surprised to learn, as a result of Friday's
Raging Pencils comic, that a sizeable proportion
of web users don't quite share the same fascination
with our little bee pals as I, regardless of
their importance in the grand scheme of agriculture
and, ultimately, life as we know it. Especially
the eating part.
Even so, it is now perfectly clear to me that most readers of this strip
would be perfectly content if I never brought the subject up again.
So, naturally, the following is a personal reminiscence about my dad
versus the paper wasps. Enjoy.
Years ago, when I was a mere kidling, the
rented house in which my burgeoning family huddled featured a ramshackle
storage shed in the back yard. The warped openings that served as windows
had long ago lost any glass and the structure was built low enough that
clambering onto its roof was literal child's play, so it immediately
became the de facto entertainment venue for me and my numerous sibs.
Much fun was had playing Guard the Castle or leaping from its lofty heights
with Mother's best towels draped around our necks, playing out our Supermanly
fantasies to painful and sometimes traumatic avail.
Having no windows also meant that the shed made an ideal breeding ground
for paper wasps. So about the time temperatures hit their summer peak
each wasp nest would have reached the approximate size of a small Pekingese
Being no fool I personally gave the little striped sons-a-bitches a wide
berth. My philosophy was "I didn't bother them and they didn't sting
the hell out of me". This unofficial truce must have held as I escaped
any emptive or preemptive strikes on the part of the wasps during my
many years there.
Mother, on the other hand, wasn't quite so diplomatic. She was wasp-o-phobic
long before I knew therapists could profit handsomely from such maladies
and to her, not unlike General Custer, the only good wasp was a dead
one. Except for the frequent episodes of chasing one or another of us
down in an attempt to apply some well-deserved corporal punishment my
Mother's only extensive backyard activity involved the traditional hanging-out
of the clothes, but that was quite enough exposure to these little yellow
devils as far as she was concerned, so they had to go.
Naturally, the chore of wasp eradication fell on the broad, beefy shoulders
of my dear old Dad, and while most men would have just waved a can of
Raid in their genreral direction and continued their fatherly duties
my father tended to do things the more manly way.
In this case that meant some sort of makeshift torch, usually the Fort
Worth Star-Telegram rolled into a tight baton and daubed with a touch
of high-test. Later, in the relative cool of the evening, when the wasp
clan was back on the nest regaling each other with mighty tales of assaults
on helpless caterpillars, Dad would light the torch and deftly stab it
into the heart of the nest.
What followed was an amazing spectacle of nature.
We kids would stand well outside the line of fire and watch in respectful
awe as my shirtless father, with an heroic gleam in his eye, dashed into
the shed led by the blaze of his fiery brand, like a Crusader crashing
headlong into the bulwarks of Constantinople.
After a couple of seconds an explosion of sparks lit the humid night
as dozens of flaming yellow-jackets burst through the windows. They arced
upward into the air for several seconds, trailing blazing remnants of
charred antenna and limbs... and then simultaneously they would all change
course and begin dive-bombing Dad.
Evidently Dad's torch, being the only luminous object on a dark summer's
night, stimulated what was left of the wasp's instinctual need to protect
the nest. So Part Two of this epic struggle involved Dad racing for the
back door of the house followed by an incendiary, lilliputian convoy
in literally hot, literally mad pursuit. You or I might have ditched
the torch before beating a strategic retreat but not dear old Dad.
One of the things I learned from this operation was that the average
wasp, even when on fire, can sometimes outrun a full-grown man. Looking
back, I believe Dad performed this stunt with his shirt off because it
was easier for mother to tend his wounds afterwards. Now that's planning
Nowadays, Beloved Girlfriend has assumed the role of wasp-phobic in my
life. I just give her the number of a good exterminator.