Family matters · Non-fiction

Along Came A (Really, Really Big) Spider

I originally published this column back in October 2010, but I was inspired to post it today by my friend’s Carmen Bastante’s creepy spider encounter.

Carmen Bastante’s big, creepy spider.

His body is the size of a quarter, fatter than a Concord grape, and with his legs extended he’s almost as big as a silver dollar. He’s unquestionably one of the scariest spiders I ever saw.

And he’s living right outside my kids’ bedroom window.

We’re currently staying at my in-laws house while renovation work is being done on our home (more on that in future columns) and the spider was here when we moved in. Judging from the massive, intricate web outside the bedroom window, he’d been here for a while.

Death Sentence

My six-year-old daughter immediately sentenced him to death. (I read an article recently that implied girls are born with an innate fear of spiders and snakes, and my daughter bears this theory out.) Even my wife wanted to see him go, and she doesn’t normally “scheeve bugs” (mice are another story).

“He’s scary and looks like the kind that bites,” was her entomological observation. “And he’s the size of a dinner plate!”

How to dispose of such a creature? This called for more than a fly swatter and paper towel. My wife suggested we suck him up with the vacuum but it seemed cruel.

“I’d rather blow him out into the yard,” I suggested. “Give him a chance to build a new web elsewhere.”

I didn’t want to kill the spider. Sure, he was scary-looking, but anything that built a web so beautiful and complex couldn’t be all bad.

Six-Legged Showtime!

“Boris The Spider” became a kind of showpiece at the house. My daughter would drag anyone who visited up to her bedroom to look at the spider living outside her window. Sometimes the show could get graphic.

“The spider was sucking the blood out of a dragonfly!” My daughter announced happily after dragging a family friend up to look at Boris. Our friend looked pale.

“That was disgusting,” she said. “You should really get rid of that thing.” The opinion seemed unanimous.

Still I resisted. There was something about the spider I respected. Plus, he was here first. My family and I understood the feeling of being displaced all too well. I didn’t want to do that to another living creature if I didn’t have to.

In Douglas Coupland’s novel about slackers in the 1990s, Generation X, there’s a character who refuses to bathe because a spider had built an intricate web in his bathtub (yet he had no problem smashing the windshields of rich Yuppies’ expensive cars). I could relate. I used to be part of “Generation X,” people who reached adulthood in the 1980s. Now I’m “Generation PG-13” at best.

There are many superstitions about killing spiders. An old English nursery rhymes has it, “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.” Other legends tell of financial ruin that has befallen people who killed spiders. We were already living in financial ruin…how much worse would it be if we squashed Boris?

Common, But Cool

I did some spider research, figuring we had something exotic like a brown widow or a goliath birdeater. But it appeared Boris was a parasteatoda tepidariorum, a common house spider. And, judging from the yellow-banned legs, Boris was probably a girl.

At night my wife and I would take our dogs out before bed and we’d look up at the kids’ window. Boris would be there, a plump, silent sentinel in the middle of her web.

“What if the spider isn’t here to scare or harm us, but to protect us?” I asked my wife. Maybe Boris was warding evil spirits away from the children’s window. She certainly looked intimidating up there. I didn’t want to mess with her.

Seeing Boris as a protector instead of predator struck a chord with my wife. It also bought Boris a stay of execution…at least until her next dragonfly meal.


Originally published in Wayne TODAY, October 2010.

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