Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The Beekeeper's Tale
According to the dentist, Mr. A. C. Doyle, Sherlock Holmes retired to Sussex, where he kept bees.
This information was passed along to me by my grandfather when I was about six years old, as we prepared to rob one of the four hives which were a vital part of the family farm. I didn’t especially care for bees but I was sinfully fond of honey on hot buttered biscuits and my grandfather used my love for the one to overcome my fear of the other by weaving a tale of beekeepers past, such as Sherlock Holmes, of secret agents and Pickle, the Mayan King.
His name wasn’t really Pickle, it was Pae’kal, according to my grandfather who learned about him and the fact he’d been a beekeeper from his younger cousin Sylvia who was actually a boy named Sylvanus and the best American spy who ever lived although twenty years younger than my grandfather and product of one of them eastern schools. But a cousin all the same, through the Griswald side of the family and an honest to God spy for the American Navy back before the First World War when my grandfather was going through what he called his sea-going phase, which was how he acquired the faded blue tattoos on each of his hands, one of them a five pointed star, the other a crescent moon.
“All you needed was to know a little Quichi,” according to my grandfather, that being the language of the Mayas, to know the king’s name wasn’t Pacal, nor Pakel or even Pakal, which is what everyone else called him. “Sylvee knew Quichi top to bottom, front to back and all the dialects in between.”
My grandfather knew all that because he’d been first mate on a banana boat at the time, running between Seattle and Valparaiso, and Quichi, or key-chee as he called it, was just one of the languages he’d picked up in his travels. And he knew about the spying because he’d done his bit, carrying books back and forth between his cousin and the Naval Attache at Panama City, where grandfather’s ship was required to stop for coal. Then he made me stand to attention and solemnly swear I would never mention the spy business to another living soul.
And about there I realized the honey-filled supers had all been replaced with empty ones and we were trudging back toward the house, richer by forty pounds of honey in the comb and unstung.
Mention of spies and royal beekeepers overcome my fear of bees and I eventually became a fairly accomplished apiarist, taking up the hobby on a larger scale after I retired from the Navy, continuing until 1998 when Africanized bees reached San Diego county. African bees are just as useful as other bees but having evolved in Africa they’ve developed the tactic of attacking en mass whenever they feel their hive is threatened. It’s the only way they can drive off animals the size of elephants. Unfortunately, they use those same tactics against children, pets and beekeepers. Such bad manners made them unwelcome in our patio and I reluctantly gave my hives to a professional beekeeper. Indeed, such behavior makes them unwelcome anywhere within a mile of the house.
In the fall of 2006 Mel Gibson released a movie he’d made about the Maya and it caused me to recall my grandfather’s mention of Pickle the Mayan Beekeeper. Thanks to the internet it took only a few minutes to confirm that the Mayas had indeed practiced beekeeping on a significant scale using the stingless native American bees, and that one of their more notable leaders was a fellow named Pa kal, spelt in various ways. Even more amazing was to discover there really was an archeologist named Sylvanus Morley in Central America who had worked for Naval Intelligence!
Further confirmation of my grandfather’s tale came from learning Mr. Morley was about twenty years younger than grandpa and that his middle name was Griswald.
Which leaves only one question: To which part of Sussex did Sherlock Holmes retire? Being something of a bug about English history the question is really my grandfathers. Sussex was once a kingdom, according to him, divided into East and West Sussex when Jeeter was pup. He finally decided upon Rye as the only suitable location for the retirement of a consulting detective and put his reasons into a neatly written monograph in his Book of Private Thoughts, shared with no one over the age of twelve.