West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature: Humor

Hold Your Breath

Ernest Caynor


Ernest Caynor has lived in West Virginia all his life, and he has told this story of his boyhood to his children many times. This recording was made while Mr. Caynor was telling the story to his grandchildren.

This is a good example of how the oral tradition of folk literature works—stories are passed down through the generations.

Listen to Ernest Caynor tell the story of his bee sting.

When I was a boy, about twelve years old, I worked on a farm owned by William Blake. And we were in the hayfield, mowing hay, and I was following the machine, and while I was following that machine behind, we cut into a bumblebee's nest. And I told Mr. Blake, I said, "There's bumblebees."

And he said, "Get away from the horses."

And I said, "They're stingin' me!"

He says (They were in my hair, they were all over me.) And he says . . . I said, "They're stingin' me!"

He says, "Well, hold your breath."

And I said, "Hold your breath?"

He said, "Yes."

So I held my breath and the old fellow told me later, he said, "When you held your breath," he said, "it just looked like, your jaws looked like a balloon a blowin' up." And I hollered, "Hold your breath! They're stingin' me to death!"

And he said, "Well, run and get away from the horses." And the reason for that was if a bee stang the horses, the horses would run off.

And I said I had to take a day off from work cause I was swelled so bad from the bee stings. And that was the tale of my bee sting.

So a few days later, we were mowing hay below the house, and I was shockin' hay, and the old man would cut it, and I said, we cut into a bumblebees' nest or a yellow jackets' nest about every meadow we went in. So the old fellow was a rakin' the hay and I was shockin' hay that day, and he made a mistake. He raked and he tried to miss the bees' nest, but he made a mistake and he raked it up in the windrow. And he was right below me, and I said, he went "Ohh!" And he reached up and got his nose and he picked that bee off the end of his nose.

And when we went in to dinner that day, his wife, whose name was Grace but he called her Jakey, and she said, "Will, what in the world is the matter with your nose?"

And I said, "Mrs. Blake, a bee got on his nose, but he didn't hold his breath!"


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