One sunny afternoon last week I sent my two children out on the back deck to play with their toys for a little while while I washed dishes and watched them from the window. It was one of those rare moments when my eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son were both playing nicely, and I enjoyed watching them. Every now and then they had to run down and grab a toy that had fallen through the rails of the deck. I was scrubbing a pot when I heard a horrendous scream, followed by my daughter yelling, "Daddy!"
Well, I just knew my daughter had done something mean and my son was running in to tattle on her, until I recognized the pitch of my son's crying as a "pain" cry, not "I got my feelings hurt" cry (There's a difference, and parents out there know what I'm talking about!). My daughter said there were a bunch of flies buzzing around under the deck and he started crying and swatting at them. She yanked him away and pushed him to the back door, she said. I looked at his lip and noticed a white spot encircling a small red dot. A bee sting. I hollered for my wife, who immediately gave him a shot of both children's Tylenol and Benadryl while I investigated.
More precisely, it was a Yellow Jacket. The nest, about the size of a softball, was right under the deck where my kids were playing. I tried looking for an angle so I could squirt the little devils with my wasp and hornet spray, but it was under the low end of the deck. It would require me to climb under it to get at them, and I wasn't about to be trapped under there squirting spray and them swarming all around me. I then remembered what my dad once did.
When my sister was four she got stung several times by a hornet's nest that was built under a piece of playground equipment in our neighborhood, one of those old animal rockers on the giant spring. I remember her rocking back and forth and crying as they swarmed around her. My father, being an aficionado and master of fire as a means to solve all pest problems (you should see him work on voles), made a torch out of old dust rags, then doused it in gasoline. He waited until dark when all the hornets returned to the nest and them ambushed them. I was told to stay in the car, but I remember an unknowing neighbor coming out on their front porch and yelling at my dad, wondering if he was an arsonist setting fire to the playground. No, just teaching them "damn bees" not to mess with his little girl.
I made my torch with a bamboo stick and an old towel, then liberally sprayed it with WD40 (less explosive and lower combustion temperature, I thought) and waited until dusk. My wife's chief concern was that I was going to set the wooden deck on fire, so I assured her by stretching the garden hose around and having an extra bucket of water to put out the torch. The kids watched from the kitchen window, my son's upper lip swollen and puffy like one of the cast members of Cats. Boy, those yellow jackets didn't know what was going on! Their little wings were just singeing right off as they dropped to the ground. The few that initially got away tried attacking the torch, flying into it like moths to a flame, literally. When I saw charred wasp paper falling from under the deck, I decided my job was done. I then shot the deck for a few minutes with the water hose.
My son, thank goodness, was not allergic. After a few hours the swelling went down, and we kept asking him to breath deeply for us just in case he had an asthmatic reaction. And just to let you know, I don't normally derive pleasure from torturing animals by setting them on fire. But when it comes to my family, I will avenge!*
* This is where my wife would roll her eyes and give me the "You've got to be kidding" look. I would then have to refer to the time I saved her from the grub-eating skunk, but that's another story.