From the first grade to the fourth grade I lived in Germany. Dad was in the army and we were stationed in a quaint little college town named Darmstadt. We lived in an army housing area called Licoln Villiage. Building 4404. Stairwell C. Apartment 3.
I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the most interesting social situation I would ever be in. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of people living in one area and none of them were from that area. My friends were from California, New Jersy, Korea, Samoa, every place I had ever heard of was represented in my neighborhood by someone. This made for a diversity I would love today, but was rather uncomfortable at the age of 6.
I didn't have much in common with any of the kids I lived near. They would talk about their lives "back home" and I had no clue what they were talking about. I had heard of Los Angeles. I knew it was a big city. Was it like Nashville? That was the big city where I'm from. Did you ever pick blackberries back home in Panama? Thats what I used to do in the summer. It was frustrating and discouraging trying to relate to all of these different people.
But we eventually found something that we all had in common. The bees were cool. I had never seen bees like the ones in Darmstadt. I am used to seeing two basic varieies of bee. Bumblebees, which are the fat, black and yellow bees that somehow defy gravity with their tiny wings and lazily hover around the yard. And Honey bees, which are the thin, light brown bees that fly fast and purposefully. But in my new neighborhood, those bees were boring. There seemed to be dozens of new kinds of bee.
There were the Djinnis, the Wizards, the Yellow-jackets, the elusive Black-diggers, the deadly Fire-bees, we had no shortage of fantastic and awe-inspiring names for them. We were an army of beeslayers. Every day after school we would race home and grab pickle jars, peanut-butter jars, fish bowls, anything that would contain these beasts and meet each other on the battleground.
Each of the buildings in the neighborhood had a playground behind it. Each day we would get the word on which playground had the best bees.
"Jacob said that Saul told him he saw some Fire-bees building a nest on the monkey bars behind 4219."
"Fire-bees?! I don't want to mess with them. They hurt! Why dont we chase the Djinni's behind my house?"
"Djinni's suck. I caught a hundred of them last week. I just ate the last dill pickle last night so my mom should have a new jar clean for me today when I get home. I'm gonna fill it up with Fire bees!"
"I hate dill pickles."
"Me too, but the jar is real big."
"Use a peanut butter jar. They like the smell of peanut butter."
"Bees can't smell stupid. They don't have noses."
There was an art to bee catching. It wasn't easy. I would challenge any adult to compete with our bee-catching prowess. The goal is to get as many bees as possible into your jar. At the end of the day, the kid with the coolest jar was the victor of the day.
There were plenty of ways to increase the coolness of your jar. The quickest way (and generally regarded as the lamest way) was to add more bees. It was always cool to see a jar teaming with dozens of bees crawling all over each other. Another way was to increase the diversity. This was my favorite way. I liked seeing all different types of bees in the jar. Certain types could co-exist. Others could not. The reddish Fire-bees would fight any bee (or wasp, whatever) you put in his jar with him to the death. The slow, lazy Djinni avoided conflict at all cost. We had these complex personality profiles all worked out for each type. This bee got along with that bee, but not those bees.
We would come up with stories to explain why the bees couldnt get along. The Wizards used to hurt the Fire-bees a long time ago. Then the wasps taught the fire bees how to fight. But when the Fire-bees went to fight the wizards, the wasps (everyone hated wasps) came and took all their stuff. So now the Fire-bees hate everyone. Especially us.
The way you get the bees into the jar depended on your personal style. Some kids had a super-quick scoop-and-slam method I never could quite get the hang of. The way I did it, was to wait for my target to land. Then I would unscrew the jar lid, and turn it upside down. The commotion would cause the bees inside to fly up, to the bottom of the jar. Then I could take the top off and set the jar on top of the be and slide the lid under to screw it back on. It was fool-proof. Almost.
Toward the end of summer, the bees would become scarce. All of the really cool ones all but disappeared. It was on one of these days that I earned my purple heart. I was catching whatever I could find, mostly Djinni's when I found a honey-bee. These bees were considered basically useless since they were everywhere and weren't all that interesting to look at. But it was a slow day so I put him in my jar. The general personality of a honey-bee is that he will not be stopped from gathering his pollen. He is an extremely busy bee and has too much to do to spend time playing around in a pickle jar.
The next bee I came across was a Yellow-jacket. I unscrewed the top and made sure all of the bees were bumping against the bottom of the jar. But when the lid came off, the honey-bee made a break for it. Flying straight down toward the opening. This put me in a very tight spot. On the one hand, I had a Yellow-jacket mere inches from my hand that I had to catch or I would lose. On the other hand, I had this renegade Honey-bee trying to teach the other bees how to escape. I decided to let the honey-bee escape and snag the Yellow-jacket. Who cares about a dumb old Honey-bee anyways. On his way out, he decided to pop me one time with his stinger. This being the first time I had ever been stung, I over-reacted and droped the jar, unleashing a dozen or so bees, agitated. Good thing most of them were the copacetic Djinni's. I shudder to imagine what would have happened if I'd had a dozen aggressive bees in the jar. I ran home, leaving my jar on the playground and told my mom what had happened.
An hour or so later, I was sitting in my living room holding some strange concoction my mother had mixed up with white powder and water on to my injured thumb. The doorbell rang. My fellow beeslayers had heard of my tragic injury and had combined efforts to get me a get-well gift. My pickle jar, full of every kind of bee I had ever seen. As diverse as possible. Just like us.