My Love Affair With Mildred

Years ago my upholstery shop also served as a home repair center and jammed storage room, the perfect haven for spiders, almost the only menu of the mud daubers who discovered the trove and moved in. I couldn’t bring myself to fumigate them, mainly because I was among them, so the whole bunch took full advantage of the impossibility of keeping them out.

This weakness involved me in a comedy. I worked while mud daubers whizzed by my ears, over my head, close under my nose and between my legs. They collided with me, dropping their mud balls or spiders on my clean upholstery. Meanwhile, two or three might be perched on an upturned chair, another sitting on my shoulder, another riding my arm, another my stomach, all of them twisting their button heads this way and that, watching me work. They seemed to be trying to understand this alien intruder who chose their quarters for such odd goings on. Changing shifts occasionally, they continued their miniature investigation until all seemed satisfied that my presence was permissible.

Meanwhile, the shocking news reached the dense spider population. Terrified, they cowered back into corners, built webs in obscure places, or left outright. The brave hangers-on who previously ambled nonchalantly across open spaces, now took exposes in a flash. Overcome with curiosity, I decided to research the subject. Our set of Encyclopedia Americana got caught in the overflow from our tight-quartered mobile home and joined me in the shop. My fingers ran along the spines, K… L…”M” for mud daubers. Grasping the volume, I… but it was stuck tight. A flashlight revealed that a huge mud dauber nest had it welded to the rear of the bookcase! It loosened stubbornly and I turned to my subject: “Any one of a number of nonsocial wasps of the genus Scelipheron of the family Sphecidae. The females work up ­mud with their saliva, forming a clay with which they build tubular cells which they attach, sometimes on top of one another, to the woodwork of buildings or to stone. When a tube is completed, they paralyze small spiders or insects with their stings and fill the tube with them. laying their eggs in the spiders so that the larvae will have fresh food. The males apparently die soon after mating.” (1961 ed.)

Interesting. I could have researched further, but since by now I was so personally involved with them, I wasn’t sure I wanted an entomologists cold explanations. Early death of the males meant my friends were all widowed mothers. Knowing who was building where, I doled out names for each . The one in the bookcase became Mildred. While doing paperwork at my makeshift desk, I sat squarely in her path to the window. “Buzzzzzz” right under my nose.” Whizzzzzz” past my ear; “peck” into the side of my head, dropping her mud ball on my paperwork. Honestly, it seemed she was distracting me every minute. Deciding to time her, I looked at my watch as she flitted by me and out the window for another mud ball. I looked again when she whizzed by my ear. Exactly sixty seconds. Again I checked her. Sixty seconds. Thinking it coincidental, I checked her several times that day, but each time at exactly fifty-nine seconds I could simply look up and, with absolute precision, she’d be there! I checked some of the others too, and though their trip lengths were individually different, each was equally precise to the second. Oh, how I envied such discipline!

Our crowded quarters meant courtesy was the order of the day. If I met Hazel or Maxine in the line of duty, a moment of hesitation came before courteously moving around each other. Often I would open the door to leave, only to meet Hazel face to face with no more than a few inches between our noses. Usually we would have the standard sidewalk mix-up, both of us moving left or right at the same time. We finally settled on a system where Hazel would hover, I would stop, then she would fly slowly and carefully around my head. She left no doubt in my mind that her unstartled movement as she passed my ear said “Thank you!”

A closed window created frenzied terror for other insects. They couldn’t cope with a see-but-can’t-go situation, so they would thrash themselves all day long on the glass and end up as carcasses on the ledge. But not Mildred; lighting gingerly on the glass, she would immediately head for the nearest hole. This led to my discovery that these shrewd little females could, apparently by sheer intuition, shortly find the most obscure hole in a closed room, even if it was the only hole!

Christine surely brought concern to her peers. By some freak of nature she failed to posses initial know-how for building a nest. Not that she didn’t have courage to try. Picking a grand spot for it in an obscure corner, she then proceeded to smear mud all over everything. She strung it up the wall, built silly nodular topsy-turvies, flattened some out like pancakes thrown against the wall, she even tried to build a bazaar little nest on the end of a string I left dangling from the wall! Evidently the rumors fairly buzzed about her. I think they took her aside and instructed her in the fine art of mud molding, because she finally got it together in late August and built a fine little pod, poked a few spiders in it, laid an egg, and left. I couldn’t fault her on such ineptness; that’s about how I started my upholstery business..

On to Cleo. If Christine was inept, Cleo was downright strange. Her flight was weird, nervous, even sounded different. High pitched, it matched her other eccentric behaviors. Once established, mud daubers always fly an indelible route, no matter how odd it might be, but Cleo’s was purely ridiculous, just no reason for it. She would whiz through the window with her mud ball (skimming my hair, kicking it up in her wake), fly to the middle of the shop, hover, settle to the floor like a tiny helicopter, then set out on foot! Although she had ample room to fly the distance, she ran at breakneck speed about ten feet across the floor and vanished under a chest of drawers. This antic never failed to put a smile on my face. During the dash she leaned sharply forward, her tiny legs pumping like pistons, wings held high in dignity as though she was a proper lady holding her skirts tidily aloft while she engaged in a somewhat undignified sport. Reappearing, she would immediately take flight, spiral upward, then dart out the window. This illogical absurdity went on all summer.

But there’s more on Cleo. Some sort of comical fly waited on a ledge for her to appear, then he launched himself like a shot, tailing her across the room about two inches directly behind her. When she hovered to the floor he landed on a shelf and politely waited for her exit. Again he tailed her, landed on the window ledge and waited for her return. It happened at great speed, for Cleo was no slowpoke. In fact, I had to be quick to observe it, usually held to only a glance; but when I was quick enough, there flew the little booger, zipping along behind as though water skiing on an invisible hair. Why? Beats me. I’ll bet an entomologist would say he was an egg thief or something. Maybe. But I like to think he was simply enthralled with her beauty, the most glorious creature he’d ever seen, and he simply couldn’t help himself. But it was a short-lived affair; he failed to show up one day. I figure he broke his neck chasing her.

By mid-October we had all seen a busy summer. A sad time as well, for mud daubers live only a few months. I was sitting at my desk when Mildred landed on the desk just inches in front of me. Quite naturally, as though she were a person, with chin-in-hand I began a line of small talk.
“How are you today, Mildred?”
“Weather’s getting colder, isn’t it?”
“You’re looking tired, Mildred; better slow down.”

During my discourse, her little head would turn toward me, then she would turn it the other way as though looking longingly out the window, toward me again, now back to the window, then back to me, as though listening to every word. Suddenly she settled her full body to the desk, breast to tail, stretched all of her legs straight out, and gently laid her head forward until her mouth rested on the desk. How very strange! There she lay totally relaxed while I rattled on. At first I thought it a little ill mannered, her going off to sleep while I was talking, but I decided not to disturb her, knowing that in those few moments we were savoring both fellowship and kinship, both enjoying a wonder of our native planet–the breath of life pulsing in each of us. But hers grew short. Then, as though sensing the end of our warm encounter, she quickly drew herself upright and flew out the window.

A few days later I found her little body on the floor by my desk. I picked her up and turned her over in my palm. What a beautiful, fantastically designed tiny creature! Yet she had seemed so personally close to my own existence.

In self-surprise, I realized that I loved these little friendly, obscure creatures. Suddenly I remembered Mildred’s apartment house. She had bequeathed to my trust her progeny, perpetuating our friendship! Excited, I collected all the nests I could find in hazardous places in the shop and stacked them together on a high shelf, forming an enormous condominium complex.

The following spring, out burst my little friends in fresh life, chasing spiders and filling my day with friendship and entertainment, all over again.
Me and my Mildred
You know, I would be remiss if I failed to point out the spiritual lesson in this true story. Acts 1:8 says, “…and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Some believe God Himself will mysteriously get this done in His own good time and Providence, forgetting that these words were His command to His church to get it done by going in the power of His Holy Spirit. If we name the name of Christ, we have a Divine commission He expects us to keep, even as we sit idle waiting for Him to do it. He waits for us to obey, as we wait for Him to do our job for us, instead of inviting Him into our lives to get it done through us.

The lesson is this: Inadequate as we all are in our own strength, God expects us to take Him into our separate, distinctive personalities and do the singular task of telling every willing soul on earth the glorious truth of Divine salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. No one is exempt. We may feel inept, like Christine, and smear our little ball of mud in crazy ways, or be like Cleo who wastes much time crawling when she could fly the distance. We might be like Hazel or Maxine, whose courtesy to a fault prevents them from forging ahead into the unknown, or like so many who sit on the pastor’s arm, or shoulder, or stomach, listening to and observing interminably as to who he is and what he’s about, but never putting what he says to use. Yes, and like Mildred, who glued the Book to the shelf, never finding out what’s in it.

But God made each of us separately, and He will judge us the same way. We used to sing an old Gospel song entitled, “Right In The Corner Where You Are.” May we all ask ourselves that question: What am I doing in my own little corner?
–DA

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