Grandma squashed scorpions with her bare feet.
But then, she was a Texan.
Years ago, Mom said, we were visiting Grandma’s place, and I was sitting in Mom’s lap. She was dressing me and reached for my toddler-shoe when a scorpion crawled out. She flung it and the shoe across the room.
And then she called Grandma.
Mom may have been a Texan by birth, but she freaked out over scorpions. We felt the same way about the hook-tailed little buggers—they scared the daylights out of us.
I remember watching TV in Grandma’s den, when a scorpion the size of a small dog appeared on the floor in front of me and wiggled its tail.
I yelled, and Grandma came running.
“What’s the problem, Hon?” she asked.
“LOOK AT THAT!” I said, as I hid behind a sofa cushion.
“Well, for Heaven’s sake. It’s nothing but a liddle-ole-scorpion.”
“Lit-tle?” I stammered. “ It’s HUGE!”
Grandma laughed, and then pointed at the light fixture overhead. In it, a small scorpion danced around, trying to escape. Grandma got a ladder, removed the globe, and dispatched the arachnid.
She never stopped teasing me about “Liddle-Robb’s hue-MONG-gus-scorpion.”
But as Texas-tough as she was, she wasn’t without her own phobias. Snakes. I didn’t know this until we heard about her adventure with a gopher snake.
We’d gotten our weekly letter, and in it there was a pile of Kodak snapshots of my Grandparents’ new home. They’d moved to the country, and Grandpa had bought himself a brand-new riding lawnmower.
My Mom poured over the photos, enthralled. A bit later, Dad left to run errands, and she grabbed the phone. Mom summoned the long-distance operator, making a rare and expensive phone call all the way to Austin. I was on the extension, and after a bunch of clicks and pops, we finally heard a faint ringing.
Grandpa answered the phone. Mom complimented him on their home, and the beautiful new yard.
“I see you got a new lawnmower,” Mom said.
“It’s a yard-tractor,” he corrected her.
“Looks nice,” Mom said. “You’ll have to come over and mow our yard.”
Grandpa cleared his throat. “Well, thank you muchly. But it’s already back in the shop.”
Grandma picked up the line. “Aubry! What are you telling them?”
“They were just asking about my tractor.”
“And you just COULDN’T WAIT to tell them the story, could you?” Grandma said.
I chimed in. “What story?”
If you ever were to conduct a poll, or take a survey, my Grandparents would be voted the most-unlikely couple to get married. They flat drove each other crazy, and they were always jockeying for who got to tell their family’s stories.
“Well since you asked,” Grandpa said gruffly. “Your Grandmother broke my new tractor.”
“It’s just bent a bit,” she replied.
“How did it happen?” Mom asked. She didn’t laugh, but from across the room I could see her smile.
“Gopher snake,” Grandpa said. “She was mowing the side yard, saw a snake, and took out after it.”
“Took out?” I asked.
“Chased it down. “ Grandpa said. “Busted three sprinklers, chopped up a $7 hose, and clipped a flower bush.”
“It was just two sprinklers, and you don’t like oleanders anyway.”
“Chased the snake up right up a tree, left the mower parked on its ass-end, and bent the blade.”
Mother finally laughed. “Oh, Mama. Did you really?”
“Silly place to put a tree, right in the middle of the yard.”
“Did it jump out in front of you?” Grandpa asked.
“Oh, Aubry. It’s all under war-ant-tee.”
“Are your OK, Mama?” Mom asked.
“Thank goodness at least one person in this family has manners,” Grandma said.
“I’m fine, hon.”
“What about the snake?” I asked.
“Got ‘em good,” Grandma said. “He won’t be bothering anybody.”
“He wasn’t bothering anybody until you chopped him up,” Grandpa said.
Mom stepped in, and changed the subject. But my grandparents provided a real object lesson in how we all love and loathe different things. Both of my Texas grandparents are gone now, but they live on in the way I encounter the world.
Take spiders, for example. I think they’re great. I like them because:
- They don’t go out of their way to bother me.
- They eat things I find disgusting and have no interest in eating myself.
- They mostly stay in places I don’t care to visit, like the eaves of the house and the barn.
Everyone else in my home, though, hates spiders. I often have to intercede to save them, carrying them outside when they do creep in from outside to our bedroom. I’m a sort of UN peace-keeper and an arachnid advocate.
But the opposite is true of my greatest nemesis—the thing I hate most in all the animal kingdom—wasps. If you’re picky about terminology, I lump hornets, yellow jackets, mud daubers into the same category. If flies, stings, and doesn’t make honey, I hate it.
They evil creatures violate the all three principles above.
- They seek me out to harass me, even when I’m minding my own business.
- When I dare to dine outdoors, they have a keen interest in my steak.
- And they make their homes inside my hot tub or underneath my lounge chairs.
I remember relaxing in my back yard one day, reclining in a lounge, and reaching under the chair for my glass of lemonade. I heard a humming, and realizing my hand was about to close on a nest. I took immediate action, throwing myself forward out of harm’s way… and into the swimming pool.
Unfortunately, I was still dressed for work.
So I have it in for wasps. Everyone who knows me knows this. In fact, on my birthday and Father’s Day, it’s not uncommon for friends and family to buy a six-pack… of wasp killer. The variety I prefer has the foam-spray that goes about 2,000 feet and will take out anything this side of a 747. The problem is, of course, that I tend to get rather overly involved—think Shakespearean vendetta—when I take on my foe. I’ve chased a single wasp around the yard, emptying the entire contents of a deluxe-sized can.
It gets worse. In the heat of my wasp-hate, I’ve hosed myself down when the wind changed or when a big gob of toxic foam has fallen back into my face
My family swears I’m trying to win a Darwin Award. But it’s not that at all. When it comes to wasps, it’s either them or me. The problem is that, year after year, there’s a whole lot more of them that there is of me.
And I take a lot of heat over my back-yard war games. I’ve chased friends and family inside when they can’t stand the fumes or the fury. It’s not a pretty sight, and someday I’ll get a letter from PETSI—People for the Ethical Treatment of Stinging Insects. I’m going to be their public-enemy #1 poster child.
So I share this story with the sad knowledge that sane souls side with my family, not me. They will tell you that wasps are, after all, one of God’s creations, part of the elaborate process of pollination and an essential part of the food chain for birds and other predators, the kind that don’t wield spray cans.
All this may be true, but I can’t help myself. There’s something primordial about my feelings towards wasps. Grandmother, if she were still here, would understand.
She might even loan me her yard tractor.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.