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Summer of Snakes

February 3, 2013

This is another excerpt from my first book, From Sharecropper’s Son to Tracking Missiles.” The story is about living where we had a lot snakes during the summer of 1946.

The war was over and Dad knew there would be cutbacks in the need for firefighters at Carswell. When school was out at the end of my 7th grade year, we moved east of Millsap near Uncle Clarence. He let us live rent-free in an old house about half-mile east of his farm. The house was a large two-rooms downstairs house with a cooking shed built on the back. The house also had an upstairs, but Uncle Clarence had stuff stored there, so we did not use that. There was no electricity. Mom cooked with kerosene (we called it coal oil). There was a large fireplace built at each end of the house. The fireplace chimneys had a slight lean away from the house, leaving a small crack between the wood of the house and the stones of the fireplace.

After unloading the trailer when we moved in, I was hot and sweaty. I put on a pair of cut-off jeans and ran about a quarter-mile from the house to a cattle tank to go swimming. As I reached the top of the dirt dam, I came to an abrupt stop and my heart tried to leap out of my mouth. There were huge water moccasins writhing around on the dam next to the water. Those were the ugliest snakes that I had ever seen.

I backed away and ran back to tell Dad. We walked down and he looked at them. He told me to not tell the girls (Mom and my sisters) because he didn’t want to scare them. He told me that the water moccasins would not come near the house, because there was no water anywhere around. Looking back now, I wonder how the snakes got to the pond of water, if not by crawling across the land.

There was not an outhouse. Dad fixed up an area in an old log barn behind the house to use as an outhouse. Several times I would be sitting in that old barn, when I would see a snake crawling on a log across the room from me. I did not linger long after seeing a snake. The snakes that I saw were what we called chicken snakes. Now I know they were harmless, but could sure make a person hurt themselves.

We had a well next to the house where we drew water for drinking, cooking and bathing. One day Mom heard a splash in the well as she drew a bucket of water. She came in and got a flashlight to try and see down in the well. The flashlight was not powerful enough to see the water about 10 feet down. She got a mirror from in the house and reflected the sunlight down into the well and there was a snake swimming in the well. It had probably fallen in and could not get out. The bucket apparently caught the snake as Mom drew water and fell off causing her to hear the splash. Mom would not let us drink water from the well with the snake in the well.

For the next week or two I hauled a five-gallon milk can in my wagon about a half-mile from our house to my uncle’s house for water a couple of times a day. I would put the can in my wagon and pull it down the road. At Uncle Clarence’s I would draw water from his well and fill the milk can.

While there, I usually visited with Papa. Papa was living in a little one-room house out by the road in front of Uncle Clarence’s. It was always fun to visit with Papa and listen to his stories. I wish I had written them down. I have forgotten many of the stories he told.

Papa chewed tobacco and smoked a pipe. One time sitting out in the shade, he gave me a chaw. I nearly got sick and never again tried to chew tobacco. Papa just laughed about it. He knew what he was doing. He told me it was better to not tell Mom.

After a couple of weeks of hauling water, Mom and I decided to do something about that snake. We tied a limb to the bucket and rope. I then dropped the bucket and limb down the well. The snake wrapped around that limb and I pulled it out of the well. Mom killed it as it crawled away because she always killed any snake that she saw.

Mom and Dad slept in a bed next to the window in the bedroom. My sisters and baby brother slept in another bed in that room. I slept on a bed on the front porch of the house right under the window. One night, I woke up with Dad screaming, “Rattlesnake!!” Mom had heard a noise and Dad aimed a flashlight toward the noise and saw a snake crawling along a shelf on the wall next to the fireplace.

About that time it apparently made some paper flutter or something. Dad thought it was a rattle. He was standing on the floor when it sounded like a rattle. Dad screamed “Rattlesnake” and jumped into the middle of the bed. By the time Dad shined the flashlight back on the shelf, the snake was gone. It had apparently crawled back outside through a crack by the chimney.

I asked what was wrong and Dad told me to not move, to stay in the bed. I said, “I’m coming inside.” Dad said, “No, you stay outside.” Now that was scary, thinking that a rattlesnake had been loose in the house and was now outside. I was outside on the porch and didn’t sleep very well the rest of the night.

We never knew for sure what that snake was, but it was probably just a bull snake. They look very much like a rattlesnake and can shake their tail just like one. If its tail hit some paper, the paper may have sounded something like a rattle. The snake probably got in where the fireplace chimney was beginning to lean away from the house.

The next morning as I started to step off the porch, I nearly stepped on a green grass snake. We saw snakes almost every day around that place, but I never saw a rattlesnake anywhere near the house. The bull snakes probably kept them away. I killed one or two rattlesnakes each day while working in the adjacent field hoeing peanuts for Dad’s brother.


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