When I was ten, I moved from the country, with my mother and four younger siblings, to live in a town about eighty-five miles from where I was born and had always lived. We moved into my aunt & uncle’s two-story brick and stone house, where they lived with my five cousins, who were all pretty much close to us in age. I remember it was springtime, because my uncle had planted a garden in the yard beside the house.
One carefree sunny day, we kids were outside playing ball, and my Uncle George was in his garden hoeing, after coming home from his second job. Suddenly, the ball managed to get away from us, as balls always do, and of course, it landed right in the middle of my uncle’s beautiful garden.
Without giving it a second thought, I dashed right after that ball, trying with all my ten-year old might to tiptoe, on-the-run, around whatever plants I saw that looked like they might be important. But, since I really had no idea which plants were weeds and which were vegetables, I ended up squashing some of each. All the while, Uncle George, who had stopped hoeing, was staring at me—hard.
I’d only taken perhaps three or four carefully-chosen steps, crushing something green with each one, when my uncle suddenly shouted out, “Hold it! Stop right there!” I froze in my tracks, literally, terrified. I didn’t know what to do. Uncle George put down his rake, and proceeded to walk slowly over to where I was standing. As he was walking towards me, the thought suddenly crossed my mind that I was probably going to be in for a really hard spanking, for ruining his carefully-tended garden. But instead, he simply knelt down & motioned for me to do the same.
For the next few minutes, Uncle George then proceeded to show me the different types of plants and weeds, while pointing out, and matter-of-factly explaining, all the differences. He then did something surprising. He gave me a job! I was to start weeding the garden each day after school for a quarter a week. And suddenly, I was both thrilled and scared. Thrilled to be grown up enough to have an actual job, but scared of not measuring up to my uncle’s stern expectations. I was going to have to make up for the plants I had inadvertently ruined. But, before the first week was out, I found something entirely different to do that I hoped would make up for the destruction I had caused.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, and I remember having to wait, for what seemed like hours, impatient to go out and get started on my weeding. Finally, the rain stopped and I hastily put on my rubber boots and went outside. Once in the garden, I surveyed the damage the flooding rain had caused. The edges of the leaves on some of the plants were buried in mud, and some of the walkways were completely flooded. Then, as I neared the center row, I saw something that almost gave me a heart attack. Hanging right in front of my face, in one of the long rows of vegetable plants that were sprouting up between the muddy aisles, was the biggest spider I’d ever seen!Its body was bright yellow, with shiny black streaks spread all over it, and it was about as big as a fat strawberry. There it was, just hanging there, with its long, long pointy legs and beady eyes, as drops of rainwater glistened from the long, white strands of its gigantic web. What kind of spider was this? I couldn’t imagine. Oh, wait. I could imagine!
And, imagine I did. This unsuspecting creature suddenly took on almost mythic intrigue. Instantly, it became a rare, and very-exceedingly dangerous killer, stalking the vegetable garden, waiting to do unimaginable harm to anyone who happened to have the ill-fortune to be working there. Oh! Thank God, I hadn’t been bitten!
Well, it just would’t do, to have this fearsome creature hanging around, waiting to do someone in. I simply couldn’t let it get away, to possibly crawl into the yard beside the house, and bite one of the younger kids. And, Uncle George would be sure to know just what kind of spider this was, and just how dangerous it could be. So, almost instantly, I knew what I had to do.
I came up with a plan that seemed to me to be pure genius. I would catch this merciless, beady-eyed ‘slayer-of-people-who-work-in-gardens,’ and wait for Uncle George to get home. He would be astounded, and very proud of me, for being so brave and selfless as to put my own young life in danger to save him, and anyone else who might innocently venture into that extremely dangerous jungle of a garden. And, he would forget all about the few little plants I had ruined.
I went into the house and rummaged in the kitchen cabinets until I found a Mason jar. My plan was to take the jar in one hand, the lid in the other, and hold my hands out in front of me. Next, I would quickly clasp my hands together, screw the lid on a little, drop the jar, and run! Foolproof plan, I thought to myself.
As I approached the garden, I was both relieved, and yet startled, to see that the giant spider was still hanging right where I had left it, in the middle of its enormous web, which was stretched out between two beanpoles. Raindrops still clung to the tiny threads of the web and sparkled in the sun, as I stood there, watching the spider lift one of its long, pointy legs up and down. I was trying to build up my courage, for the incredible and death-defying feat I was about to perform. I remember imagining how sad people’s faces would look at my funeral, if I was to be bitten by this terribly dangerous creature and was to die, tragically, after trying to perform such a noble act.
Minutes turned into an hour, and an hour turned into two, and then, three. Finally, I could stand the suspense no longer. It was now or never. I had to act, before the spider decided to chase me away, by moving from its position at the center of the sticky web.
All at once, things began to blur together: the spider began to move at the very same instant that I decided to lunge forward with the jar. It was too late to change my mind; I was already in the act of lunging forward with my well-calculated plan. I quickly clapped my hands together around the spider, giving the lid a brief spin, before dropping them both and taking off in a run. I wanted to be far away, in case that spider wasn’t trapped, or the jar broke when it hit the ground!
After running about a half a block, I turned, panting, and scanned the ground for the jar, but it was nowhere to be seen. That meant that I had to go investigate! I slowly crept toward the area where I’d dropped the jar, scanning the ground all around me as I inched forward. I guess I was considering the possibility that the spider might have had the ability to roll that jar like a hamster can roll a wheel around on a floor.
Finally, I spied that elusive jar. It didn’t appear to be broken, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I inched up to it, little by little, trying not to attract the attention of the spider that I hoped was still inside. I had to be sure the jar hadn’t cracked when it hit the ground.
After I surveyed the jar from every possible angle, I gathered up the courage to try to touch that spider’s glassy cage. At first, I just poked at it with a stick—two or three times—just to be sure. Then, I tried to bring myself to actually grab it. But, the clear glass just didn’t seem like enough protection from the wiggly legs of that big, big spider. Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea: I would get the pot-holders from the kitchen. Surely, that would keep me safe.So, I finally managed to scoop up the jar containing that dangerous menace. And, since my aunt told me that I absolutely could not bring it into the house, I put it in inside the porch, and began the impatient wait for my uncle to get home, so I could show him my prize.
Hour after hour, I paced back and forth on the porch. Every now and then, I would stick my head in the kitchen door and ask my aunt what time it was. My uncle usually came in around five o’clock, but five o’clock came and went, and no Uncle George. Finally, at quarter to six, his truck turned the corner, and I ran down the porch steps to meet him.
As he opened the door of his truck, I quickly explained what I had done, and finished by saying, “Come and look at the big, dangerous spider I caught!”
I ran ahead to hold open the porch door for him, so he could see it faster. He walked up the steps, without rushing at all, which I thought was a bit strange, since I had obviously found such a rare and dangerous insect. When he reached the the jar, he simply grabbed it up with one of his bare hands—again, strange, I thought, due to the obvious danger. But, what I heard next was the strangest of all—and the most startling. He simply let out a laugh and said, “That just a garden spider! Throw it back out there!”
I was devastated. All my work, all my peril, all those hours of waiting and excitement had been for nothing! My face burned with embarrassment and I suddenly felt like crying.
I slowly put on the pot-holders. I wasn’t going to take any chances, just in case. Then, I trudged out into the garden and set the jar holding my prize down on the ground. Such a long, drawn-out capture was going to require more than just a casual release.As I sat down beside the jar, I suddenly felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world. I had’t made up for the plants I’d squashed, I’d missed a whole day of work in my first job, and I hadn’t really done something dangerous and death-defying after all. I was just a girl with a spider. My spider. I didn’t want to just simply let him go, after all I’d gone through to catch it. I had caught it, and that made it mine.
But, that instant, I suddenly felt a strange bond with that long-legged creature. It was no longer a menace to be dreaded, but only a poor and friendless little thing out in the world, just like me. Only, it was not out in the world, thanks to me.
And suddenly, I knew I had to set him free. I wasn’t afraid or sad anymore. I was giving the spider back its life. He deserved it: he had fascinated me, and scared me, and made me brave in the process. I owed him that.
I reached over, unscrewed the lid of the jar, and laid it on its side, making sure to face the opening of the jar away from me, just in case. Then, I stood up and stepped back, watching the spider for a few minutes, as it walked around inside the jar. Finally, it crawled out and disappeared into the grass beside the garden. I turned and went back to the house, walking a little sadder, but a whole lot braver than I was, when I had walked into my uncle’s garden that morning.