Column: Nothing like a drive to take your mind off spiders

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2002

Week before last I attended a defensive driving session, designed to make senior citizens safer drivers and to lower their insurance premiums. The doughnuts served at the coffee break were delicious, the video and discussion interesting beyond belief.

The hazards pointed out to us, though, seemed to me so extremely horrendous, that at the close of the meeting I found myself pondering whether I should drive home or call a tow truck and be towed home.

I first drove a car during World War II. I’d found employment working for the Mower County Welfare Department and had to have a car. My parents finally found a secondhand Ford for me. I took out a bank loan that left me almost as needy as my clients and bought it.

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My boss took me out in his car and let me actually drive it once or twice under his instruction. My colleagues took turns taking me out to lunch and drawing diagrams of the directions in which the gears must be shifted. That was the extent of my driving education.

Back then it was unnecessary to take a driver’s test. I simply went to the Mower County Courthouse, paid for and obtained a license.

My parents brought the car over to me on a Saturday morning and I brought them home.

I had Saturdays off and a guest was coming from Minneapolis to spend the weekend with me. Pleased that I would have company in practicing my driving, I welcomed her with joy.

It was, I think, in many ways a trying weekend for her. Partly because of the black-widow spider. At least I supposed it to be a black widow spider.

A good friend in Cedar Rapids, in pursuit of her doctorate, was doing a thesis on spiders. She had collected an impressive number of the arachnids, but had not been able to locate a black widow.

Hoping that Minnesota might be more promising, she sketched me a picture of a black widow, wrote a rather fulsome description of the creature, and gave instructions for sending it to her.

Just as I was leaving the house to pick up my guest, I caught sight of an interesting looking spider weaving around the cutwork on one of my bed posters. Being in rather a hurry I resolved to look at it more closely when I returned home. It looked pretty much like the spider described to me.

Unfortunately in the excitement of meeting Betty, I forgot about the spider until my guest, having unpacked her overnight case, sat down right under the web.

I at once called her attention to the beastie, imploring her not to crush it, because I had searched long and hard for a black widow spider. By the time I’d finished explaining, though, Betty was standing in the middle of the floor screaming.

It was a disappointment to me that all that screaming seemed to have frightened the spider away. Anyway I couldn’t find it. At first Betty refused to sleep in the bed, saying she’d rather sleep in the car. Finally, though, she agreed to the bed providing she could have the light on all night.

It was still early afternoon. So to cheer her up I took her for a ride. It went very well until I drove up in a farm yard. I wasn’t sure how to get out of it. Betty suggested that I put the car in reverse and back out.

I had to explain to her that while my friends from my office had drawn sketches of shifting into first, second, third and something called “neutral,” I didn’t remember anything like reverse. I don’t remember how we got out. She couldn’t drive.

When the visit was over, she suggested that I visit her soon, but suggested that I take a bus.

“It will probably be dull for you,” she said. “After this weekend I’ll probably never get in another car. And I never make pets of black widow spiders.”

It’s too bad I hadn’t had a defensive driving course then. And just for the record I never found another black widow spider.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.