I married Harmon when I was only seventeen; he was twice my age. I had ten reasons to marry him (ten reasons grasping in the middle of the night) and he had three to marry me—he wanted someone to cook for him, to clean his house, to wash his work clothes after long days at the orchard.
I was happy enough to do those things for Harmon, even to exchange one kind of nightly visits for another. He was my husband, after all (when I left home, my father stayed in the house, refusing to speak to me. My mother whispered I’m sorry in my ear), and if Harmon was a silent man, at least he was not cruel.
Still, my days as a farmer’s wife were long. Harmon was tidy by nature, and he ate little—I had many hours to fill. I developed a habit of exploring little flea markets and antique shops most afternoons while dinner simmered in the crockpot, and it was at one such market that I found the item that flavored my days for a while.
It was in a box of old needlework—a cross-stitched sampler filled with meticulously-rendered flowers and honeybees. The stitching said pleasant words are like a honeycomb—sweetness to the soul and health to the body. My heart lurched—oh, how I longed for pleasant words, for sweetness for my soul.
I paid two dollars for the sampler and hung it over our bed.
I’ve said that Harmon had an orchard. Bees are the orchard owner’s friend, and Harmon prided himself in his beekeeping. There was never a shortage of honey; when I first moved in, I found the cellar filled with dozens—hundreds—of jars of the golden stuff. The day after I bought the sampler, I walked down to the cellar and took a jar, holding its coolness to my throat. An idea formed in my spirit.
That afternoon, I made a honey cake. I served it to Harmon after our mostly silent meal (cider press is down, he said), and waited for some pleasant words. He took a bite while studying the weather report. I watched as he stopped chewing and looked at the cake, then up at me. Huh¸ he said, and then he stood up and headed for the trees, scratching the dog before he left.
In the next several days, I found ways to put honey into every dish. It was easier than I thought. Honey whipped into butter for his toast. Honey muffins tucked into his metal lunch pail. Honey and lemon glazing the carrots I served with Harmon’s dinner. Harmon ate more than usual, and faster, and occasionally he would put down his fork and gaze at his plate, shaking his head. There were no sweet words for me.
I had hoped the honey would perform a kind of magic. Feeling dull and heavy-hearted, I tugged the sampler from the wall, thinking to toss it in the trash, when I noticed some tiny stitches in the border: Proverbs 16:24. I’d never stepped foot in a church (my father’s contempt assured that), but those numbers said bible to me. Maybe, I thought, I could try something else.
I was unfamiliar with the protocols of prayer, but I hoped sincerity would cover any faults. As I added the honey to Harmon’s meals over the next few days, I whispered a prayer with each spoonful of the beautiful liquid. Make him sweet. Make him sweet. Make him sweet.
And one evening, when Harmon was finishing the last of an apple tart drizzled in honey and butter, something nudged a few dozen words out of my mouth. I made that with the honey from the cellar, I said. It’s . . .you’ve got some talented bees, Harmon. I was hoping . . . hoping that you’d like it.
Harmon cleared his throat. A crumb clung to his lower lip. It’s good, he said. Then, after a moment, Guess I’ll go check on those pallets.
I reached out. You’ve got a crumb here.
His hand brushed mine as he flicked the crumb away, and he coughed. It was real good, Shelly.
They say that honey has been found in ancient tombs, just as ready to eat as when it was first poured into its earthen jars. It never spoils; if it crystallizes, it can be slowly heated and it will regain its liquid form.
And honey, applied liberally, will heal an open wound.
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