After posting that first little excerpt from my great-grandfather’s apiary journal, a couple of wonderful things have happened. It all makes me even more excited to continue exploring this delicate treasure.
First, I took the old green journal with me to last month’s Frontier Country beekeepers’ meeting and asked one of the old timers, Chuddie, if he recognized my Papa Joe’s name. It may sound like a long shot to you, but Joe Nieberding was a slightly older contemporary of Chuddie’s in the seventies and eighties, and the Oklahoma beekeepers keep a pretty tight circle. Also, Papa Joe was apparently president of the statewide beekeepers’ association for some years and was pretty well known.
Well, Chuddie definitely recognized the name. His face lit up and he nodded slowly then said with firmness, “Oh yeah, yes of course I knew him! Joe was quite a beekeeper. I learned a lot from him.” That was the first time I had ever heard someone refer to our family patriarch without his proper title, “Papa,” and it was strangely endearing. The feeling was akin to realizing your parents have friends and colleagues who love and respect them but have nothing to do with you or your siblings. Weird, but proud. And never mind that I had first just shown Chuddie this yellowed newspaper clipping of my Papa Joe.
“Do you know this man?” I said awkwardly, indicating someone fully dressed and covered to the point of perfect anonymity.
“Are you touched in the head?” Chuddie might have thought. “Someone take her bees away pronto.”
Anyway, Chuddie was as sweet as honey and never actually said that. In fact his kind words about Papa Joe brought tears to my eyes. I resolved at that moment to learn everything I possibly could from this journal. It really is a treasure, both from the family history perspective and that of the beekeeper trying to learn from someone’s firsthand experience.
Whatever your hobby, wouldn’t you love to have an expert with decades of experience coaching you, whispering gently at your elbow of his trials and errors while you feel your way through a new challenge?
That brief exchange with Chuddie was amazing and inspirational. Then this happened…
Last week I received a note from a gentleman named John Foust, a distant cousin who grew up with my Dad and his siblings and who spent lots of time with Papa and Mimi Nieberding during his college years. You can actually read John’s first note as a comment on that first apiary journal entry; I’ve inserted it here.
Joe Nieberding was my grandmother’s little brother. I grew up with the wonder of his veterinary hospital, his bees, his pigeons and his amazing garden. And the mysterious basement. I spent a lot of time with him, refitting the wax bee frames, playing with some of the puppies, and hearing him name some of the pigeons. Aunt Velma and I attended community concerts together at the NEO Fine Arts Center, my first experience with some of the old big band groups such as Fred Waring. Velma’s mother Mrs. Seamster lived across the street from the college. I mowed her lawn as a kid, and parked in her driveway when I attended NEO. She always had a jar of cookies for a hungry college student. Uncle Joe’s notebook must be an amazing peek back into history for you. The story I remember as what must have been most memorable was that “Army Captain” Joe and Velma attended the premier showing of Gone With The Wind in Atlanta. Velma talked about the reception afterward with the actors. Dr. Joe and Velma were amazing people.
Wow. This beautiful couple who were already gentle, loving, and fascinating to my memory have so many stories I have never heard. What a colorful life they built! I had no idea that sharing Papa Joe’s apiary journal piecemeal would yield such a wonderful history lesson, such a kaleidoscope view into my own family.
John I have emailed a bit since and I am hopeful that along with my Dad he will help me share more stories about the Nieberding gardens, home life, and bee yards. It all felt so magical to me as a little girl, and my wish to know more might be granted.
And can I just say how refreshing it is that someone else remembers the fabled cellar and its toothy dangers? I mean, I grew up believing all dark bodies of standing water to contain hungry crocodiles. Even small puddles.
What childhood memories of your own would you like to expand? Which of your elders would you love to sit down with and take notes from their lives? Who do you emulate, either accidentally or by design?
For the record, we only have alligators in Oklahoma.
Definitely no crocodiles.