Years ago I got a call from an elderly lady asking for local honey. I really don’t know how or where she got my number but she only lived a few miles from me so I told her I would bring honey to her.
When I arrived I met her elderly husband. He was in his 80’s and didn’t get around too well. But he was quick-witted and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. He talked about the things I enjoy the most like hard times and how to make-do.
The honey was for him. He had a belief that a tablespoon of honey with apple cider vinegar was the best tonic anyone could take for their health. He had worked in the cotton mills as a young man and had been in poor health in his youth. He described a time when his doctor had him on a “handful” of pills a day. He told me his story of starting some holistic methods, the honey, the vinegar, and said he was able to come off all of the medicines over time. He was now in his declining years and saw a need to return to his tonic using raw local honey.
For several years I would get a call about every two to three months and a request for a honey delivery. They never ordered much which necessitated frequent deliveries but since I enjoyed the visits I didn’t really mind. The lady would save the jars for me to refill. Later she started saving me her jelly jars as well. I didn’t mind too much since mostly they were canning jars and after a thorough washing on the sanitize setting, I’d fill them and place new lids. I didn’t particularly like this arrangement as I never seemed to get the jars in time for normal bottling. I bottle in June after the nectar flow ends and she’d give me jars for refilling all throughout the year. Often she’d give me her preferred half pint jars which wasn’t my norm. But I’d take them and tell her I’d use them the next time I bottled – and I would.
Over the years, I never increased my price to them. If anything I under charged them as she liked the half pint jars whenever I could fill them and they supplied the jars. Often I’d bring a free jar of something special like chunk honey or maybe some comb honey for them. I knew I wasn’t breaking even but what the heck, it was my good deed for the day and I liked them – especially the old man as he was such a character.
I think the first sign that things were going off-track was when she asked me for a discount for reusing her jars. In fact, she pointed out that she was giving me more jars than she got back with honey. This caught me off guard but I replied that I had considered that and not raised my prices for them because they gave me jars for refill. She commented back but ultimately dropped the issue. A month or two later she called for honey, asked how much it was, and if I had small jars to use. Now, my price for them hadn’t changed in years; I told her the usual price – $6.00 a pint. Then I dropped the bomb shell – I told her I couldn’t use her jars. The last jars were such a mismatched set of used store bought jelly jars and I couldn’t find lids to match. I told her that I was suppose to use an approved label and the used jars didn’t match my labels. I added that the Dept. of Ag. would have a fit if they knew I was reusing jars. As a concession, I told her I would not charge her for new jars. She was happy with this although I think she would have rather continued to believe she was earning a jar discount.
Things went on like this for awhile until one day she called me and told me her husband had died. I probably talked and consoled her for a hour or more. I brought some honey by and left it on her doorstep as a small gift. A couple of months later she called and asked me to bring her some honey – if I had her favorite – the light, spring honey – and BTW, how much was it? I took her two pints and charged her $6.00 a pint as usual. And as usual, when I got there she asked me again how much it was and I told her. She rummaged around in her purse for 15 minutes before finally pulling out a $50 bill. I told her I couldn’t make change and that we’d square up next visit.
Six months went by before I heard from her again but she called and asked if I had spring honey and I said, “No, only the darker honey.” She said she’d call again in June. She added that she remembered that she still owed me for the last visit and not to worry. I wasn’t.
On schedule, she called in June and I headed over with her two jars of light honey. We talked for awhile and she rummaged around in her purse and paid me in full. She mentioned having jars and I said I wished I could use them but I couldn’t. We talked awhile and passed some time. All was well. Every two months throughout the year she’d call me long after I had sold out of light honey. We’d always end the conversation with her saying, “I’ll call in June.”
This year I got a call in March and she asked if I had spring honey and I told her not until June. She talked awhile and, as always, I filled the time and her ear with what was happening in the bee yards. She mentioned that she had moved into an assisted living apartment. She was now on the other side of the County. I told her I rarely got over that way but I would call her when I did – after the June harvest.
Yesterday morning the phone rang while I was pulling out of the driveway with my son in the truck. She was calling to find out if I had honey. I told her yes but not the light spring honey she liked. She said she had a friend in the building who ate a lot of honey and wanted some too. She put him on the phone and I could tell by the sound of his voice that he was much younger than she – a fast talker too. I told him what I had and he seemed pleased. In fact he had already, on her recommendation, gathered a several orders from the residents. I asked him if he could come by tomorrow since I was on the way out. He was even fine with picking up the honey. Concluding the call, he asked how much it was going to be. I told him it was $10 a pint and $18 a quart. Since I only had pints remaining I’d give them 2 pints for every quart ordered. Or, if they ordered a gallon’s worth (12 lbs) it was $72. “Oh,” he said. It was then that I remembered how much I had been charging the lady and realized that, although over the 7 or 8 years I had known her she had never been able to remember the price, apparently she had told him $6.00 a pint. Maybe he knew that $6 a pint didn’t sound right; I don’t know. Or maybe he just thought it was his lucky day.
But then he said the words that will set any hard working beekeeper’s teeth on edge. “I can get it for $14 a quart in Leesville-Batesville.” I’m ashamed of the response I gave him. Not because I said it to him but because my son heard me get upset. In short, I told him that if he was happy with the honey from Leesville-Bateburg then he should drive there. He replied that he was hoping I could match the price. I told him I could but that would mean I’d have to buy a 55 gallon drum of honey from a distributor in Georgia at $3.50 a lb. and re-bottle it as local honey. I added that I wasn’t going to do that. Then he asked if maybe with a large enough order I could give an additional discount. Thoroughly upset, I told him I sell out every year, was down to my last 12 pint jars of 2019 honey and asked him, “Why I would discount a product that sells out at my normal pricing?”
He was going to call me this morning. It’s afternoon now and the phone hasn’t rung.