Yesterday's overcast skies have spent the night consolidating their clouds into misty rain and sleet, and my brain has used its dream time to solidify my astonishment at a nephew's reminiscing tale of his grandmother and the tarantula in the playhouse.
Mind you, he was talking about my own mother and my very own playhouse that Santa Claus brought me and my little sisters the Christmas I was five years old. You can see it in the background, on the left, behind the swing set, in this old snapshot from about 1937.
Never in my whole life have I personally encountered a tarantula, and I had no idea, before yesterday afternoon, that the Texas coastal prairie was a suitable habitat for these large, hairy arthropods, but yes, a quick search easily turned up a Wikipedia article on the Texas Brown Tarantula. And this species is common throughout Texas (and in neighboring states). It can get to be four inches in body size.
A gentle giant, it defends itself by standing up on its back legs and waving its two top legs like threatening pincers, while menacingly displaying its hairy abdomen.
So I'm sure my nephew's remembrance is accurate. At about age six, on a hot afternoon, while playing in the old playhouse with his four-year-old brother, he flipped back the corner of a quilt over a cot that had been left in there after most of the furnishings which had been the delight of my sisters and me were long removed. And there it was.
He thought it was a big black spider -- in the shadowed corner of the little room, no doubt it did appear black to him. And there was certainly no doubt in his mind that it was about to bite him. Frozen with terror at first, he finally got his legs to move and ran screaming to the house, where he poured out his panic to his grandmother. She took him by the hand and went to look.
"That's not a spider," she told him. "It's a tarantula, and it won't hurt you. See?" And scooping the little terrorist onto the palm of one hand, she tossed it out the open playhouse door.
A fine ecologist, my mother, though her assurance to her grandson wasn't completely accurate. Tarantulas will bite you, if cornered or harassed, though, according to Wikipedia, the bite is no worse than a bee sting.
Still, my nephew said, although in awe of his grandmother's bravery and prowess, he never played in that playhouse again. Where there's one tarantula, there's bound to be another, he prudently concluded.
Photo used under Creative Commons license:
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