A multitude of bees darted this way and that all around the barn one sunny morning in August, crawling up the boxes set aside on a plank. Ethan and Abby glanced at each other, and the latter swallowed deeply at the sight of such apparent chaos. But Gavin had explained that the bees were too preoccupied with the extra honey to really pay them attention, so together they strode through the grass and buttercups toward the enclosed section of the barn, burst through the door, and slammed it shut behind them.
To the left was an aluminum extractor the size of a water heater, a door to the outside of the barn was to the right alongside a cherry red halter on the wall, and several stacks of weathered bee boxes stood between them and their father as he cleaned their supplies.
"I see you are dressed appropriately for work," Gavin mused approvingly at his children and lifted the capping knife from the shelf he used as a table. "Abby will give me each frame of honey, I will uncap the wax with this knife, and Ethan will set it in the extractor and operate the switch. All right?"
"Sounds good," Ethan said and crouched down in the corner to wait. Abby picked up the lid of one box and set it aside before gently lifting the first frame, which was glossy with honey. She maneuvered herself carefully around the stack of boxes to pass it to her father.
"One must take care to only remove the wax that hinders our removal of the honey, or the bees will have to spend time reconstructing what we destroy," Gavin explained as he sliced the knife smoothly down the wooden frame, a layer of wax curling away. Ethan pushed to his feet again to receive the frame and set it on its side in a basket within the great aluminum extractor. "Perfect. Abby, get me another, please."
Abby reached down for another frame; one that was sticky with honey. After she passed the frame over, she licked her palms and rubbed them against the thighs of her overalls. "That honey is really sweet, but it's a little strong, too."
"Yes," Gavin agreed. "Wipe your hands on that wet rag before you continue."
She obeyed and wiped her hands clean on the washcloth that sat on the shelf. Ethan received the second frame and settled it in the second basket before switching the extractor on. The great machine made a deep whirring noise as it spun the baskets around, spattering honey against the sides so that it would slide down to the pool below.
"Today is Mom's birthday," Abby said as she stooped down to get a frame. By the time she passed it to Gavin, he was still silent and refused to meet her eyes. At first, she thought he may not have heard her words over the sound of the extractor, but he nodded some moments later.
"Yes," he said. Minutes passed while Abby gave another frame to uncap, until Ethan switched off the extractor and peered inside. Satisfied with the harvested frames, he replaced them into the box. Richard crowed somewhere near the house before Gavin smiled and remarked, "Poppy took me to your county fair on her birthday the year I was in America. She wanted to point out the people she knew who were bull riding, and whose children rode sheep before the event began."
Abby broke into a grin as she passed another frame up. "Ethan used to do that! Right, Ethan?"
She spun around to her brother, who nodded. "Yeah, Mom had me try mutton bustin' a time or two. I actually won a pretty sweet buckle the second time."
"Right, mutton busting was the name," Gavin mused as wax curled away from his capping knife again. "She used to love watching those children and promised that any child of hers, if she were to have any, would definitely be in that arena one day. I see she held true to her promise."
"And I loved it," Ethan smiled straightened from his corner to receive the frame into the extractor. As he switched it on, Abby peered through the window with her elbows on the sill, the sun warming her cheeks and the aroma of honey still sweet in her nose. The festivities continued outside, and bees seemed to be patrolling the entire yard.
After the extractor was shut down that time, Gavin switched on a small radio beside his knife and adjusted the dial when static crinkled the air. After a moment or two, the sound of the Judds' song "Grandpa" started to come through clearly.
Together, the three of them worked to extract twenty-five complete boxes of frames before Gavin ushered them inside for tea. Ethan and Abby dropped into the creaking chairs and slouched against the backs. As their father sipped his tea, Abby contemplatively ran her hands down one of her two braids, from which some of her hair had worked loose. "Can we send Mom a present of some sort?"
"What do you have in mind?" Gavin asked as he replaced his cup in its saucer.
She exchanged a glance with Ethan. "We were thinking maybe a jar of honey with a pretty ribbon tied in a bow around the lid, but she usually gets that from June Lily."
"Yes," Gavin agreed. "But honey tastes different in every place because of the various wildflowers."
"Well…" Abby considered his statement. "What would you do?"
"I don't want to encroach on June Lily and her sales. Besides, Proverbs 25:16 says 'If you find honey, eat just enough-too much of it, and you will vomit.'"
"We should give her something different," Ethan said as Abby dissolved into giggles. "Something she doesn't expect."
"Tell you what," Gavin arose as the toaster burst and produced golden toast. "We will be canning fruits this afternoon. I can help you send her one of those."
"I like that idea," Ethan said to Abby. She nodded and added, "We have so much more honey and fruit than we have before. What in the world are we going to do with all of it?"
"We've had a fierce abundant season," Gavin mused in agreement. "Aedus Miller is a business sort of man, and he is going to open a shop in downtown. He manages the finances while his family and I provide the goods. And if she is willing, I want to ask Saoirse to be behind the counter."
"So what will you sell?" Ethan asked.
"I managed to get some cook books published long ago, so those. And some honey, breads, canned fruits, decorated cakes, and the albums Liam recorded."