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Bob Hirt

My dad, a beekeeper as well as a dairy farmer, was good at both occupations. But if given the choice, income notwithstanding, he’d rather have been a full-time beekeeper. He just loved his honeybees. He had them working for many years in the orchards of between seven and ten farms. They were his pride and joy. And they never asked for a pay raise or time off, or a paid vacation either! And the farmers were happy as well to have their crops and fruit trees reliably pollinated.

Dad had several friends, also beekeepers, who he occasionally ran into at meetings of one sort or another. One such man was Frank. He, too, was a beekeeper as well as a farmer, and they had a lot in common, especially conversation about weather, corn yield and, of course, honeybees and all the problems they had the previous year with a condition referred to as foul-brood. It required destroying the bee colony of one or several hives on a given property or orchard. Frank had to destroy most of his honeybees that year. He was getting older and tired and decided to sell off most of the equipment that he’d no longer need, and my dad was there looking over what his friend had to sell.

“Al, you gotta see the stuff I got hidden away. It’s worth a few bucks, mind ya, and they don’t make it no more.” My father kept up with most of the news in the honey business, and he was expecting to see some antique bee-yard things of one sort or another. Nothing had really excited him thus far, and he was about ready to leave again when Frank yelled from around the corner in the old barn, “You didn’t know this, but the revenoo’ers were here some 20 years ago lookin’ for stuff that the government declared illegal at the time. Makin’ moonshine was illegal back in those days, and some guy around here turned me in, can ya believe that – heard I was makin’ the stuff. Well, dang, ain’t nobody’s business but my own and, by golly, I had the best stuff you could ever ‘swaller.’ I wasn’t about to let them fellers take it from me either. So now I’m gonna give you a samplin’ from my private collection. Ya ever hear of mead? Yeah, that’s what they call it, mead! Can’t believe ya never heard of mead. Here, let me give ya a samplin’ of it.” My dad knew about mead, but he didn’t let on. He wanted to just keep his mouth shut about it. He knew, too, that it was illegal.

Frank climbed over six or eight bales of hay, pushed open a door and disappeared into the darkness. There were some clanking sounds and shuffling around, and in a minute or so, he came out with two quart-size brown bottles, one in each of his gnarled fists. “Here, this one I made back in ’42, and it was one of my best years. Maybe it was the weather, maybe the nectar from the flowers – I don’t rightly know. Here, take a swig.”

According to my dad, It was the most mellow, sweet, wine-like drink he had ever tasted. I found out years later, in conversations with my mother, mostly in German so that we couldn’t understand, that he made several comments about “honey wine.” Many years later, he finally introduced us to this concoction of water, honey, malt and yeast. Small wonder that the makers of this “private label” drink guarded their product so well.

My dad went home that day without any beekeeping things at all, but under his arm was tucked a brown bottle of honey-wine – Mead. It was a good ending to a warm spring day.