My great-grandfather, Papa Joe Nieberding, was a large animal vet and a beekeeper in northeastern Oklahoma. My childhood memories are sweetened by quarts of his gleaming raw honey sitting in our pantry, and my imagination runs wild with stories about a crocodile that may or may not have lived in his watery cellar. His beautiful wife, my great-grandmother Mimi (Velma) Nieberding, was a homemaker, an accomplished writer, and an Oklahoma historian. Their old, interesting house in Miami, Oklahoma had a most magical second-story library. It was tucked neatly into the recesses of a broad wooden staircase, and it had odd little places to sit with a pillow and get lost in mildewy pages. The small library nest overlooked an expansive room with bare plank floors, layered area rugs, and a rock fireplace. I remember dozens of green house plants and long games of cards or chess at sunny window tables here, but I do not remember a television. The kitchen was adjacent, and a big table there was always circled by adults drinking coffee and laughing, discussing mysterious adult things. Probably politics, possibly bees and the weather and farming. Maybe that crocodile and its appetite for naughty children.
A few months ago my Uncle Tim visited the Lazy W to help celebrate my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. I have always loved him so much. One of my Dad’s little brothers, Uncle Tim was young enough when I was a little girl to feel like my own big brother, something I don’t actually have except by marriage to Handsome, which gave me Eddie. Well, Uncle Tim surprised me with the most amazing gift. He brought me this gorgeous ancient notebook, its spiral binding rusted and tight, its green plastic cover brittle and smudged with dirty fingerprints, one humble skinny sticker on the front bearing Papa Joe’s name and mailing address.
I was speechless then, but not now. Exploring this journal (so carefully because the pages are extremely delicate!) has been thrilling, and I want to share parts of it with you.
Late Winter 1972
This is the time of the year when the Sunshine Days are appreciated the most. All those dark rainy days when the nights are so long makes us really yearn for Spring & Summer. I go to the bee yard and see bees frantically searching for pollen and nectar. Back at the house I find a few crocus in bloom and note that the bees are testing each bloom every few minutes. I think if one had a large planting of these very early flowering plants it might be of value for pollen.
My daughters were both babies when Papa Joe passed in 1997, and for so many reasons I wish I could sit down with him now and talk about his bees and his gardens, his life. I wish I could sit down and talk to Mimi Nieberding, too, about hundreds of beautiful things. Who knows how she gently influenced my life passions? Instead I will pore over Papa’s scribbled thoughts and glean what I can then share it all here.
Also, tonight is the first Frontier Beekeepers’ Association meeting of the new year, and I plan to bring this journal with me. Papa Joe kept a list of his fellow apiarists in the front of his notebook, and believe it or not I recognize at least one gentleman’s name as being an active member still. The whole of the Oklahoma beekeeping community is rather small, after all. This should be fun.
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ~Shannon L. Alder