Jim Berger, 68, usually is working a crossword puzzle or playing Sudoku on his three-season porch when the soft-spoken reminder comes. “Jim,” says the young voice, “it’s time to plan our day.”
Jim’s gentle prodder is his 6-year-old grandson, Gus Berger. Since Gus’ mom, Cathy, returned to full-time work two years ago, Jim and Gus have teamed up before school and during the summers for marvelous, atypical adventures.
“Can you help me?” Gus asks, as he pulls on gloves and zips up his jacket.
“You betcha,” Jim says, lowering a huge white veil over Gus’ head as they prepare to go beekeeping down the hill from Jim and wife Patti’s large and lush Minnetonka back yard.
“Getting your uniform on?” Gus’ dad, Pat, asks from afar. Gus clarifies: “It’s gear, Dad.”
Gus is a quick study, which delights Jim, a retired Edina schoolteacher drawn to how things work.
They began this project with about 7,000 or 8,000 bees. Now, at the height of bee season, there are upwards of 30,000.
“The queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs a day for two to three years,” says Jim, who prefers that his grandkids call him by his first name.
“Ooo!” Gus squeals. “Honey!”
Jim’s mother died when he was 4. He developed a close relationship with his own grandfather in Green Isle, Minn. Cathy and Pat, both teachers in the Hopkins school district, knew exactly whom they wanted to care for Gus.
“The only question,” Pat says, “was would he do it?”
“It was quite a tryout,” Jim says. “The best part is, Cathy doubles my pay every year. Only trouble is, it started at zero.”
During the school year, Gus and Jim put Gus’ older brother, Leo, and sister, Ellie, on the school bus, then get busy. If the weather is nice, they hunt for golf balls at a nearby course, sorting them into three boxes labeled Good, Better and Best. “Best is for who?” Jim asks. “You,” Gus says.
On cooler days, they count their steps at Eden Prairie Mall.
They reached well over 10,000 steps before Gus dropped his pedometer in the water. Oh, well. Time for lunch, usually at their favorite deli, sometimes topped off with a lively game of Old Maid.
Then Jim drops Gus off for afternoon kindergarten. Summers are more free-flowing. And this one, the precursor to first grade, is moving so fast. Gus is ready. Jim is working hard to be.
“What could I be doing that is more important than this?” Jim says. “Next September, I’ll have to fill my mornings.”