George Bailey has been around bees since he was born.
His father, George Bailey Sr., introduced him to working around animals and, from a young age, he helped his father tend his bee hives at their family home in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
When Bailey was growing up, his father was in charge of the poultry operation at the Auerfarm in Bloomfield, a hobby farm — a farm that's more for pleasure than for big business — that was operated by the owners of G. Fox & Co., a now defunct Hartford-based department store that was bought by Filene's, which then became Macy's.
George Sr., who was born in Vermont, worked with his father on the family dairy farm, which also had a small maple syrup operation. George Sr. attended the University of Connecticut — not long after the school changed its name from Connecticut State College — where he majored in dairy manufacturing and also took classes in poultry and beekeeping.
When the family moved to Mansfield, Connecticut in the mid-1950s, George Sr. started his own poultry operation, with about 4,000 chickens. He also worked nights at the American Thread Company. But as larger poultry farms moved into the area — some boasting over 100,000 chickens — George Sr. quickly realized that he wouldn't be able to survive financially. He then went to work for Kendall's, a company in North Windham, Connecticut, that produced non-woven fabrics used in products like diapers and gauze.
George Jr., who went to Windam High School before earning a civil engineering degree from the University of Connecticut, went on to a career with the Federal Highway Administration. But he always maintained his agricultural roots.
In the audio clip below, George recalls his childhood, his father and the influence he had on him.
George began selling honey and maple syrup at the Storrs Farmers Market in 1985, while he was still working at the Federal Highway Administration. He had sold both products privately out of his home as early as 1972.
George now has seven hives, nearly all of which are kept at his bee yard — named the Tetzlaff Yard after the last name of the family that lets George use their backyard to house the bees — in Chaplin, Connecticut. The bees are housed in "supers," rectangular wooden frames that are stacked horizontally into boxes. George uses a smoker, a metal canister filled with dried pine needles and then ignited, to calm the bees down so that he can tend to them.
When the time comes to begin the honey extraction process, George removes the supers, puts them in the trunk of his car and brings them back to his sugar house in Mansfield.
In the audio clip below, George talks about why he enjoys beekeeping and why it's so fulfilling.
After removing the honey supers, George takes them back to his sugar house — which is a short walk through the woods from his house in Mansfield — to begin the extraction process.
The road leading to the sugar house is small and nondescript, and is distinguishable only by a small green road sign bearing the name Bailey Lane. Inside the sugar house lies a small room, lined on all sides by garbage bags and other materials to keep it warm and insulated. The honey supers are placed in a sliver drum-like machine, which spins the supers at high speed, extracting the honey as it trickles down the walls of the drum.
The honey filters out of a spout, into a strainer that removes additional wax and then into a bucket. After all of the honey has been extracted, George returns to the sugar house to bottle it for sale.
'She's the same girl I Married'
George and his wife Ann are true high school sweethearts. They met when they were students at Windham High School, and they have been together ever since. Ann was a housewife and stay-at-home mother while George was working for the Federal Highway Administration, taking care of the house and their three children.
Ann was diagnosed with dementia about four years ago. Since then, George has taken on more and more of the everyday tasks around the house, and has become her primary caretaker. He does nearly all of the household chores that Ann used to do, like cooking and laundry. Two days a week, Ann goes to a daycare center in Brooklyn, Connecticut that specializes in treating people with dementia, playing mentally stimulating games and receiving other care.
"That's the third leg of the stool that's supporting her," George said.
At the most basic level, Ann and George do almost everything together. Ann goes with him to the farmers market. She watches football and the Boston Red Sox with George when he watches.
In the audio clip below, George tells the story of how he and Ann first met, what married life was like and how life has changed since her diagnosis.
Through it all, George said his family and his hobbies have been what has gotten him through Ann's diagnosis.
"If it wasn't for the hobbies I don't know what I'd do," he said.
George's family is large and supportive. He and Ann now have six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Family visits and check-ins are frequent. His family, he said, has helped him find a sense of peace.
"Our family is all together. Not that we always agree on everything, but we're all together," George said. "The family is very supportive, and I'm supportive of them, too."