Spiders and Snakes

I’ve never been a fan of the snake. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a harmless little garter snake, slipping through the grass at the local park, or whether he’s one of The Ten Most Deadly Snakes behind solid, shatterproof glass (Let’s hope!) and on display at the distant reptilian center for tourists to gawk at.

Snakes + Mama = Screaming Panic Squared

I think it’s hereditary, as my own mother was more inclined to scream than grin at a snake, too. When I was barely as tall as the boy is now (you know, in the olden days), I’d been out riding my bicycle, and there in the driveway was a bullsnake, stretched out to his entire seventy-foot length and sunning himself.

(He may have been three feet long; he may have been seventy feet long. It’s irrelevant.)

Naturally, I nearly crashed my bike when I came upon him, and I’ve never pedaled a Huffy faster than I did that day, as I returned to the house to burst through our front door and scream out, “SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!”

My dad was where all dads disappear to for the day: Work.

My mom was home with no male help, so she did what any decent mother would do. She loaded my sister and me up into the old 1974 brown Ford truck, and we drove down the long, gravel driveway to see that the creature was still offensively blocking our only exit to town.

And my mother ran over him in that Ford truck without batting an eyelash. She simply smacked her foot down on the gas pedal a little harder than usual, and that was it. And then she did what any smart woman would do. She put the 1974 Ford truck in reverse, and she backed up over him. And then she shifted back to first gear, and she ran over him, going forward, a second time. And then we backed over him again. Our mother established a nice little rhythm of forward, backward, forward, backward for most of the morning, until my uncle, who lived next door, scared us all by knocking on the driver’s side window. I think my mom and Sister and I all jumped a little, but Mom managed to use the hand crank and get the window down. Clearly, it was a time before power windows were very common. (How on earth did we survive those times?)

Uncle stated, “I’ve been watching you for a few minutes now, and I’m fairly certain he’s dead. I’ve brought the shovel to dig him out of the driveway with.”

And with that, Mom backed the truck up, revealing a streak of something which had effectively been ground into the depths of the gravel driveway, and which took my uncle a considerable amount of time to dig back out.

My mom’s technique was quite effective. My dad, when he returned home that evening, was not necessarily pleased to discover that his once-full gas tank in the old Ford was nearly empty, and I believe that he may have kindly lectured my mom on the actual benefits of bullsnakes.

Crazy man. Snakes possess absolutely zero benefits.

Fast forward a few years, when I was mowing the gigantic acreage of the farm we lived on. I had a reel mower attached to the four-wheeler, and I was happily driving along, whacking grass all to pieces, when I got a whiff of a very unpleasant smell.

A stench, if you will.

It was enough to make me pull the neck of my T-shirt up over my nose, because I was certainly offended by the foul-smelling odor. I kept spinning around on the four-wheeler seat, trying to identify something (anything!) that could be putting off a stench like that, when suddenly I saw it.

There, wrapped up in the reels of the mower I was dragging behind me, was an enormous snake.

Or rather, parts of an enormous snake.

I reacted instantly. I jumped off the four-wheeler and ran, helter-skelter, with arms flailing all over the place, screaming blindly for help.

Our teenage neighbor boy, Jeff (who just happens to be the younger brother to Sister’s husband), was the only one on the farm who was home. He met me in the driveway, guessing that there’d been a major accident of some sort, and he was already mentally dialing 9-1-1. I couldn’t even speak when I found him; he had to grab me by my shoulders and shout, “What’s wrong?”

I gave him the only response I had.

“SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!”

Eventually, I calmed down enough to tell Jeff where the snake was at, and he hiked back to the field to see about removing it from the reels of my mower.

He came back with a bucket full of pieces, and he happily told me, “This fellow was dead long before you ran over him. I think someone else hit him with the tractor before you got to him. He’s already decaying. No wonder he smells so great.”

A dead snake. A snake which had been dead a long time before I had re-killed him with the mower. And he still managed to send me into a full-on dance of fear.

Not long after that, I was walking down the driveway when I saw my dad ricocheting around on a four-wheeler. He was spinning up ahead like a drunken top, cranking the four-wheeler in odd directions at break-neck speeds. Thinking that he’d officially gone mad, I skipped up and hollered out, “What on earth are you doing?”

As soon as he came to a complete stop, he pointed. Beneath the four-wheeler’s front tire, he had managed to pin a seventy-five foot long bullsnake. “Go get me a shovel!” he yelled. “I’ve transplanted this fellow three other times now, and this is the fourth time he’s crawled back in the yard, and he’s going to bring your mother to a premature death, so today’s his last day.”

I stood, glued and petrified to my spot in the driveway.

“A shovel, please!” my dad yelled out again.

“I can’t,” I whispered. And then I let it fly: “SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!”

My dad jumped off the four-wheeler and stomped to the barn himself, mumbling the entire way about how blessed he was to have fathered me, and how much I enriched his life. And that snake nearly drove me to a premature death, as I stood there, listening to him hiss and spit for all he was worth.

Aggression, I have seen you, and your name is Bullsnake Pinned By Four-Wheeler.

My dad made short work of him, collected the pieces, and stomped by me a second time. “I hate to kill a bullsnake, but this dummy refused to stay out of the yard.”

Clearly, my dad made the right choice. That dummy was big enough to have swallowed our beloved Rottweiler whole.

Eventually, I married Hubs, and he was well-informed of my snake paranoia before he recited some vows in front of a pastor and kissed me soundly in front of our guests. My only prenuptial agreement stated: “Hubs will be in charge of all snake removal, until death do we part.”

(I keep insisting to Hubs that my second prenuptial agreement stated that Hubs would rub my neck every single night, and that he obviously didn’t read both sections of the formalized document before he scrawled his illegible signature across the bottom of the page. Hubs allows me the first prenup; he laughs at the second one.)

Fast forward a whole bunch of years, and we were a blissfully happy couple with the cutest two-year-old this side of the great Mississippi River.

While I was working in the yard one afternoon, yanking pesky weeds out of my flower beds, the boy and our dog were playing in the yard beside me. Eventually, the two of them wandered to the far side of the yard, where our dog proceeded to bark enthusiastically and do the Excited Dog Dance, where she hopped up and down, like a grasshopper on a caffeine overload, all over the place. The boy kept lunging forward, trying to grab something out of the grass, and he was giggling hysterically. The only real memory that I possess of this event is that I wandered over to see what the two of them had discovered in our front yard.

Our front yard, in town. In a section of America with paved sidewalks and streets. Where evil wildlife shouldn’t be slithering.

There in our grass, trying to elude the dog and the chubby hand of an eager two-year-old, was a snake.

I couldn’t stop it. It was out before I knew what hit me.

“SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!” And I ran for the safety of our front porch; I’m pretty sure that I probably flapped my arms high above my head, too, and set an Olympic record for the fastest sprint ever clocked.

Hubs, who had been in the garage at the time, heard me yelling in indecipherable tongues and saw me streak by. Fearing a terrible accident, he came running out, and found that his wife (bless her!) had left his baby and the dog with a snake, while she ran for shelter herself.

Oh, people. I eventually reached the safety of our front porch and realized what I had done. I realized that our one and only baby was still in the yard with a snake, and I did race back, grab him by the skin on his neck somehow, and whisk him up into my arms, but let me tell you this: It took every ounce of willpower that I possessed to go back for that kid!

Hubs eventually caught the satanic little beast. He turned out to be a very baby bullsnake.

A very baby, a very lost, a very frightened, bullsnake.

Hubs threw him in a bucket, while I shouted out, “KILLIT!KILLIT!KILLIT!KILLIT!” and made plans to load the boy up into the truck and drive over him myself, exactly as I had been taught years and years earlier by a trained snake-killing professional.

Hubs announced, “I’m not killing a bullsnake!” And with that, he threw the snake-filled bucket into the back of the truck and drove the creature out to the edge of town, where he released him into the wild.

Crazy snake saver!

Our two-year-old recounted the incident for everyone he encountered for a week straight. “Mommy stared (scared)! ‘Nake (snake). Daddy put in butt-et (bucket)! ‘Nake (snake) go to dump! I wike (like) ‘nake (snake). Mommy no wike (like).”

(You’ll be happy to know that the boy later learned to correctly pronounce all of the alphabet.)

Now, fast forward to last summer, when I was the proud owner of the cutest eight-year-old this side of the great Mississippi River. It was summer vacation (much like it is now), and we had met some friends of ours (the boy’s buddy, Ben, and Ben’s mom, Bridget), and another friend of the boy’s (Gabriel) in the park.

The boys had been playing in the little creek nearby for quite some time, while the moms sat at the picnic table, sucking down lattes and chatting. The boys were wet. They were muddy. They were perfectly content. The moms were medicated with coffee, and we were equally as happy.

And Gabriel, bless his stinking heart, had not willingly entered into the concept of full disclosure when he arrived late at the park. He had a giant rubber snake wound up in the pocket of his safari vest.

Eventually, the boy snuck up behind me and dropped that rubber snake right onto the picnic table in front of me.

People, I could have won an Academy Award for my escape performance!

The picnic table was nearly flipped over. People were hit in the face with my flying elbows. And I let it loose: “SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!SNAKE!”

And the boy and Ben and Gabriel burst into peals of laughter, which had them dropping to the ground, where they held their sides and howled with merriment. Even their moms found a considerable amount of humor in what had just taken place.

Later in the summer last year, the boy discovered a tiny garter snake at that same park, while we were there with my parents. He happily snagged it by the tail, while I was shouting, “Throw it down! Throw it done!” My arms were flailing. I was a mess. And my dad (bless him!) picked up a Dixie cup, and he and the boy put the miniature snake in that, where they proceeded to study him and poke at him, and pet his little head. The boy pleaded to keep him; I distinctly remember my dad telling him, “I’m not sure your mom would actually go for that.”

Ya think? Ya really think that Mama might not go for that?

As I shivered and convulsed, the snake was eventually released back to the wilderness of the local park and the creek, and the boy and I came home. I had to listen to him say, at least twenty-seven times, “I sure wish that I could have kept that snake for a pet! Pa would have let me, Mom. I would have taken care of him! You wouldn’t have had to even touch him! I wish Dad had been there! Dad and Pa would both have let me keep that snake!”

Dear Boy,
Let me reiterate this. Never, while I have breath left in my body, will we willingly have a snake residing with us. This is 3,450% non-negotiable. I will not budge on this.
Love you,
Mama

Now, knowing all of this back history, imagine my comfort level as we took the boy to the great reptilian display center on our mini vacation this past weekend. I struggled with some of the snakes, and found some comfort in knowing that they were behind unbreakable, shatter-resistant glass. Hubs and the boy would squat down in front of every glass case and shout out, “Mom! Two drops of this snake’s venom will kill twenty adult men!”

Nice.

I was mentally retreating to my happy place and thanking the good Lord above for being kind enough to have not placed me in Africa, where this snake lives, but I yanked on my big girl skirt and stuck it out, for the boy. I had my brave face on. Just so long as none of the snakes were actually OUT of their display cases, I was doing fine.

Draw breath in through the nose; out through the mouth.

On the flip side of my enormous dislike for snakes, the boy hates, loathes and despises spiders. He cannot stand them, in any form, size or shape. He will not stomp on them, even when they are the size of a grain of rice. He runs in retreat, and yells out for someone else to crush the arachnid with the bottom of a Nike. This is the same boy who begs to keep a snake in his room for a pet.

Once, as I was pinching a spider in the folds of some Kleenex, I asked the boy, “Honey, what are you going to do when you’re old and married, and your wife is screaming because there’s a spider in the house, and neither one of you can squash it?”

And the boy, without batting an eye, replied, “I’ll call Daddy, and he’ll come right over and kill it for us.”

At this reptilian display center this past weekend, there was an entire section dedicated to tarantulas and black widows and great-beastly-hairy things with eight legs. They were all encased in shatterproof glass cages. Untouchable. Inescapable.

And our boy (bless his heart), threw the hood of his Abercrombie sweatshirt over his head when we walked by them, and refused (flat-out REFUSED!) to look at them. He told us, “I’d rather sit in a cage and pet a cobra than touch a tarantula.”

He’s in the gifted programs at school, people. I’m not sure that this was a logical comment for him to have made, but it is how he feels.

Later, after we’d toured the center and admired (yeah, right!) all the creatures in captivity there, we stopped at the gift shop.

The boy was bent over a big bin, filled with tiny, two-inch-long plastic cobras. Itty-bitty toy snakes. He was happily digging through the entire bin, trying to decide which nearly microscopic bit of plastic was painted exactly like a genuine king cobra should be.

Meanwhile, Hubs had found a bin in the gift shop filled with life-size, life-like, very-fuzzy, plastic tarantulas. He quietly picked one up and handed it to me. I needed no further encouragement.

I silently walked over to the boy, and I dropped that toy spider right on top of his hands, while he was digging through the itty-bitty snakes.

We almost needed a call to 9-1-1. The plastic spider was flung against the pane of a window eighteen feet away, and the boy screamed loud enough to gather the attention of several other tourists. Tourists who whispered to themselves, “Look at those terrible parents, scaring their boy with a toy spider!”

Did I feel badly about this?

Well, sort of.

But listen! He had it coming!

Dear Boy,
Remember last summer, when you dropped that rubber snake onto the picnic table in front of me? And remember how you laughed at me, and nearly wet your drawers in merriment over my reaction? Well, consider us even now, Boy.
I love you,
Mama

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