Watching your brother get stung by wasps spices up camp-opening routine

My family is full of handy men and women. You know the type: They’re always building or fixing or installing or tinkering.

Make that more-or-less full.

There is a bit of a void on my particular branch of the family tree. Not that my brother isn’t semi-handy, in that “I can look it up on the internet and figure it out” kind of way.

And my dad? In his younger days, he was quite handy, in a “It might not end up straight, but I’m sure it won’t collapse tomorrow” kind of way.

My cousins and uncles and aunts have been top-notch handymen and women.

And then, there’s me.

I’m handy in the “Does anyone know a good plumber who works cheap?” kind of way. I’m the guy Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” might have been describing: I know my limitations.

Which, accounting for all of my limitations, must mean that I know a lot.

And which meant, when my internet-handy brother and I headed out to the family camp a couple of weeks ago to take care of some annual chores, I was more water-carrier and ladder-holder than wrench-turner or wasp victim.

Yes, I said wasp. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The day’s camp-opening chores were supposed to be pretty straight-forward.

We were going to put in the water. And the dock, if we had time. (We didn’t. The wasps made sure of that).

Quick disclaimer for visitors from away: When we Mainers talk about putting in the water, we’re not actually re-filling the lake. We’re describing the act of converting our seasonal camps from “don’t freeze the pipes” mode to “let’s set up indoor plumbing” mode.

Most years, the process is pretty simple. My brother and dad have even trained me enough to know where the little pipe-hole-filler-upper things go (though they’ve never taught me what they’re actually called).

I’ve learned which faucets to turn off in the summer, and which ones to open when we close up for winter. Or is it the other way around?

I’ve learned that my strengths are not mechanical. They’re physical (though, as a 49-year-old with a balky back I suppose I have limitations on that front as well). I lug. I lift. I push. I pull.

And most importantly, I’ve learned that sometimes, things don’t go so well. At those times, it’s best to have at least one brother between you and the wasps.

And since I only have one brother, Glen is always elected.

OK. About those wasps.

We didn’t really know that we had a wasp problem. We weren’t entirely aware that when we removed the cover from “the hole” — again, I’m not handy, so I’m not sure what this important septic-system orifice is actually called — we’d be placing ourselves in harm’s way.

By “ourselves,” I mean “my brother,” of course.

So there we were, me standing nearby, swatting at ants, Glen lying on his belly with his torso down in the hole, when I heard the word that made my blood run cold.

“Bees!” my brother shouted. “There’s a bee’s nest in here.”

“Actually, they’re probably wasps,” I thought, biting back the words before I could utter them, fearing that anything I said at that moment could lead to me being the one upside-down, torso-deep in bees … or wasps.

What I did say was “Wow. You’re right. There’s a lot of bees.”

At that point, the “putting in the water” chore turned into the “avoid being overrun by killer bees (or wasps) chore.”

And as those of you with siblings likely realize, there’s only one good way to avoid being overrun by killer bees.

You’ve got to keep your brother between you and the angry insects.

That was not much of a problem, in my case.

Glen was, as I mentioned, upside-down in a septic hole where the wasps had built their nest.

And I was 15 feet away, saying useful things like “Wow!” and “Holy crap!” and “There’s another one on your leg! Get it!”

Eventually, my brother emerged from the hole, scurried away, and declared the day’s activities over. Postponed on account of wasps, I guess you could say.

He also told me that just before the wasps attacked him, he noticed a crack in a crucial pipe down in the hole.

That, it seemed, was the reason that our indoor-plumbing installation hadn’t gone according to plan.

It wasn’t, as I had feared, that I had twisted one of the faucets the wrong way, or that I had put one of the pipe-hole-filler-uppers into the wrong hole.

After checking himself for stings (he had several), my brother vowed to return (likely after doing some internet research on pipe-fixing and close-quarters wasp combat.

I’m sure he would have called if he needed any help. And I’m sure I would have done what I could to pitch in.

Just not today. I had this column to write.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.