you, "that biology teacher can cook." To make a long story short, we talked about: our histories, bees, politics, drought, Russia (Jefe has Russian ancestors), children, abortion and homosexuality. On their twenty-third wedding anniversary Lucy gave Jefe a chainsaw and beautifully bound copies of pages from her journals containing entries about her love for him. She cooked a sumptuous meal, plied him with wine and told him she was a lesbian. Jefe picked up the chainsaw, slammed the door, and for the rest of the evening cut up firewood under an outside security light. Lucy fell asleep. When she woke up she found Jefe asleep on the couch with the book of her journal entries spread across his sawdust spattered chest. She moved out, stayed gone for about three weeks and moved back in. "I returned for the good of the children and for love." After Lucy said this, Jefe grabbed her hand and tenderly kissed it.
They walked me outside and showed me the bees. I raised bees years ago. We talked about honey and how the drought was effecting the honey production and its flavor and quality. Lucy told me that they were having to feed them sugar water. They both went on, taking turns, talking about how honey bees were in decline all across the world and how it could be blamed on monoculture farming, herbicides, and pesticides. They talked about how this election cycle should be about, global warming, green industry and energy innovation, fracking, Wall Street criminality, intelligent immigration policy, the worth of labor to the individual and society, Occupy Wall Street, and bees. "We're losing our pollinators and those idiots are talking about bedroom crap again, abortion and gays", Jefe said, pulling an old mud dauber nest from the side of a bright blue bee box. "Kevin you seen a Gay or Pro-choice bee lately?" he asked me, looking at his watch. I knew it was time to leave but I sure hated to go. We hugged, I thanked them for a wonderful afternoon and gave them my cell phone number. They walked ahead of my truck, back to the gate.
I drove home, stopping at that Bar B Que joint for some sweet tea.
*miel is honey in spanish and a dachnik is someone who lives year round in a dacha
**a dacha is a Russian country or weekend house