What’s that buzz?

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.
coleman
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.
clothesline
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?!!!
gatorland
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!
Fordash
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.
piper
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!
yard sale
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?
Kathleen Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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36 thoughts on “What’s that buzz?

  1. Dear me-that is one serious fear! I can see how it developed from all those bad encounters. Obviously I don't like wasps-who does? and I try to avoid them but I don't fear them like that. I would not be impressed if some were living in my furniture though! I am pretty scared of spiders-I get that feeling of fear-but Andy is the true phobic there. I think mine has to be public speaking of any sort(apart from to children)-I go completely to pieces if I have to do a meeting-even for people I know well-it is a bit of a handicap in my job.

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  2. First I have to say I like the Kat Chat sidebar you have at your other blog…I think you may be the first I have seen that has that, and I really like it.Secondly I understand your phobia completely. I have been stung at least three times and it hurts terribly. No one in their right mind would chance getting stung and I think most of us respond in the same way as you. Well…not sure about jumping out the car going 30 mph…Ha.I just have one question for you….Did you read “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd? I loved that book and also loved the movie they made last year.I still enjoy hearing you talk about your cousin Janis, because I also have a cousin Janis. I think her mother named her after Janis Paige.

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  3. I feel your pain. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. When I was a young girl, a wasp got tangled in my hair while I was sleeping. It stung me repeatedly. To this day, my heart races when I see them. This year, they nested in a pillar on my front porch and I had to get an exterminator, complete with bee keeper garb, to come out, and well, exterminator them.

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  4. Sarah – Andy's afraid of spiders, eh? I'm better with them than I was when I was younger. I don't like to do public speaking either. I understand how you must feel.I had a feeling this was going to hit home with a few people.Rudee! OMG!!! I would have moved to a snowy climate if that had happened to me. I don't think I would have ever gotten over that. Good on you for getting that exterminator.Brenda – Thanks! I wasn't sure anyone was reading the Kat Chats, but I like putting them in there in the hopes that someone's getting something out of it.I haven't seen the movie – is that with Queen Latifah? I like her.I'm not sure who Janis was named after – she was born in 1962.Kat

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  5. i met that nurse too in kindergarten…growing up i was afraid of needles, especially the pin pick to take blood…i used to run and hide…now my fears probably revolve around my kids hoping htey dont do the things i did growing up…lol. i lived, so i guess they will as well…

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  6. Can't believe you jumped out of the car at 30MPH! That's a serious phobia.(Ford Galaxy 5oo be the way/ Gorgeous!)And the wasp on your sister's forehead that is so funny and so awful at the same time.By coincidence I wrote a poem about wasps today, will probably post it on me blog soon.My biggest fear? The floor.Someone aked me once 'Why can't you have a normal fear like heights?' 'Heights?' says I,' Heights don't kill you, it's the floor does that! '

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  7. Matt got stung twice while we were on vacation last week. Once on his chest which was the least of his worries and then once on the palm of his hand which was the worst. He was in so much pain for 2 days of our vacation. He now shares your phobia.

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  8. That was quite the saga, Kat! While I'm not thrilled to share space with hornets/wasps etc., I can't say I'm truly frightened of them. Same for spiders, I just want any close to me to been seen, so I can kick them out of the gene pool and be done with it! I don't know that I'm truly afraid of any critter around here. When I lived in the foothills, it was bears, though. And cougars. Only saw a bear once, and never saw any big cats, but I knew they were always around…

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  9. Well..from your experiences I can surely see why you are afraid of bees–and being in a closed car with one is enough to freak out even a person with no fears of the things. I can tell you that bees and wasps populate my backyard and garden like crazy, and I can stroll amongst them and even pet the back of a big bumble bee as it is collecting nectar…hearing that it is unreasonable to fear them doesn't help, I know–especially because they might be able to sense your apprehension…I have been stung at least 3 or 4 times, but always when i stepped on one and just brushed innocently at an unknown itch…hopefully you can overcome your fear just enough to able to enjoy life outdoors more! Happy Thursday.

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  10. Amen sister on Wasps! *shudder* I'm not afraid of snakes, don't scream if I see a mouse but a wasp flies by and it feels like my whole body is trying to work it's way inward. 🙂 Then again, when I was 4 Mom stepped on a bee while barefoot. When your Mama cries, it scares the crap out of you. I was only stung once,[wasp in the newspaper tube] on my finger with my wedding ring, naturally. I steadfastly refused to go to the doctor because I didn't want my ring cut off. Two hours of ice and a Benadryl and I was home free.

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  11. Romper bomper stomper boo. I watched it, too.I haven't been stung by a bee for years until this summer when I was stung TWICE by the same one. August is my least favorite because of the heat and humidity. Ooooh, I'm so ready for fall.

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  12. I am always afraid to get stung –I never had — knock wood — but it is scary how many are so allergic to bee or wasp stings.I really enjoyed seeing the Romper Room video! I watched it faithfully as a child, and when my son was 6 he was a guest child for the week in that era' production. I believe it was a Miss Molly then.

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  13. It's impossible to camp in the Sierras without being visited by wasps. Even if we nicely leave something on the edge of camp to distract them, still there is always one or two or twelve that won't be satisfied, and will buzz over to see what you're cooking!I've got used to it but that's probably because I've never been stung. Those experiences of yours sound utterly harrowing!

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  14. OH Kat…I feel for you and this wasp thing! Hubbie is allergic and petrified of them…it is the only time I have ever heard him scream like a girl!! 😉 He has been stung MANY times.I have many fears as I am a worry wart with a VERY ACTIVE imagination!

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  15. Brian – I discovered something called an Emla patch in a magazine and the last time I had to have a needle I bought one at the drugstore. It anaesthetizes the area first so you don't feel a thing. (I don't like to give blood though.)TFE – You're right, the Galaxie was a beauty! (I can also see you point about the floor, as well). And, I can see how the wasp on sis's head was funny too. I doubt she can though.WOR – Ooh! Poor Matt! Tell him to read this when he gets a chance so we can commiserate with each other.Deb – I believe I'd be afraid of the big wild things too – if I put myself in a zone where they live. However, don't the bears take care of those wasps? So it's a 50-50 proposition.Tom – I envy your aplomb around wasps, bees etc. I DO sincerely enjoy the outdoors in all seasons apart from the summertime. Thanks for visiting!Sandy K – I hear you–on both counts!Hope – I forgot about the time my mother picked up a piece of “lint” off the bedroom floor only to discover it was a bee. She let go and it stung her on the leg. She had a huge reaction to the sting and her leg puffed up like a balloon. You are right “sister”, seeing mom cry is a real imprint on the psyche!John, I will come to Indian Valley in the off-season. I am fearful of flying too — haven't been on a plane since my honeymoon, 15 years ago. After 9-11, I got really paranoid.Willow – Do you remember, “Our animal friends will take us, will take us?” I used to love Romper Room. That bee had it in for you, I guess. (I hate the heat and humidity too.)Pat – Isn't that neat, about your son! Do you have any footage of the show? Photos? Wow!Megan – I'm sure camping can be wonderful, really, but I could never muster up the enthusiasm with the wasps being present, so what would be the point?Jill – You should get that screaming like a girl on tape. I bet AFV would pay big bucks for that!Kat

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  16. I came over from Matt's blog, and what an interesting post to read. Although I'm not phobic about bees, I have a severe dislike for them. I've had several unhappy situations with them, but fortunately nothing quite as serious as Janis.Regarding Romper Room, I know I watched it, because I remember the ending when she looked into the magic mirror, but I have no memories of any other parts of the show. Selective memory, I guess.

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  17. Wow that was a epic post Kat.I need a cup of tea now and a lie down! LOLI have never been stung by wasps, bees or bitten by spiders. I think some ants have bitten me over the years.I am very fortunate that I don't have any phobias. They breed us tough here in Australia!HugsPeggy

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  18. How awful, Kat! Not only do you deal with such a paralyzing feeling, but having it dictate where and how to live! I've seen fears do that! My father had been stung by a hive of bees when he wouldn't stop agitating them. Boys will be boys! But he did outgrow it, thankfully. But talking about fears, this one I created in my mind when I first learned how to drive. I WOULD NOT pass an oil truck. I'd sit behind it, no matter how badly I wanted to pass it. I'd have these visions that it'd hit me and we'd explode in fire. It took a while, but got past that! p.s. Kat, The Moody Blues were wonderful. Were you thinking of seeing them? They're well worth it. I'm waiting for their next album and its promotional tour. I hope it'll be soon!

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  19. Have to say I've never heard of that TV programme and I watched a lot of children's telly with my two in those days.I don't like wasps at all. Bees I'm not so bothered about and luckily there's not much else nasty here to worry about. As you say August's the bad month when they seem to get nasty. Not many been seen around here at all this year. Thank the Lord!

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  20. I don't blame you for being afraid of those nasty things. I haven't had all those horrible experiences, but I'm still terrified of them. I can't imagine witnessing your friend step on that nest and being attacked like that. That would be horrifying. I hate being outdoors in August, especially at parks with all the garbage cans, because of the bees and wasps etc. The other day one tried to fly into my car as I was getting out and I freaked out! I don't blame you for jumping out of the car that one time, I would have too!! May the rest of your summer be bee and hornet free!Jane

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  21. Yikes Kat – I can see how you have developed that phobia. Margie and my daughter both hate bugs but if a spider is in the house I will hear my daughter's scream from a mile away!The only thing I really do not like…but it's not a full phobia is a crowd of people. Concerts, crowded city streets, shopping malls at the holidays…I feel like I am going to suffocate or be trampled to death.

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  22. Shaz – I hear ya! I am NOT a fan of crowded places. I detest Christmas shopping because of the way the malls are mobbed. I have actually been standing at the checkout ready to go, but been so put off by the crush of the crowd along with slow service, that I've just dumped the lot of my stuff and gone home empty-handed!Kat

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  23. I laughed at you and your phobia, sorry. Some of your antics remind me of the children of my nightmares. LOL… You must have almost driven your parents crazy… jumping out of the car….I can't imagine what would have gone through their minds, first, fear that you were hurt or worse still killed. And after all was well, I'm sure pretty upset to say the least… One thing they were never bored with you around. LOL..My phobia? I hate to say it, but it is snakes. Even when I am at the zoo and they are behind glass, I still think there may be some crawling around on the floor somewhere… it just creeps me out.

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  24. I also went to Florida in July…in a blue car with no air conditioning…I now have a fear of Florida furnace-like heat…I returned in January and was one of the few swimming in the pool!Seriously…I do fear speaking in public or rather being unable to speak in front of a crowd. I keep thinking I should get over it somehow…Love your blog!

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  25. Yup…those childhood incidents, even when one is just a witness to the fact. I think it was my phobia for those yellow jackets that extended to all bugs. Each one had some way to cause pain. The sight of a cockroach for the first time had me leaving my apartment and getting a hotel room for two days before I could return, always hypervigilant for the slightest movement out of the corner of my eye.

    My worse incident, however, was with jelly fishes. Growing up in San DIego, California, we would be walking down the beach, and then accidently step on one that had beached itself. It’s stingers would flip up and attack the legs. Oh jeezus, that was painful. And the only cure – urine. Yuck. And then to meet them in the water, floating toward one’s face. Then Jaws the movie came out, I learned about barracudas and piranhas. Needless to say, I don’t go into any body of water.

    And then there are bridges, needles, attics and basements, riding in cars, large crowds…I could go on. But one that is still intense is amusement rides. Saw a report of tv (60 Minutes?) on how some bolt will get loose and people would be thrown to their death. And then there is the inevitable scene of friends and family trying to coax me to ride the roller coaster or some other contraption…it’s difficult to deal with phobia ss it is without being belittled by others.

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