With a voice that is at once as innocent as a young child’s should be and yet as preternaturally mature as children from dysfunctional homes often have to be in order to survive, Meredith May invites us into the inexplicable yet strangely hopeful world of her California childhood in this moving memoir.
When a 5-year-old Meredith gets on a plane with her mother and brother, leaving her father at the airport, readers are just as perplexed as she is. When they arrive at her grandparents’ home and her mother goes straight to the bedroom—where she stays for days, weeks, months, even years—we don’t know why. Neither does young Meredith. All she knows for sure is that her grandfather, a beekeeper, is there to take her hand and immerse her in the astonishing world of the honeybee. Under his gentle tutelage, she learns about the complex family dynamics of the hive, the role of the queen and what happens to a bee colony when everything goes wrong.
May captures the flavor of her 1970s childhood, a time when a brother and sister could play all day unsupervised, hide away in the high branches of trees and plot to get into Grampa’s “honey bus,” a den of creation they are deemed too young to enter for many years. Eventually, though, Meredith is ready for the heat, hard work and danger of processing honey in the bus, much as she matures into processing the many unanswered questions of her childhood.
While May answers some of those questions—she finds a way to explain her mother’s narcissistic personality, for instance—much remains a mystery. To May’s credit, she doesn’t try to tie up all the loose ends but is determined, rather, to tell the story as it happened. It’s satisfying to let this book be her “bee dance,” in which she tells the tale of where she’s been and what she’s seen to us, her human hive.