• Patty Ihm

Tar Paper

We bought it out of necessity, and we loved it for so many reasons.


Leaves fell from the trees even as I raked the spent garden in short sleeves. One glorious fall day swirled into another, into weeks, into calendar changes. The boys still rode dirt bikes in the warmth of the dusk on the after-school days. I sat with the bees, watching them forage well past the goldenrod's bloom. My son threw his last pitch of the fall baseball season in weather indistinguishable from the summer games. We hadn't thought that these were days of stolen time until, abruptly, the snow began to fall.


Though I had been preparing my hives for winter since pulling a final small honey harvest in August, it seemed I was a day late with my final step: a wrap of tar paper, which serves, mostly, as peace of mind to me that I have done all that I can to tuck them in until springtime.


I was about to light the smoker when I saw the rain which, as the temperature dropped through the afternoon, turned to snow. The familiar, unsettling flush of anxiety coursed through my veins as I returned my hive tool to its shelf, at least for this day, hoping with my whole being that I hadn't missed my window to winter security, for the bees and for me.


Why hadn't I done this already? Had I spent so much time reflecting on what my bees might need for winter: sugar candy, a quilt box, a second vent hole, ratchet straps--that I lost track of the passing season? I had worked hard, taking time as I could, to tend to my hives through the season. Beekeeping has been among my greatest adventures and, not unlike parenting, one of my most profound learning experiences. In both pursuits, there are so many choices to make, so many directions to turn, and so much that could--and does--go awry.


In an instant, then, it's all over.


Long before we moved to the farm, I had heard a radio ad for a farmhouse kitchen table. It was offered for sale, and I was the first to inquire. Our family had expanded rapidly in our early days of fostering. We needed a bigger table to accommodate the children and their friends. As I entered his home, the man told me that his children were grown. He mentioned, almost apologetically, that the table had been used for art projects and family dinners through the years, but that I could preserve the wood by giving it a fresh coat of tung nut oil every so often, as he had just done.


The trestle table, a thick, solid piece of the past, more than one hundred years old when we brought it home, was exactly what our family needed. It was glorious. With both leaves in place, there was room for anyone that needed a seat at the table.


As the years wore on, so did the finish on the table. I couldn't remember what the man had told me to use to restore the wood. My friend, though, offered to paint our farmhouse table in vintage pink. She added whimsical designs reminiscent of the Dick and Jane books that I had so treasured since I was a little girl. Somehow, this new layer made our table even more magical than when we first brought it home.


We moved to the farm and filled yet more spaces around our kitchen table. There were painting sessions, angry children with butter knives, and years of plates, glasses, and utensils carving wear-and-tear into the pink paint of our beloved table. I was messy with my beeswax projects. The table is well worn, and we know it's time. When we scrape what's left of the pink paint, of our friend's meaningful artwork, when we erase the memories of the glittery glue and the knife gouges, does that mean they're gone? All of those Nutella-and-crackers snacks, the string art masterpieces, the letters carved with the three-pronged fork (the threek, as Sam calls it)--did they matter?


Does it make a difference, when the next season comes, if we are not the same? All of what led up to today--did it matter? Are we still who we used to be?


Driven by the unshakable force of fear, I question everything. In the end, though, a step is taken and a move is made. The sun dried the hives after that first, unexpected snow. I was able to wrap my bee boxes before the next snow fall. If I waited too long, if I messed up with the winter preparations, there isn't much that I can do about it now. And I wouldn't want to go back to the days where the paint was fresh, because the art that was made and the meals that were shared are all part of who we have become.


We all have a lot to carry.

Worn and weary, come again with your new coat of paint.

Rest with the bees.

It's your story, and each small word is a reverent and relevant contribution to the masterpiece.


We will invite our friend to the table, and she will understand about the bees.



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