By Rick Strongitharm
In August of 1962, Marilyn Monroe died, Pete Best was fired and replaced by Ringo Starr as the Beatles drummer, and my friend, Jimmy Orr, brought smallpox to Canada. Jimmy was 14 years old. He was diagnosed with smallpox after his family of 9 arrived in Toronto from Brazil.
The Orr family had flown from Brazil to New York City and then traveled to Toronto by train. After the diagnosis was made, it was necessary to do contact tracing to find everyone with whom the 9 Orrs had interacted on their 10,000 mile trip. That included fellow plane and train passengers and even taxi drivers. The tracing was done with 1962 technology.
Jimmy was Canada’s last case of smallpox.
In 1963, Jimmy’s family was back in Brazil and Jimmy was a classmate of mine at a school located on the bank of the Amazon River surrounded by jungle. The school was American and was populated by the sons and daughters of missionaries. The compound was without infrastructure; no running water other than the river; no plumbing, only outhouses and no electricity, just kerosene lamps and propane fueled appliances.
Nevertheless, I can’t imagine a more exciting place to spend our high school years. Our myriad adventures were highlighted by camping in the jungle with troops of howler monkeys passing through the trees overhead, free diving in a sunken Peruvian freighter and visiting a lighthouse on a sandbar in middle of the ten mile wide river for a barbecue.
One of our favorite activities was tree climbing. The jungle was very hilly. We would look for the tallest tree on the highest hill, and figure out how to climb it. Usually this meant climbing smaller trees and working our way from tree to tree until we were able to peek out over the jungle canopy sixty or seventy feet above the ground. We never even considered the snakes and poisonous insects, let alone the consequences of falling.
That brings us to the very large spider. Jimmy and I were returning home from some adventure, walking along a narrow path. Each of us carried a machete. I was walking in front and didn’t see the eight legged monster, but I had almost stepped on it. It jumped away from me and that’s when Jimmy saw it. We managed to get it back to our compound in one piece. Luckily we got a couple of pictures before ants destroyed it. If you aren’t too squeamish, scroll down see two of the photos the beast.