My Secret Life as a Bee

By Jim Hamilton

I decided to give beekeeping a try and after ordering hive accessories, I experienced a bout of déjà vu. As I viewed the different kinds of bee protective suits, I remembered that this wouldn’t be the first time I’d don some type of apiary apparel. You see, back in my college days, I masqueraded as Barney the Bee, fearsome mascot for the St. Ambrose College Fighting Bees; St. Ambrose was the patron saint of apiarists in the Catholic Church. My college was an all-male institution located along the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.

Let me say a few words about St. Ambrose. He was born in Germany in the 4th century and legend has it that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and honeyed tongue. Better this incident than what befell poor St. Bartholomew, who was martyred by being skinned alive, and for this reason is the patron saint of tanners.

The Catholic Church has had strong links to bees, and beekeeping is a resource for some monks and brothers. These monasteries kept bees to provide honey for sweetening and the monks made mead from fermented honey. Wax candles were always in great demand and, as a result, apiculture was practiced on a commercial scale in the ancient empires of Egypt and Rome.

But I digress. It was during my junior year that I briefly jumped into the Barney outfit and joined our Lady Bee cheerleaders, volunteers from Marycrest College, during the time outs. The student playing Barney was a fellow Ambrosian who suffered a leg injury. Coach asked me to step in because I could fit into the costume; I agreed and the rest is history.

My bee suit was state-of-the art for its day, replete with paper mache head, antennae, wings, a big stinger, ballet slippers and gold gloves. I was a sight to behold and duly impressed many of our fans, to include a few slightly inebriated male students at our home game versus the Creighton University Bluejays. Creighton is a Jesuit school from Omaha and its star player at the time was All American Paul Silas, who later played in the NBA and coached several pro teams. He is formerly the coach of Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats (formerly the Hornets) in North Carolina.

It was during the Creighton game that I gave my finest performance. Whether holding up signs that read “Killer Bees in Da House” or “Fear the Swarm,” I took the execution of my duties to the next level, just as our team did against a really good opponent. So what if we were playing Creighton at the Assumption Catholic High School gym on a Sunday afternoon after church?

Unfortunately, the aforementioned besotted bee boys decided I was a hot item. They also thought I was female as they wanted to know where “you girls,” meaning the cheerleaders and I, were going after the game. I ignored them until one of the soused scholars grabbed my thigh and whispered through my large ear hole that he and his buddies could get us into some really upscale bars in beautiful downtown East Moline after the game. That did it. I jumped up, turned my big bee head 180 degrees and yelled through my auditory aperture, “Hey, buddy, Barney is a guy’s name.”

The poor young man had a confused look on his face and immediately informed his pie-eyed compatriots that I was a drone and not a queen. Then the band kicked in with a rock rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” which meant I had to jump up and perform the “Bee Circle Dance” with the cheerleaders. This was a routine where the forager honeybee circles in one direction, turns around, then circles back the other way. The student section was buzzing in unison and throwing popcorn at me.

I have to say that this performance usually brought down the house, especially after I leapt into the circle of cheerleaders so they could hoist me into the air, then toss me back down near mid-court where I’d do my guy splits. I’m pretty sure Paul Silas was impressed because I’ll never forget the look on his face when I ran by him after the game. I think he gave me the thumbs-up sign, but I’ll never know for sure because my over-sized head was turned sideways after one of his teammates popped me on the noggin.

This summer I was back in a bee suit again. I think both St. Ambrose and Barney were pleased.


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