Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. from an Old Indian Proverb
I love stories. I love the stories that feel good, the stories that sustain and strengthen us, the stories that stay with us for a lifetime. When we were kids, it was our mother’s Super Hero Story that was our favorite. “Tell us again, Mommy!” we’d plea. And our mother, she’d always oblige. Every time, it began the same way, on that healing journey from Massachusetts all the way to Colorado after her first husband, Dexter, had dropped dead at the kitchen table of a heart attack. It was her parents, our Grandma and Grandpa, who had packed them up, our mother and her kids (my big brother and sister), and drove them west in the 1952 Chrysler Imperial.
And it was in Kansas, on what our mother said was the most sweltering of nights, a night so hot that she thought she’d die, that the story picked up speed. We could just see it as she spoke, the tiny hotel room that she shared with her pre-schoolers, the cornfields outside, the heat so hot that it almost made us sweat. We could just see it as she continued, the scary thing that made us shiver; it was beside the bed, black and furry and scuttling. “What did you do?!?” we cried, loving this part of the story. We knew the answer. We’d heard it a million times. “What did you do, Mommy?!?” Our big sister was thrilled because she was a character in the story, the sleeping toddler in one of those beds. “Well,” our mother’s voice became dramatic. “I grabbed your brother’s shoe and I threw it, threw it as hard as I could across the room, and I hit it!” We loved this part of the story, how our mother had skills, how our mother could protect us, even from a deadly monster like a tarantula. “Then what?!? Then what, Mommy?!?” “Well,” our mother said again, really getting into the story, I think, reminding herself of her own bravery. “It curled itself into a ball and I wrapped it in toilet paper and I flushed it down the toilet.”
It doesn’t matter that now, fifty years later, I adore spiders, that a year ago, my husband, Cam and I saved a tarantula from almost certain death at the hands of a Puerto Rican groundskeeper, nudged it off the resort’s patio back into the thicket of jasmine. It doesn’t matter that earlier on that same trip, Peter, a guide of ours as we hiked through the rainforest, had shared how awesome tarantulas are, how they eat harmful bugs and will not hurt us. It doesn’t matter because our long-legged mother had just lost her husband and I suspect was lost herself in that sweltering Kansas heat, and that night in a hotel in the middle of a cornfield in a world that was foreign to her, she had found something, something strong inside, and she had called upon it, and we, her children, cheered her on, again and again and again.