No, that title wasn’t a typo for ‘guano.’ I did mean ‘gusano,’ or ‘caterpillar’ in Spanish. My mum has a strong fear of the crawling beasties, and does a lively rendition of the tyburn jig, waving her arms to the skies in supplication, introducing my two-year old niece to some choice sailors’ words, and stomping loudly to exorcise evil spirits, small children, and of course, the cursed worms.
I would have never know that my mother had a fear of gusanos and other such crawlies back when I was growing up. In fact, I used to pick up gusanos, pet them, and put them into jars to see if they would cocoon themselves and turn into moths or butterflies in a couple of weeks. My mother always patiently oohed and aahed over the bugs, provide me with the requisite mason jar, and encourage me to put some twigs, leaves, and grasses into the jar so the gusano could crawl around, eat, and do whatever gusanos do best. Did they ever pupate? Sometimes, well, rarely. It was exciting to watch, having no real concept of time back then.
And it wasn’t just gusanos that we’d collect. Oh no. My brother and I would scoop up frogs eggs from large puddles, catch moths and butterflies, jar bumblebees and snails (not together), pick inch worms from their threads, and generally have a grand old time catching bugs.
My mother has an intense dislike of almost all of the above: frogs are disgusting, snails revolting, and moths and butterflies the single most petrifying set of creatures she’s ever had the misfortune of coming across in this world (a walk-through butterfly exhibit at a zoo is my mother’s worst nightmare; this phobia is traced to her childhood in Venezuela when my mother’s nurse would tell her that the local moths and butterflies, which were Very Large, were the souls of the dead. This scientific explanation obviously resonated).
My brother absorbed this observation of my mother encouraging us to be junior entomologists and has now passed on the like to his daughter.
The other day, a some sort of large flying creature, possibly a mayfly, was flitting around their house, and the little one was scared of the beastie. My brother, wanting to show her that the insect was harmless, captured the bug in a jar and held it down (the niece is only two years old, so holding the jar up would be difficult for her to see) for her. After quieting her apprehensions that the creature was not going to eat her, she eventually wound up holding the jar, observing the insect, and grew to love it. She started to pet the top of the jar, like she would the dog’s head. She wouldn’t put the jar down, and insisted that the jar and co. be brought to Costco on their shopping trip.
So my brother put some twigs, leaves, and grasses into the jar, so the poor creature inside had something to eat, and my niece had a new pet.
I was thinking about this whole episode today as I was holding the phone away from my ear as my mother had just spotted some sort of gusano traipsing around her kitchen while we were chatting. I’m glad she never showed that fear to us, and I’m glad that she put on a brave face for our sakes, so that we wouldn’t be afraid of insects and frogs and other such things that are often the root of phobias, because now my little niece will have the joy of collecting bugs and petting gusanos.