Spiders and Violets
When I see a little pot of African violets in a store, I think of Mrs. McCreery. She and her husband were missionaries and traveled to various parts of the world to spread the Gospel. They owned a property by a lake in an area of Florida that had many lakes and also tall forests of Australian Pines. The land on which their main house, cottage and library building rested, sloped toward the water, the library being closest to the lake.
The McCreerys were heading for Texas and the property would be empty during their absence, so they were willing to rent the house to tenants. My husband, baby son and I rented the place since my husband had just landed a job in nearby Tampa. We owned a home in Sebring, but because people no longer drove through that area, preferring the newly constructed I-95 expressway, the real estate market had dried up. He could no longer make a living there.
The McCreerys were the loveliest couple I could imagine, so kind and welcoming. I totally overlooked the cobwebs all over the ceiling and focused on the sea of African violet pots on the kitchen window, living room shelves and just about every other flat surface in the house.
"These African violets are very easy to take care of," Mrs. McCreery said.
I wondered how I could possibly keep these prize posies alive, being that I could kill any plant short of crabgrass and sandspurs. But Mrs. McCreery assured me all I had to do was water them once a week and move them to various places once in a while. I tried hard to remember her instructions, nodding agreement with my head, while my mind was screaming 'No, no, no!' I imagined these kind missionaries returning from Texas to find all their violets and spiders dead, gone, kaput.
My husband, however, was not one to focus on minor details. He always saw the big picture. I on the other hand, could get upset at a tiny flea on my leg, a box of oatmeal infested with boll weevils, a wrinkle in an ironed shirt. My husband could not have cared less. Who could help not loving this big lug?
So, he did not seem to mind the webs and the spiders that went along with them. I imagined little leggy creatures crawling over our tiny infant boy as he slept in his crib at night. I would definitely have to get a sturdy mosquito net and secure it well.
Mrs. McCreery must have noticed my eyes glance at the ceiling.
"Oh, we never bother the spiders," she said. "They keep away the roaches and they are harmless." Her tone would convince the most avid arachnophobe that this made sense.
I tried to keep an expression of kind understanding on my face, but my mind raced to a closet door that looked like there might be a vacuum cleaner in hiding. Since the McCreerys would be in Texas, they would be too far away to find out that I sucked as many spiders and webs as I could into a vacuum cleaner bag, to be dumped out and possibly thrown in the lake.
After the McCreerys left and my husband and I were alone in the big house with the baby asleep in his walker, I tried to act like I liked this place. There were not many other options, since we had many expenses, and the rent was very low. My husband's new job was on commission, so the next money would depend on his sales ability. I wanted to be sure not to upset him or complain. How could he be an effective salesman with a nagging wife?
Weeks passed. My husband was away on the job all day. Since he had the car, I was alone with the baby and walked around the yard, checked out the well stocked library and tried to get closer to the lake. The McCreerys apparently liked the lake but must have been too busy to use it. There was no beach, just a lot of wet grass around it. I did not want to take the baby and his carriage too close to the water since we might get stuck in the mud or have some large, nasty fly or other critter bite us.
Although Florida is warm most of the year, it was becoming winter and the Florida cold is like no other. It seeps into your bones and does not leave. I have heard Vermont farmers complain when vacationing in Florida during a February cold snap that it never felt that cold back home. I believe them.
The resolution to the spiders and plant care came out of left field. Thanks to the unbearable cold of that winter in Sunny Florida, we decided to move to the small cottage next door. It was cozy, comfortable, had no spiders and did have a large, stone fireplace.
Mrs. McCreery must have prayed for me because one day a nice neighbor lady knocked on the cottage door and announced that she would take all the African Violet pots and take care of them in her home. She was a good friend of Mrs. McCreery and loved to garden. I gladly turned over the somewhat fading plants to this welcome neighbor.
Once in a while I would peek into the large house and noticed that most of the spiders had returned and the ceiling looked again like it had before I went on my vacuuming mission.
Being alone with the baby most of the day, I was bored and decided to paint some murals in the little cottage. I had not asked permission from the McCreerys, but somehow felt that they were so easy going about spiders, they might not fault a budding artist expressing herself.
The bathroom, the main room, the side room, the kitchen area - all soon displayed glorious frescoes, borders and scenes. My husband liked the effect and we loved to sit around at night by the fireplace and enjoyed being a family.
The Tampa job did not work out and we returned to our house in Sebring and tried to figure out what to do next and where to go.
One day a handwritten letter came with the name and return address of Mrs. McCreery. My stomach tightened. Were they going to sue us? Had they found out about me killing the spiders and almost killing the African violets? Did they have to remodel the entire cottage because of all that thick paint on the walls? Would kindly missionaries do this to us, to me?
Tears began flooding as I read the carefully written sentences. I don't remember the exact words, but Mrs. McCreery wanted to thank me for turning the cottage into a thing of beauty, something she and her husband admired very much. They even had neighbors come over to marvel at this artwork. I don't remember what else she said, but I do know she never mentioned spiders or African violets.
At the time I had no faith. This letter helped me a few years later to believe there really are true missionaries. They may travel to far off lands to make a difference. Or their mission may simply be to write a letter to a troubled young mother who would never forget the kindness.
I did not buy that African violet. I knew it would not last a week in my apartment. I did take a picture of it. And I did write some scribbles in honor of a missionary long gone now. I wonder if heaven has a shelf for African violets. I know they have no spiders. Or do they?