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S is for Snakes

April 24, 2015

I have a theory I tell to anybody I know:  if you have trouble getting a conversation going, all you have to do is tell a snake story. Most people have a snake story–or twelve.  Most of the time, they have trouble listening to yours because they are thinking, “Which one should I tell first?”

Several snake stories have made it into family lore.  I’ve always heard that the day before my dad was born, his mother and father were working in the garden, when a copperhead appeared.  Papaw Charlie killed it and went to sling it out of the way with his hoe.  He mis-slung and it wrapped around Mama Coats’ neck.  Daddy was born shortly after.

She also told us, when she was older, about getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  She was about to step in, when she turned on the light. There lay a snake right where she had been about to step.

“Scared me so bad,” she told us, “I went and got in bed with Charlie.”

I’ve killed a few snakes in my day.  I hate ’em.  But on the first encounter, a huge snake was stretched out on the wall by my back door.  I wanted to do the right thing, so I went in the house and got the “S” encyclopedia, the camera, and a gun we kept loaded with rat shot.  I looked up snakes to see if I could tell if it was poison or not. I couldn’t tell, so I took its picture and then blew it to smithereens.

Today, walking back the car after day one of Merlefest, the best music festival anywhere around, I heard a father telling his son he was carrying on his shoulders that you can tell if a snake is poison or not by looking at its tail.

“If it’s pointed, it’s safe,” he said. “If it’s blunt, it’s poisonous.”

Hmmm. I thought it was the shape of the head or the eyes.  I guess I’ll need to get out the “S” encyclopedia again.

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