It’s August–my least favourite month of the year. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.
It isn’t just the fact that August brings waves of heat and humidity. No. It is also the peak season for one of my worst fears: the dreaded wasp.
I have a few phobias, that’s a fact. I am fearful of fire – I don’t light matches. I am fearful of needles (ever since the Nazi-nurse gave me a booster shot in kindergarten and my arm swelled up like a balloon). Of all my phobias, however, the most enduring and undiminished fear is that of stinging insects.
As a child, I thought bees were cute, fuzzy and soft. I watched “Romper Room” and we sang that little song, “Do Be a Do-bee”, remember? What was not to love about bees? They made that lovely buzzing sound, they made yummy honey and they populated and pollinated all the pretty flowers.
I went blithely along for years, not fearing those black and yellow insects, until one summer when I was on vacation in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. We were visiting my great-aunt, Clara, in the town of Glace Bay where my mother grew up. We loved to visit Clara because she was such a sweetheart and always gave us vanilla ice-cream with home-made runny, strawberry jam drizzled on top. I loved her yard because she had a fantastic flower garden filled with sweet peas and tiger lilies.
My cousin Janis and I were out in the front yard exploring while our mothers had a visit in the old house that had originally belonged to their grandmother (or “Other Mama” as she was always known). We were playing hide and seek and Janis hid beside the white-painted, arched trellis that led to another part of the garden. What she did not know was that a wasp-nest must have blown from a tree or somewhere and come to land at the foot of the trellis. Janis stepped right on the nest!
I had my back turned when I heard her screaming! Buzzing, dive-bombing insects were swirling about her leg and she was shrieking at the top of her lungs. She ran away from the trellis, but they were following her. I steered clear of her path and ran to the back door and pulled the old wooden screen-door nearly off its hinges. Racing into the house, I cried, “Mom! Janis stepped in a bees-nest and they’re stinging her.” We could hear Janis wailing in the yard.
By the time we got to her, the wasps had retreated, but my cousin was in a sorry state. Her face was red from crying and her legs were covered in wasp-bites. I was petrified.
When we went back to East Bay and the cottage where they spent the summer, Janis lay on the couch in the living room with ice, wrapped in towels. She was in rough shape for a couple of days. Fortunately, she wasn’t allergic to bee or wasp-stings as is so often the case these days. There was no need for epinephrine; if there had been, I fear we might have lost her.
Although I, myself, was not stung in the incident, witnessing the horror was enough to traumatize me for life. I developed an absolute phobia of anything remotely resembling a bee, wasp or hornet. Horseflies on a lake when we were swimming terrified me, large mosquitoes put the fear of God in me and even the common housefly caught at just the right velocity and in a certain light could dupe me into believing I was being pestered by a malicious stinger.
This fear, generated on the east coast, followed me back to Southern Ontario and our suburb of Mississauga. No more relaxed days in the back yard, swimming in the 3-ft. deep above-ground pool or eating bar-b-ques at the wooden table on the patio. No more leisurely roadside picnics with the Coleman stove.
My outdoor days were forever to be hampered by this inner terror.
The worst thing for me, was if something landed on me. I would freeze, clamp my eyes shut and begin saying the “Hail Mary”, only peeking every few seconds to see if the killer bug had flown off. (I still do this, actually.) I hated when my mother would send me out to take clothes off the hoist-clothesline because inevitably a yellow-jacket would be sunning itself in the folds of a sheet and catch me off-guard. I would release the sheet into the wind with a yelp and go tearing off around the side of the house. This was a drag because the folding part of this exercise really appealed to my type-A personality.
So, my life from that point was lived mostly indoors, avoiding the spitfire aces that dove in my backyard or anywhere else, for that matter. No, I did go out in the summertime, but I had my eagle-eyes trained for whatever might be lurking on plants or in the skies, or even on the sidewalk.
One of my most terror-filled encounters took place while on vacation in Florida, in July. (I know. Who goes to Florida in July, in a non-air-conditioned, dark-blue vehicle no-less?)
It was at a theme park in Orlando. We had got tired of Disney World, I guess, and my dad got the bright idea that we would love a trip to The Gatorland Zoo. Yeah, right! Never mind the fact that in the 70s safety regulations must have been pretty lax, because those gators were in a 3-foot deep pool surrounded by rubber matting and we were allowed to walk around it as long as we “steered clear of the snappers”. What?!!!
For me, that was not the worst of it. The matting was framed by a cement walk and at each corner was a large tin trash bin. To get around the pool you had to go around the walk and to get around the walk and make an escape you inevitably had to pass those bins, every one of which was surrounded by a battalion of bees, wasps…all my nemeses! I was paralyzed with fear and although I was 14 at the time I cried until my dad rescued me and we got the heck out of that death-trap!
Another fear that I had was of being confined in a small space with one of my adversaries. We were driving along in our Ford Galaxie 500 (undoubtedly en route to NS) when a bee flew in the window and onto the dash. Panic ensued. My mother reacted in her usual fashion with an “Ooh, Bill! Stop the car!” I thought about jumping out onto the highway, but realized my chances of survival were probably better with the bumblebee. Instead I just shrieked and tried to get under the seat. Eventually, my dad pulled over, we all got out and my dad opened all the doors until it flew away (this despite my vote “Kill it, Daddy! Kill it!” which fell on deaf ears).
Unfortunately for my younger sister, a couple of encounters with hornets and wasps were to add to my entrenched phobia.
We were sitting at the dinner table in the cottage at East Bay, Nova Scotia. We were having a lovely meal, prepared by mom’s sister, Joan (Janis’s mom). My sister, Nancy was sitting across the table from me and we were all just carrying on as usual—you know, “Pass the potatoes.” “Would you like more gravy?” “Who wants pie for dessert?” -–that sort of thing. Suddenly, somebody (I can’t remember who –it’s all a blur from this point except for the yellow and black thorax, the striped abdomen and the stinger resting on my poor unlucky sister’s forehead); somebody said, “Don’t move, Nancy!”
My sister was still as a corpse, BUT (and here’s one of the reasons why I live in terror to this day) the wasp stung her anyway! She had a huge red swelling on her head that looked like an Easter-egg –okay, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but it was big!
With this in mind, is it any wonder that a few years later when we were driving home from somewhere and my sis and I were in the backseat, with my folks up front and ANOTHER wasp landed on her head, that I actually opened the car door and jumped out without any hesitation? Granted, we were in a research complex near our neighbourhood and the car was only going about 30 mph, but that did nothing to ease my parents’ minds when my sister shouted, “Kathleen’s jumped out of the car!” and they turned around to find me not only out of my seat, but also standing about 100 feet back down the road on the grass verge. I got in trouble for that, let me tell you, but it was worth it. Admittedly, my sister did not get stung this time, but she could have.
I have spent the bulk of my life-to-date, ducking out of class-rooms when errant wasps entered transom windows, excusing myself from the middle of church services when bees flew about the congregation, absolutely putting the kibosh on any camping trips or cottage weekends at the height of the summer and avoiding back patios where the chance of an encounter is likely. I did really well at that for a very long time, but one time we made a fatal error that we will never repeat.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I moved to a small town north-west of Toronto. We got into the habit of checking out local yard-sales in the hopes of accumulating some decent furniture (we were not very well off) and we did pick up a few treasures.
We were living in an apartment above a century home and had a gorgeous space with an original stone wall, a huge bedroom above the garage and a walk-out through sliding doors to a wood-framed balcony. It was a gorgeous place to be.
Kevin had just landed a job with a soft-ware firm in Guelph and I was at home in the apartment, looking for a local job and doing a bit of writing. We had only 3 cats at the time.
One day, I happened to notice there was a wasp on the back glass door leading out to the balcony. This, for me, was a disaster! I can not go near the creatures. A sheer terror rises in my gullet and my adrenaline pumps at an alarming rate, telling me one thing: FLEE!
It got worse. No sooner had I noticed the wasp, then I heard another buzzing behind the woven burlap-style drapes and then another!
I raced into the kitchen and grabbed a few things: my sandwich that I had been eating, a big metal spaghetti pot and some cat treats. Luckily, we had trained the cats to respond to the word “treats” and when I called it out they came after me like rats after the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
I guided them into our bedroom and shut the door. Then I stuffed a sheet under the opening at the bottom of the door. Fortunately, I had a phone in the bedroom, so I called my husband. Bear in mind this was his new job—I think he’d only been there for about a week, but when I told him I was trapped in the bedroom with the cats, a tin pot to pee in and the wasps were taking over our apartment, he understood my fear. He left work and came home to my rescue.
The problem was that the wasps kept returning and, to quote my husband, they were “tough buggers” to kill. After a few days of trying to despatch them only to have them show up on the window time and time again, we called our landlord in to see if he could get rid of them. He determined they must have been coming in the front window above the computer desk, so he sealed it off with some pink foam. That didn’t work either!
I was living in sheer hell. The only time I felt safe was after Kevin had killed off the daily crew and it was dark, when presumably they were sleeping anyway.
One day, I happened to notice one fly out from near my computer desk (I was going nowhere near this space as you can imagine). I called to Kevin to come and take a look. The Ikea desk was one we had picked up on one of our yard sale jaunts. It had legs with peg-holes running down the front and back. It was from these that the wasps were appearing! It seems with our $15 purchase, we had got a hive of activity in the bargain. Wasps were coming out of the woodwork. Literally!
It was with delight that I watched that desk being sprayed and then hauled out onto the back deck where Kevin took it to pieces. We cleaned up all the little carcasses and my life finally went back to normal. Well as normal as it can be for a phobic.
I’ve had other nasty dealings with my foes. The Hyggehus has been taken over by both a troop of fuzzy bumblers and more gravely, by an infestation of wasps. I don’t know how I survived that one!
Can you really blame me for doing all I can to avoid any contact no matter what people think of me? If you have a phobia, you’ll know what it feels like—that panic that envelops you until you can’t function. It will not let go!
Tell me, what are your greatest fears?