When I was about six years old and starting first grade, somewhere I picked up the term Trap Door Spider.
I don’t recall where or how I acquired the phrase; if I overheard it, or read it. I had not the faintest clue as to what or where such a thing might be. I only knew that somewhere on this earth there was a creature called a Trap Door Spider.
Having no Internet, T.V., or even a library card yet, I set about applying all of my six years of accumulated cunning and knowledge to puzzling out what a Trap Door Spider might be. My mother had recently brought our new baby brother home from the hospital, and what little of her attention he did not consume was taken up by my two-year old brother. My big brother was just starting to show the pitching skill that would make him a little league hero in a few years, and that occupied most of my fathers spare time.
So, I was on my own, and fully confident that I was equal to the task.
It was 1956, and we lived in a two-story three bedroom apartment in a new housing project for veterans in West Dallas. There was a kitchen, dining room, and living room downstairs; three bedrooms and two baths were upstairs. Between all of these rooms, and at the top and bottom of the stairs, were Doors. Lots of Doors. As I wandered around the apt, upstairs and down, pondering on the nature of Trap Door Spiders, I was brought up short by a flash of blinding insight. Standing in the upstairs hallway, in front of me were two bedroom doors; to my left was the bathroom door; to my right was the door at the top of the stairs; behind me was my parents bedroom door. As the truth about Trap Door Spiders bloomed in my mind, the scope of my predicament paralysed me.
Trap Door Spiders were spiders that hung around doorways waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk through the door, then , they would pounce upon them and trap them. It was all so perfectly clear; ingenious; obvious. And I was standing in a hall with five doors. With a growing sense of horror I slowly turned around , studying each of the doors. The beast could be on any one of them, or all of them. It could be on this side or the other side. It could get me coming or going.
Just as my despair was reaching critical mass, my parents door opened and my mother hurried out. She opened the stair door, put her hand on my shoulder, and mother-marched down the stairs ,across the living room and out the front door; ” Don’t stay in the house on such a pretty day, baby”, and shut the door behind me. This innocuous incident added another bit of information to my store of knowledge; mothers are immune to Trap Door Spiders. Why, I wondered. Under my mothers impetus we had moved at a pretty good clip thru three doors, without encountering a single Trap Door Spider. It must be the speed, I reasoned. If you went thru the door quickly enough, the spider did not have time to set up the trap.
I pondered on these insights as I walked around to the back door into the kitchen. Carefully, I pulled the screen door open, turned the knob and pushed the kitchen door open. Scanning the outside of the jamb, I inched forward untill my eyes were just inside the door-way and looked all over the inside of the opening. Then easing back as far as I could, I bounced a few times on the balls of my feet, and jumped thru the door-way, landing flat-footed four feet into the kitchen. My aunt Edna glanced at me for a second from her spot at the stove and said; ” Shut the door”, and resumed whatever she was doing. She had seven brothers.
With growing confidence I walked up to the dining room door and surveyed the near side of the door-jamb. Seeing no sign of Trap Door Spiders, I bounced a few times to build up my spring and jumped again, pushing the swinging door as I flew thru the opening, landed square under my mothers legs, and knocked her off her feet. She landed flat on her bottom with a basket full of biscuits in her lap; she didn’t lose any. Aunt Edna dashed in from the kitchen, sized up the situation, grabbed me by the collar and a fly swatter from the sideboard. Lifting me clear of the floor, she aunt-marched to the front door, swatting all the way. Out on the porch she pointed the swatter between my eyes, “You come in this house again before we call you to dinner and I’ll use a switch.” I believed her. She had seven brothers.
On the porch I pondered all I had learned .
1. If you went thru the door quickly enough Trap Door Spiders couldn’t catch you.
2.Mothers are immune to them.
3. Aunts are immune to them.
4.Fly-swatters hurt a lot more than you would think.
For the next few days I applied my new-found knowledge by jumping thru every door in the apartment. Whenever possible I followed my mother or aunt thru the door. My feet began to ache. My butt was getting sore because every time my aunt saw me do this she got out the fly swatter.
The problem was becoming intolerable when salvation arrived; my father bought our first T.V.
It was a square black box, set on top of another square black box.
There were amazing things on this gadget; Howdy-Doodie, The Lone Ranger, Rocky Jones and his Space Rangers. And on Wednesday night, in glorious black and white, WALT DISNEY.
Walt Disney saved my feet, and my butt, and provided me the first really peaceful nights sleep in almost a week. Searching both sides of every door and then jumping flat-footed into or out of each room I wanted to enter or leave was beginning to wear on me. I think it was even beginning to get to aunt Edna, and she had seven brothers.
But on that first Wednesday night with our new T.V. Walt Disney made all things clear.
The program was a nature film about the American West, the Dessert. We all watched in rapt delight as Rex Allen; a genuine cowboy we already knew well; regaled us with the habits and habitats of the butcher bird, the bob-cat, the desert tortoise, the fat Gila monster. And there on our T.V. screen, right in the middle of our living room, in bright light and crystal clear focus—-THE TRAP DOOR SPIDER. In dumb delight I listened as Cowboy Rex Allen [ cowboys NEVER lie ] described how the trap door spider would find a convenient hole, or dig their own, and spin a tight web over the opening attached on one side to the ground, then cover the webbing with dirt and sand untill it formed a hidden door; a trap door. The cunning LITTLE [about the size of a dime ] creature would then hide in the hole. Holding the door open just barely enough to peek out, it waited for its prey to happen by. When an unsuspecting victim approached, say a flea, or tick, or an ant, the spider would pop out , grab the catch and pull it into its lair and do unpleasant things to it.
I was set free. When Rex wrapped up the show, and Walt Disney told what was in store for us next week, my mother ordered us to bed. With an air of profound nonchalance I followed my big brother up to our bedroom. Waiting untill he was well into the room, I put my hands in my pocket and strolled thru the door as though I hadn’t a care in the world. At the foot of my bed, I turned and went back into the hall. Turning on my heel, I strolled thru the door again.
My brother just looked at me, shook his head, and crawled into his bed. Nothing fazed him. He had three brothers.