Family

Why My Grandmother Held Large Spiders With Her Bare Hands

Photo: Anton Darius, Michael Schaffler | Unsplash, Childhood Photo Courtesy of Author  
Childhood photo of author, mature hand reaching for spider

My Grandma Emma lived a long life, and in the time I spent with her, there were moments when she would do something that would either amuse me or irritate me. The latter happened during a family trip to the Philippines in 1982.

Both my grandparents lived in the Philippines their entire lives and never left the country. My parents were also born there but came to the US and met here, where I was born and raised. Frequent trips to their homeland to visit family were a huge part of my life growing up. As was common during our trips there, our itinerary always included visiting the cemetery to pay our respects to loved ones who have passed on.

On one of our first few days there, we visited the family plot; I was with my Grandma Emma, Grandpa William, and both my parents. During the visit, my grandparents reminded me who each relative was and even shared a few humorous stories about each person.

After placing some flowers on the headstones and taking a few pictures, it was time to leave.

As we approached the entrance, we saw an older man standing near the fenced area, waving his left hand at us while holding a long wooden stick with his right. As we approached him, my Grandpa William whispered to me and told me his name was “Noche,” he lived alone in a small cottage on the cemetery grounds, working as a caretaker there for the past forty years. He knew every regular visitor by name since he had worked there for so long. I was astonished that anyone would live at the cemetery.

He and my mom acknowledged one another and made the usual small talk. Soon, all the adults were in deep conversation, and for a bored seven-year-old, it was as if each minute dragged slower and slower.

I noticed that as Noche would talk, he would sometimes use the stick he held to point at various spots in the cemetery. So, to keep myself occupied, I invented a game; wherever he would point that stick, I would look in that direction. So, if he pointed the stick to the left, my eyes, and head would look in that direction.

I don’t remember what he was referring to; I just remember that Noche pointed the stick above his head at the top of the gated entrance, and when I followed the stick and looked up, that’s when I saw it.

Photo: Joanna Posiak/Shutterstock

In the very middle of a very wide web was a giant black spider with long legs. The size of it was slightly larger than a quarter but smaller than a Kennedy half-dollar.

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Amazed at the size of the spider and without even thinking, I just blurted out and said, “Look at that big black spider!”

Everyone paused and looked at the spider, but they said nothing. They just continued talking like it was no big deal. I just assumed that since they grew up there, they were used to seeing those types of spiders.

Noche continued to talk, and as he spoke, he positioned himself directly underneath the spider. Holding his stick, he brought it closer to the web, where I assumed he would tear it down and kill its resident.

Seeing what he was about to do, Grandma Emma walked toward him and held her hands up to signal not to kill it. She instructed him to use the stick to lure the spider onto it and then pass it to her.

She wanted him to do what?

I couldn’t believe it.

Why did she want to hold it?

Without taking my eyes off my grandmother, I leaned over to my mom, who was standing beside me, and asked why my grandmother wanted to hold the spider.

“Grandma believes if you hold a spider and find a ‘number’ on its body, it means that the spider is lucky and will bring good luck to the person who holds it and discovers it. Kind of like when you look at your hand and see an ‘M.” She’s been doing that since I can remember. It’s an old superstition from the town she grew up in and just another one of her weird quirks. Don’t mind her.”

Quickly changing the subject, my mom turned to my dad and reminded him of our itinerary for the rest of the day.

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By now, Noche had lured the spider into crawling onto the stick and was slowly passing the stick in Grandma Emma’s direction.

She allowed the spider to crawl onto the palm of her bare hands. I was amazed at how fearless she was. Using her fingers, she held it gently enough so she wouldn’t crush it but just firm enough so it could stay still and not escape. She then began her inspection of the spider, hoping to find a number. I stood watching her with the most horrific look on my face.

My grandfather said it was time to go because we had other relatives to visit. We said our goodbyes to Noche and began walking back to the car when I noticed that Grandma Emma was still holding the spider.

I had no doubt she was planning on taking it into the car with her to continue her search, and I had to stop it.

“Mom! Grandma is taking the spider with her! Don’t let her bring it into the car!”

My mother didn’t hesitate. “Mom, would you please toss that thing? Mark’s scared of it!”

Grandpa William, who by now was visibly irritated by what she was doing, turned toward her direction and scolded her. “Don’t you know there are some very poisonous spiders?”

Grandma Emma, who was too engrossed in finding this elusive number on the spider, didn't respond. Standing still, she used her hands to flip the body back and forth, inspecting even the legs. After a few more seconds, everyone, including my dad and Noche, told her to get rid of it.

She wasn’t finished, but she reluctantly shook her head and, without saying a word, tossed it to the ground like tossing a piece of garbage. I watched as it fell to the ground and crawled away. I shivered, but I was relieved.

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Everyone shook their head and got into the car.

Photo: A visit to the cemetery in 1982. Putting my hands on my waist and posing like that was Grandma Emma’s idea. It was this same day that she would hold the spider. /Author

Moments later, we drove home with my grandfather and dad in the front; I sat in the back, seated between my mom and grandmother. Grandma Emma sat quietly for a few minutes, staring straight ahead without saying a word. I could see an evident disappointment on her face.

Suddenly, she said, “I didn’t find a number.”

No one in the car responded; with a deep sigh, I turned my head and looked toward the direction of my mom’s window. I didn’t look or speak to my grandma for the rest of the car ride home.

Whenever I remember this incident, I no longer feel infuriated like I did as a seven-year-old boy; I’m just more amused at my grandmother’s antics and can’t help but smile. Many of her old superstitions did sound foolish, but there might have been some truth to them.

Grandma Emma would go on to live to be 101 years old. She passed in 2017, two months shy of her 102nd birthday. My grandparents were happily married for 57 years until my grandfather’s passing. They had five children. 19 grandchildren. 24 great-grandchildren.

At her funeral, many spoke about her being fortunate to have a vast family and experience a long life. They attributed those blessings to her carefree ways and constant prayers.

Me? In the 100 years she lived on this earth, she must have held countless spiders and been able to find a number of them. It had to be more than once given all her good fortune in life.

Author’s note: This is a true superstition that was popular in the town my grandmother grew up in. For your safety, I highly recommend you not hold and inspect any spiders for good luck.

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Mark Baquiran is a writer whose work has been published in Medium. A natural storyteller, he is passionate about sharing inspiring, unique, and fascinating anecdotes.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.