I cried when the spider died in Charlotte’s Web. It was 1983, Summer, kindergarten, in one of those long weatherboard classrooms with the ceiling fans groaning overhead. All us kids were scattered over the bright green carpet, lying on stomachs, propped up on elbows, never comfortable in those horrible cotton uniforms. We were watching the animated movie version of the book.
Mum taught Year 2 at the same school, and I tried to avoid her because I was a dorky little teacher’s pet as it was, if the kids knew my mum was a teacher too, I’d get thumped in the playground. So when I saw her come into the classroom that day, my heart sank and I looked for a desk to hide under.
She sat down on a chair next to my teacher and they whispered. Then, horror of horrors, I got called over. All those eyes watching me as I picked my way through the little bodies on the floor.
Mum’s eyes were all red and puffy. I wondered what was wrong. She pulled me up onto her lap and I squirmed with embarrassment.
Luckily the movie got really good then, I think Wilbur won the prize at the fair, so everyone stopped watching me.
“What’s wrong Mum?”
She was all teary again. “Ma died.”
Ma was her grandmother, on her father’s side. I didn’t remember much except her being tall with big brown eyes, and there were scones and red jam for afternoon tea in a big grey house with a bullnose verandah.
I also remembered my mum loved her to bits, and she would always say to me, “You have brown eyes and red hair just like Ma, I always wanted to have a daughter with brown eyes and red hair.” Even now when I’m feeling rejected or pathetic or ugly or just not good about me, she’ll say with misty eyes that she always wanted a daughter that looked just the way I do. Hurrah, the self-esteem is patched up again!
We just sat there watching the movie. I stayed perched on her lap and I tried to figure out what this whole Ma Died thing meant. I forgot about all the kids on the floor. Mum was crying so I started crying, it seemed the thing to do. I felt sad but didn’t quite know why. Then Charlotte A. Cavatica the spider died, and I felt I really had something to feel sad about now, so I cried even harder.