For your Labor Day weekend enjoyment - somewhere in Chapter 2, we meet "Harve".
Harve must have been a young man when the Awful Bee Sting-Thing happened to him. From family photos, I saw Harve on the porch from the time my father was young and even before he was born. Harve was never the focus of these photos, mind you, but he was always there, like a chair or a dog, in the background, while others posed and frolicked and acted the fool in front of the camera.
Harve always looked sixty years old. In the pictures when my dad was a boy, Harve looked sixty. In pictures when I was a tot, Harve looked sixty. My grandmother even shied away from the camera in one photo taken when she was a young woman, holding a hand-rolled cigarette, and there was a sixty-year-old Harve sitting on the porch.
From what I put together over the years, Harve had been walking home to the old family place on his way home from work. Harve, like most able-bodied men in Fairmont, West Virginia, worked at the coalmines. He repaired equipment above ground. It was the only job he had ever had. Somehow, on that walk, along the tree-lined dirt road that led to Monkeywrench Holler, Harve kicked up a hornet nest. Harve ran and rolled, but the hornets followed.
By the time Digger Reynolds found Harve on the side of the road, the hornets had finished the major part of their work. There were a few hornets hovering around Harve’s unconscious form and digger shooed them and rolled Harve over. He didn’t even recognize the bloody, swollen face as that of Harve. He got Harve into the back of his truck and took him to the hospital, where he lingered close to death for four days. They gave him ice baths and swabbed his face and hands, the areas where most of the stings had occurred, with salves and balms. Harve had sustained over two hundred hornet stings. They had gotten up his nose, in his eyes and ears and in his mouth. His tongue had been so swollen that even breathing had become a concern. Thanks to the hornets, Harve was mostly blind and deaf for the rest of his life.
When he came home, my great grandmother and her daughters applied poultices for weeks. Eventually, Harve was able to get around, albeit with great difficulty and humiliation. His breathing was labored and there had been neurological damage as well. I once heard my Grandpa Sam tell my dad that Harve would have been better off if the hornets had just finished him.
Harve had never touched a drop of alcohol before the accident and never really acquired a taste for it, even later on in his life. But Harve drank. Every day, all day long as long as he lived, Harve would sit on the porch and drink whiskey. It didn’t matter what kind, if it was made local, by a neighbor, or store-bought, Harve would drink it. All day, every day. Grandma said it killed the pain. I think it helped kill the loneliness.
One morning, Harve didn’t make it to the porch. My grandmother walked out to the shack behind the home place, where Harve lived, and found him dead, lying peacefully on his little pallet. Grandma said that Harve was smiling. I always found that hard to believe, given the life he had led, but perhaps he knew something I didn’t. Maybe he knew he wouldn’t have to be lonely anymore.