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James R. Stout

She Don't Like Spiders and Snakes

            My mother had to go back to work when I was in the 6th grade. I missed her not being there when I got home from school. I missed her homecooked meals every night that she couldn’t make us because she didn’t get home from work until 7 p.m. She worked in downtown Houston as a secretary. Her day started at 5 a.m. when she got up and made breakfast for us. She rarely ate breakfast herself because she had to get ready for work. These were the days when women were expected to dress-up in heels, dresses or business suits, and make-up and hair done to be presentable to business clients. We were a one car family and Dad had to use our car for his business appointments. So, Mom rode the city bus. She was at the bus stop two blocks from our house by 6:30 and didn’t return until 6:30 in the evening. We started to have sandwiches for dinner on weeknights and they gave me money for a “hot” school lunch. She still found time in the evenings to sew, mend clothes, iron, and many of the things that she had previously done when she was a stay-at-home-mom.

            That fall I discovered a bank of gumball machines and other things at a nearby K-mart. One of the machines had plastic containers that held rubber snakes, rodents, frogs, and other such things that were of interest to a 12-year-old boy. I began to collect them and had quite a few before long. They only cost 25 cents each. By the spring of 1968 my interest in those creatures waned and they were relegated to any number of places that were used for getting something out of sight and out of mind. Meanwhile, my mother’s work schedule was taking a toll. One Saturday morning there came a knock on the front door. It was a rather rotund black lady in her 40’s. She was going through the neighborhood and offering to clean houses for the whopping sum of $8. While it seems like quite a bargain today, it was the equivalent $60 dollars then. That was approximately a ¼ of what my mother made at her job. So, it wasn’t a small number to us. But my mother was also a giving person and although she was perfectly capable of cleaning the house herself and we certainly needed the $8, she felt compassion for the woman. It couldn’t have been easy for her to go door to door asking to clean people’s bathrooms, vacuum, dust, and disinfect a stranger’s home. It had to be demeaning and my mother felt that we could make do without the $8 this one time.

            The lady was a sweet woman with a good work ethic. She dusted the furniture, cleaned the kitchen counters, cleaned the bathroom, cleaned the windows and mirrors, and finally began to vacuum as her next to last chore. The last thing would be mopping the kitchen floor. I was in the living room playing with our dog Rex and trying to stay out of the woman’s way while she worked. My mother was busy in the kitchen preparing for dinner that night. My two older sisters were in the bedroom that they shared working on homework and then practicing for a choir performance at school. My father was working in the garage on a piano action. The vacuuming began in the living room, then the small den, then my parent’s bedroom, my sister’s bedroom, and finally my bedroom. Things seemed to be going just fine when a blood-curdling scream from my bedroom erupted. The vacuum stopped and the poor woman came running down the hall screaming and flailing her arms over her head. She kept pointing back in my room and then she grabbed her purse and was running for the door. She hadn’t even been paid yet. Mom and Dad came running in and stopped her to ask what on Earth was wrong. She could barely speak, but kept saying “No, no, no, no, noooooo! I can’t do it.” She then told my mother that there was a giant snake and spider under my bed. Well, I immediately knew what it was. I nonchalantly went into my room knelt down and plucked the rubber snake and spider from their hiding place and walked back into the living room just as Mom was giving the lady $8. The poor woman saw me standing there holding the spider and snake and started to scream again. She hit the front door at roughly the speed of sound and said over her shoulder, “I ain’t coming back to this place. No way no how!” Mom turned and looked at me and gave me a look of disapproval.

            “Did you put those in there on purpose to scare her”, she asked.

            I told the truth. I had forgotten they were there. I apologized and Mom and Dad said it was OK. However, I was assigned the duty of vacuuming my room since it didn’t get finished. This in turn convinced my mother that much of the housework could indeed be done by us kids. To tell the truth, I think I knew that day was coming already. But like any kid, I avoided the situation until I had no choice. As I vacuumed my bedroom the mental image of that poor woman discovering the rubber snake and spider suddenly came into my head. I started laughing so hard I could barely stand-up. All my laughter attracted my mother who came into the room and tried hard not to laugh along with me, but since I’m being honest here, we were all laughing until tears came before it was over with. We weren’t laughing at the poor woman, but at the situation. Just as we were about to cease laughing, I quipped, “This would be a great skit on The Carol Burnett Show”. Well, that started the laughing anew. I sure hope that the woman got over her unfortunate discovery in a jungle called “my room” in her life.

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