I sometimes think I want to be the kind of old lady my mother was, breezily calling them as she saw them, as with the docile babies in the TV commercials. “That child is drugged!” she was always yelling at the television.
Most times though, I want to be an old person like my kindly Uncle Rob whose eyes would fill with tears watching those same babies, and who loved everything in sight: the supper you made him, the squirrels outside, even the two stiff high school photos of my sister and me smiling eternally away there on the living room table.
I guess I’ve hoped in general that both David and I would grow sweeter with age in this way. And I thought this was actually happening, to David anyway, the day he felt a little spider land on his nose and begin rappelling down toward his chin like a climber descending a cliff-face. When I saw him unhook the delicate rope of web, go to the door and set the whole thing down outside, all I could think was, “What a Gandhi of a guy! What an out-and-out saint!”
Well, I don’t know what happened to THAT man, but he sure was among the missing on the day we discovered a huge hornets’ nest peeking out from the ivy that crawls across the garage roof.
“We have hornets!” I yelled over to the neighboring family as we stood watching a zillion bees zooming back toward the hive and squirming wiggle-hipped inside it.
“It’s nothing,” said David. “Who’s afraid of bees?” “I am!” said the next-door mom from her porch. “What will we DO?” I yipped, panicky.
“Take ‘em out,” David said, with that exact smile Jay Gatsby smiles when Tom Buchanan reveals his bootlegging past.
He trotted inside and emerged almost immediately with an aerosol can of bee killer bought in the 1990s.
“YOU can’t do this!” the next-door-dad called over. “Get the professionals!”
“At least go put on gloves!” called his wife. “And a hat and jacket!” she added.
“At least long sleeves!” I said. “DAVE,” I added in my meanest wifely voice.
But no, he said. He had it covered, he said. He would wait and spray them when they were all back in the nest for the night. In an hour, he said, just before he went out for his weekly card game.
And so it happened that in an hour he went back out to do the deed.
He stood three feet from the nest.
The rest of us watched from the safety of our houses as, within four seconds of the spraying, he came barreling across the grass, thundered up the back steps and slammed into our house.
It seems that the first burst of insecticide had no sooner left the can than the bees swarmed furiously out, one to find Mr. Gandhi-No-More and sting him – zzzt! – right in the ear.
Was I nice to him in his pain?
Well, sure. Sort of.
After I got through delivering the small I-told-you-so smile of the longtime married.
And what about him? Was he chastened at all?
Not a bit. He even boasted about the incident to our kids the following day.
“In the first round it was Bees 1, Dad Nothing. But when I got back from cards at midnight, I had another go at them and Boom! Bees Zip, Dad 250.”
Boasting! About all those bee corpses!
Maybe neither one of us is ready for sainthood yet.