Serpentine Part One ( A Vignette) By Iva Lawson
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Rated "G" by the Author.
When we are young and impetuous, our parents curse us with "I hope you have two more just like you." The curse is a powerful one that works every time!
On a hot and muggy July day around in the afternoon, the phone on my desk rang.“B&W Diagnostics, this is Gail.”
It was my sitter, Mrs. Watkins.She lived a half-mile from our house and was the mother to my childhood friend Mandy, and was frantic on the phone.“Gail?Gail!Honey, I can’t keep this boy if he gon’ be tryin’ to catch snakes, now!JASON!NO!”She was screaming at my youngest that apparently was doing a bit of wildlife study in her back yard.
“Tell him I’m on the phone, Mrs. Watkins, and that I need to talk to him.”
Mrs. Watkins put the phone down on her kitchen counter and I heard her back door slam and her voice screaming my inquisitive child’s name.Jason was 8 years old and had always been fascinated by flora and fauna, with particular emphasis on the fauna.Lizards, bugs, worms and anything else the good Lord created that was alive and squirmy, Jason had no qualms about inspecting it up close.
“Mama?”Jason answered the phone out of breath.“Hey, son.What are you doing to Mrs. Watkins?She sounds as if she’s about to have a heart attack.”
“I’m just playin’, Mama.”
“OK, I know you are playing, but she says you are playing with a snake.Is that the case?”Two seconds of silence followed this inquiry.Jason took a deep breath and sighed, “Well, yeah, Mama.I just wanted to see if I could catch it.It was so cool!It was black, but in the sun, it was shiny and purple and green and red.I wanted to see why.”
Smiling to myself, I said, “Yes, son. I know.That indigo effect is caused by the way the snake’s scales reflect sunlight.But, Jason, most people are afraid of snakes.Mrs. Watkins is one of those people.Please don’t try to catch snakes in her yard, OK?”
“OK, Mama. I won’t.”
As I prepared to ask him to put Mrs. Watkins back on the line, it occurred to me that I should probably cover another topic.“Jason, remember that she may not like bugs and spiders or lizards either.”
“Yes, Mama, I’ll remember.”
“Good.Now, put Mrs. Watkins back on the phone.”I chuckled as I heard Mrs. Watkins returning.“Whoooo, Lawd Jesus.This boy is som’n else!Tryin’ to catch a black snake.Boy, dontchu know that thang will bite you?Lawd have mercy.”
“Mrs. Watkins?I think I handled it.You shouldn’t have any more problems with Jason catching things.”She was still winded and asked, “Chile, ain’t you skurr’d dis boy gonna mess around and pick up somethin’ das gonna hurt him one day?”
“I try not to think about it, Mrs. Watkins.I teach him what’s dangerous and what’s poisonous, and the rest I put in God’s hands.”
“Whooo, yes, Lawd!The way this youngun’ was chasing that thang, he won’t far from catching it and had me skurr’d half to death.I don’t want dat baby to git bit by no snake. Well, I’ll see you after while, honey.”I placed the receiver back into the phone’s cradle with a feeling of déja vu.
Our current home was in the same location as the farm house I grew up in.The farm sat mid-way a loop road about 10 miles outside of the sleepy Carolina town I called home.When I was Jason’s age, the road we lived on was unpaved.I had to walk the half-mile to the main road every day to catch the bus to school and to get home in the afternoon.The Watkins’ had not yet moved onto the loop road so the walk home was a solitary one.There were trees and flowers to explore along the way and many times it took twice the normal time for me to reach the front door of Daddy’s farm house.
In the spring, that walk was an adventure every afternoon.Warm temperatures and low humidity made for pretty flowers and wildlife to inspect up close.One afternoon in mid-May I encountered a hog-nosed snake.Brown and dusty like the gravel road it lay on, I almost stepped on it.It was young; perhaps only 12 inches long and I leaned down to study it for a bit.The notion that the snake would stay put long enough for me to run home and get a jar seemed outlandish, but I gambled and took off for the house as fast as my Keds would carry me.
I ran inside and located an empty mayonnaise jar.I used the ice pick to poke a hole in the lid and high-tailed it back up the road.I was feeling pretty confident because no cars had passed in the four minutes or so it took me to make my round trip.Sure enough, the little snake was still curled up in the gravel.
I unscrewed the lid to the jar and placed it on its side next to the snake and began talking to it.“Come on, little fella.Wake up.I’ll take you home and get you some nice crickets to eat and a rock to lay on.”The snake didn’t budge, so I figured I’d better help it along.I poked it with the lid, it stirred and as it stretched out and began to run, I scooped it up and popped the lid on, satisfied with myself.I would name him Sam.
Sam wasn’t at all happy with the jar.He was puffing and with each puff was growing larger and spreading himself out against the jar’s surface, curling and hissing all the way.“It’s OK, Sam.I got a nice big gallon jar just the right size for you to stretch out in.”I was looking for flat rocks on the roadside as I walked back to the house with my prize.
Crossing the front lawn, I heard Daddy’s truck coming down the road and I couldn’t wait to show off my new friend.In a cloud of dust, Daddy directed his pickup to the back of the house and pulled it into the shed.With his lunch pail, jacket and a newspaper in hand, he slammed the truck door.“Whatcha got there, Gail-Gal?”
“Look, Daddy.His name is Sam.”My father was never very animated.His reactions were cool and responses always smooth.I was expecting a pat on the head and advice on how to care for my new pet.Instead, I got a look of amazement.Studying the jar through his bifocals was a sure-fire clue that he did not approve.His mouth opened as if to say something and he only responded with, “Hmph.”He carefully took the jar from me and inspected the hissing contents. “Gail, honey, you know you got a Spreading Adder here, dontcha?”These thangs is poisonous.I can’t let you keep this rascal in the house.If you get bit, you might get sick and die.We can’t have that.”
“But Dad-eeeeee!”I whined.“No, baby-girl.This ain’t nothing to play with.Look at him.He ain’t happy in this here jar.I’ll just hold onto it and let him go in the woods where he’ll be happy.”Daddy sat the jar on the shelf in the shed and we walked into the house.
I had seen how Daddy dealt with serpents.I knew Sam was not going to survive my father’s release process.My suspicious were confirmed when I heard the crunch of the jar breaking later that afternoon and saw Daddy walking back to the house from the barn with the axe in his hand.
Perhaps it’s true that what goes around comes around.Your parents tell you that above all they hope you have children one day so they can repay you for all the grief you caused them.Surely, there is a God who answers the prayers of parents.