Categories > Original > Drama > Totem0 Reviews
Grandmother gives an unexpected gift.
It was about eight o'clock on a late summer morning when I followed my Grandmother onto the front porch of her house. It was a small house but quite big enough for Grandmother and three of my aunts, who still being maidens, lived at home even though two of them had good jobs in the community. The little house sat securely in its place, a highway in front of it, a railroad behind. It was situated on a ridiculously large tract of land, big enough to accommodate a lily pond with frog, a bamboo grove, several out-sheds housing chickens and pigs as well as a pasture with rabbit tobacco and other botanicals of note.
The front porch was open to the warm air which was not even sieved by a screen. Rocking chairs and one of those swings with a stationary frame made it a refuge during the heat of the day when the interior of the house was ablaze and shade was hard to come by. Shaggily trimmed hedges grew up against the walls under the windows and there was a pleasant hum from the wings of dragonflies, butterflies and other glittering needles of the air. Just outside the confines of the porch, near the steps leading to the bare smoothly swept yard was the great web of a golden garden spider, tossing back the sun like an elaborate brooch pinned to the breast of the house.
The golden garden spider is one of the class of orb-web spinners. In the American South it is often called 'the writing spider' because the tension threads at the center of the web look like cursive letters inscribed across the strands. The spider itself is beautiful, a large black creature with small white marks on its underside and gold/green decorations on its belly in the front. It is the female which spins the web and shows her glory to those who stop to admire. The male is tiny, a drab, boring fellow with no distinction at all. Southern women draw their own conclusions from this.
Now, you must know that I was at this time an arachnaphobe, one of those sad people with an extreme, irrational, came-from-nowhere terror of the eight legged clan. I was also seven years old. Another thing you must know is that my Grandmother and I shared the same first name. It is an unusual one and I have no intention of revealing it; I will say only it is a name which contains a number of rounded letters like: say, Miriam, or Ninnian, or Willow - none of which is my name.
My Grandmother and I were standing on the edge of the porch, admiring the garden where the brilliant flowers of late summer were making a bold stand, when she suddenly reached up into what looked to me like a mass of cobwebs clumped just under the overhang of the roof. Grandmother was a tall woman and could easily touch the low ceiling of the porch. What she had seen and drawn out was the egg sac of a writing spider. Never one to miss a teaching moment and always concerned about my incapacitating fear of spiders, she decided this was a good time to show me something wondrous.
Carefully, she wiped the clinging webs from the thumb-sized bag and held it out to me on the palm of her hand. It was like a fairy's amulet pouch, pulled into a blunt point at the top and looking as though it was made of parchment. It was a weathered grey/cream in color and swayed on its rounded base as Grandmother balanced it on the flat of her hand.
"Take it," she enticed.
I put my hands behind my back and inched away from the object, shaking my head.
"It won't hurt you. There's nothing alive in it, just eggs." She coaxed with that cooing voice which could have soothed dragons.
I still refused, staring down at the warped floor boards.
"Want to see the eggs? They look like beads."
Hesitantly, I nodded. I could bear to look where I could not bring myself to touch.
Grandmother's strong fingers breached the citadel of the sac and pulled away the upper layer of smoothness. Under the paper like exterior was a bed of fine, silken filaments so soft and fine that they could not be felt by even the relatively acute sensors on a child's finger tips. I know because under Grandmother's wheedling, I ventured one forefinger out to tentatively stroke the white feathery down. I had intended to jerk the finger away but was so enchanted by the strangeness of touching something I could not feel, I left it there and quite forgot what I was stroking.
Grandmother smiled and gently put my hand aside so that she could show me the treasure which still lay within. Peeling still more of the packing away, she showed me a neatly arranged cluster of pearls, each hardly the size of the head of a dress-makers pin. They glowed with an internal radiance as though life itself had taken residence within them. The sun made of them miniature suns and they were magical in their perfection.
Grandmother and I stood for a long time, touching brows over the miracle between us. After a while I looked up and said, "I'm still scared of spiders."
She sighed and, the sac still carefully nestled in her hand, led me down the steps and to the web of the maker of the eggs. "Look here now. Look in the middle of this web. You see my name? Well, it's your name too and this is your spider. All these spiders like this are yours and mine. They write our name and that means they are kin to us. They are good to have around and you must never kill one for any reason."
Grandmother was rarely so firm when she talked to me and one glance told me she meant what she said. It was a long time before all the charm worked and I left off being afraid of spiders but I have never failed to greet the golden garden spiders when I pass them and I have always welcomed them to my yard. We share a kinship. In the South, kinship is a powerful force.