Mrs. Chatterbox is the bravest person I’ve ever known.
Let me explain. First, it’s important to know that she’s terrified of spiders. And with good reason. At the age of ten she was an Army brat growing up in Berlin. Her family lived in a house at the edge of a small forest, and one evening her older brother was playing with the hose and forgot to turn it off. That evening the basement, which was directly below her bedroom, flooded.
Sometime during the night she felt something crawling on her. She pulled the chain on the light bulb dangling overhead. When the light blinked on she saw that her bed was black with spiders. They were on her pillow, her arms and legs, on the chain and light bulb. I’m told she screamed for ten minutes before any sound came out of her mouth.
Flash forward twenty years. Mrs. C. and I are married with a ten month old baby. Her boss offers us his luxury vacation house on Flathead Lake in Montana for a few days and we gladly accept. We were even given permission to use his forty foot motorboat, which cost more than our house. When we arrived, the boat was in storage in the adjoining boathouse, where it had remained, unused, that entire summer. I knew nothing about boats but figured they drove like cars. It had been a long drive from Portland so we settled into the beautiful cabin at the water’s edge. The next day we were anxious for adventure. We packed a picnic lunch, strapped baby CJ into the car seat I removed from our old Fairmont station wagon, and boarded the boat.
If you haven’t seen Flathead Lake, it’s huge; you can barely see to the other side. And it’s shallow in places with rocks sticking up that can rip out the bottom of a boat. So I was being extremely careful, steering the boat around sharp rocks and feeling totally connected with my seafaring ancestors. We were twenty minutes from shore when Mrs. C. started screaming.
I couldn’t see her from where I was steering the boat so I powered down the engine and dashed over to check out the commotion. CJ was strapped into his car seat, crying, but otherwise he looked fine. But Mrs. C: I can only say I’d never seen that look on her face. She had a shoe in each hand. I was about to say something, but then I saw them—spiders, big and brown, nasty looking with orange stripes, hundreds of them, probably more. Mrs. C was too busy to speak; she was whacking spiders with the shoes and stomping on them with her bare feet when they came anywhere near little CJ. Squished spiders circled her in what looked like a relentless offensive to reach the baby. My wife was pounding and stomping so hard she looked like she was performing a ritualistic dance.
The message she shot me with her frantic eyes finally registered; I couldn’t help kill the spiders—they were everywhere— but I could race that boat back to the dock as quickly as humanly possible. And that’s what I did, even though my unfamiliarity with the lake and its projecting rocks slowed us down. I’ll never forget the pounding sound of my wife’s shoes and feet in the back of the boat.
It seemed an eternity, but we were back in the harbor in fifteen minutes. Mrs. C. had already convinced me she was the bravest woman alive, but I was about to learn she was also one of the smartest. My stomach had been in my mouth as I piloted the boat home, and now that we were approaching the dock I started to relax. The Spider Cruise to Hell was coming to an end.
I couldn’t have imagined that in a matter of minutes something would happen capable
of preventing little CJ from seeing his first birthday.
The rest on Wednesday: Docking With Disaster