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My Hero, The Black Widow Catcher

My Hero, The Black Widow Catcher.

Just before my mom died in 1967 my father came to my first grade class for Career Day.  His mission?  To talk about being a doctor in the Navy.   Unfortunately, a black widow spider upstaged him.  Read on to find out how Dad handled it.

Mrs. Lonzo, my first grade teacher, was standing in front of our class.

“Today we’re going to have a special guest, class. Cheri’s father is coming to talk to us, about what it’s like to be a doctor.”

My classmates turned their heads and looked at me. I was beaming and jumping in my seat.  My dad was stopping by my classroom before going to the Navy Hospital.   When he arrived, I ran to him and wrapped my arms around his thighs, and he hugged me back.  Dad was wearing his black Navy officer’s uniform, and his crew cut accentuated his symmetrical facial features.    His demeanor was professional and serious, but he had an easy smile for the teacher and reached his arm out to shake her hand.  I was so proud.  My dad was handsome, nice and friendly.  He stood in front of the room and faced us, holding his hat.

There was a long pause as my father shifted his weight and looked at us, twenty expectant six-year olds.  He didn’t know what to say!  He cleared his throat and said, “Well children, what would you like to know about being a Navy doctor?”

Dad doesn’t like this.  He’s nervous!

Then someone in the back of the room yelled, “Look! A spider!”

All heads turned around.  A boy was pointing at the floor.  The black spider was crawling up the wall, and we all squealed with fear.

“It’s okay, children,” Mrs. Lonzo said. “We’ll catch it.”

A heavy-set woman of about fifty, Mrs. Lonzo looked at my Dad with a pleading look.  Obviously she wasn’t a spider fan.

“Can you find me a jar?”  my Dad asked her.

“I think so,” she said.  She hurried out of the room.

A moment later, with glass jar in one hand, a lid in the other, my dad headed toward the back of the room.

“Stay in your seats, children,” Mrs. Lonzo said.

We strained our necks as my Dad coaxed the spider into the jar, then screwed the lid on top.

“It’s a Black Widow,” he announced. “Poisonous.  You can tell it’s a Black Widow because it has a red hour-glass shaped mark on its belly. “

“How come it’s called a Black Widow?” one student asked.

My dad hesitated, not sure if he should answer this.  He looked at Mrs. Lonzo, and she nodded.   Dad took a deep breath, then explained, “Because after the female spider mates to make babies, she eats the male spider.”

The children broke into squeals.  Everyone was smiling and saying “Ewwwww!”  Kids were looking at each other, nodding and making grimacing faces.

Dad turned to Mrs. Lonzo.  “Is it alright if I pass the jar so the children can see it up close?”

“Of course,” she replied.

Dad handed the jar to the first child in the right row.   The boy peered inside the jar.  Several students leaned out of their desks to sneak a peek.

For the next fifteen minutes my Dad walked around the room overseeing the passing of the Black Widow.   Then Mrs. Lonzo said, “Well, it’s a good thing Cheri’s Dad was here to save us from the poisonous spider.   Unfortunately Dr. Gibbs cannot stay any longer to tell us about being a Navy Doctor.   He needs to get back to work.  Say thank you to Dr. Gibbs, children.”

Our entire class said, in a chorus of young voices, “Thank you Dr. Gibbs!”

Benjamin F. Gibbs, Jr.
My Dad.

My father never got a chance to talk about being a doctor, but it was okay.    He came over and gave me a hug and a kiss on my head.

“Bye Dad,”   I said.

“Bye Sweetheart.”  Then he walked toward the classroom door.

Just as he was about to leave, he turned and faced the class one last time, brought his right arm to the bill of his hat with his fingers pressed stiffly together, and saluted.  Then he turned on his heels in an about-face, and walked out of the classroom.

I felt my heart would burst because I was so proud of my father, the Black Widow Catcher.

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