The Big Bluff

From my 8th to 13th birthdays — in the 1920s — my family lived in a hillside cottage in Beechwood Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, and hiking those hills was a chief recreation for kids my age.

One day four of us were ambling along a street high above the homes in the canyon, where there was only one house — an ancient, ramshackle shack perched about two-dozen rickety wooden steps above the street.

Crossing the street below this hovel was an impressively large tarantula, a sight that induced a high degree of excitement among us pre-teens. From a safe distance, we threw rocks at the spider, none hitting it, but our shouts brought out the woman who lived in the shack, an aged crone (we would have estimated her age as 120 — she may have been half that) who was carrying the largest pistol any of us had ever seen.

She limped down the dangerous stairs, approached the tarantula, pointed the enormous revolver at it and cried, “Go away! Shoo! Go away!”

We youngsters, eager to see and hear the pistol fired, yelled, “Shoot it! Kill him! Shoot him!” repeatedly, to no avail.

She continued threatening the animal with her huge weapon, and calling on it to “go away,” but she didn’t fire the gun.

The tarantula continued its leisurely stroll across the street and disappeared into a clump of bushes, to the very great disappointment of the juvenile audience.

“Why didn’t you shoot it?” we wanted to know.

“Oh,” she replied, “the gun isn’t loaded. I just keep it to scare away burglars.”

And she laboriously climbed the stairs, gave us a farewell wave, and her front door closed behind her.

Grant Shepard lives in Medford.

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