The year was 1969, my second year of teaching with the North York Board of Education, I had been promoted from a portable to an actual classroom inside the school. On the day the miracle took place, I was reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to my Grade Five class. A story about a young girl’s love and a pig and a spider and a rat and life on a farm. And when I finished the story, I burst into tears.
The whole class gathered around me, crying too. “It’s OK Mr. Crease. It’s OK.” And what they were really saying was, it’s OK for a teacher to be real to care to show genuine love to cry to smile to get ticked off to be human. It’s OK Mr. Crease.
Charlotte’s Web is really a story about friendship and life. We live and grow and die and maybe along the way we get to have a friend. Now, keep in mind that I was not a big fan of spiders or rats at the time I started reading this story to my class. By the time I burst into tears I was converted. Spoiler alert: as all pregnant spiders do, Charlotte the spider lays her egg sack and dies after having saved her humble friend Wilbur the spring pig with her eloquent web spinning.
When I cried in front of my students that day, it confirmed both the power of story and the power of friendship. As E.B. White wrote at the conclusion of the story, “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
My salary that year was just under $5000, so I was living in an affordable little basement apartment near the school. Later that fall, a spider laid an egg sack on the side door of the house where I was staying. I protected it. One warm morning in the spring as I was leaving for school, I checked on the egg sack and noticed it was vibrating and little spiders were starting to crawl out. I ran back into the house and called Mrs. Besso in the school office. “Please have someone cover my first class, I’m having babies!” I ran back outside and watched.
I watched for over an hour as hundreds of tiny spiders sent their silks into the air and floated away just like in the story. It was all true. They were little aerialists like Charlotte and her children. I remember calling out, “No, don’t leave!” But soon they had all gone and I had to go to work. My Principal forgave me. He thought it was “the teachable moment” and the class ran with it for the rest of the day – Charlotte and Wilbur and even Templeton the rat became their heroes – be a good friend and a good writer.
A few weeks later as I was checking out the garden at the back of the house, I noticed several little spider webs. Just like in the story, a few had stayed at home to keep me company.
At the end of a movie based on the book, Sarah McLachlan sings a beautiful song that captures the wonder of it all as only her voice could bring to life:
It’s just another ordinary miracle today.
The way I see it.
Skid Crease, storyteller