“Snakes and Pranks”
Draped around my neck was a new friend I had made mid-morning. We had just met in our drainage ditch by the side of our drive way where I loved to play and catch toads, leopard frogs, crawfish and tadpoles. Being the youngest of three and the only boy, left me with my own adventures to pursue, and it was as usual that I brought home all sorts of what my sisters called “icky slimly creepy crawly critters”. We lived on a small ranch style two story house that was perfectly placed between two surrounding creeks and just outside of the city.
Dressed in my adventuring clothes which were shorts made from cut of blue jeans, an Incredible Hulk t-shirt featuring Lou Ferigno, and of course my dad’s big ole cowboy boots. We had a huge garden behind our house and an underground cellar which was home to several tree frogs which I liked to catch. The garden brought all the sorts of rabbits, raccoons, opossums, deer, and field mice that always caught my attention. However, this particular mid-morning, there was an unusual guest that would become the start of a story about my individual development and cantankerous habits.
As I sat alongside my driveway with my new friend, a cool breeze had started up and our windmill clanged around with the squeak-squeak sound ever so slowly. I admired all the colors of copper and white and the cool pattern all over his body. He flicked his tongue and it felt like a feather on my skin, even tickled my nose a few times. I heard the 12:00 o’clock train tooting its horn off in the distance which meant my father would be home soon. He worked late as a dispatcher and would arrive home around lunch time. Then I heard his car coming down the road and stood up to greet him. As he pulled in our drive way I saw his smile turn from happy to see me to alarming concern and seemed to turn a couple of shades lighter in color.
He opened the car door and said in a trembling voice: “Ryan do not move,…hold very still”. “But dad I got…” I said as I was interrupted. “I said do not move and hold very still, young man!” he said in that fatherly tone of voice. “I will be right back and you do not move!” he yelled and turned toward the garage but kept his head turned, I guess to make sure I did not move at all. Gee, what’s up with him? Probably the hemorrhoids acting up I thought. What exactly is a hemorrhoid anyway? Some kind of butt-thing mom would say. Dad returned very shortly with a shovel in hand. “Ok son just let that snake crawl off and away from you and do not move any part of your body: said dad in a weird shaking voice. I so much wanted to show him how colorful and awesome this new friend of mine was.
After sitting still for ever and ever my friend like myself was B-O-R-E-D bored and he crawled off of me and headed toward the drainage ditch where we had met. Dad slowly approached me and asked if I felt sick or was hurt in anyway. “Why do I look sick daddy? Probably just dirt, it’ll wash off.” Then his fatherly tone returned and he ordered me to go to the front porch. Feeling confused and a little angry as I walked up to the porch I wondered what all the hub bub with dad was all about. As I turned and sat myself down I saw dad, shovel high in the air, coming down and hitting my friend. The shovel made a loud clank and my friends head was cut off right before my very eyes. In my horror I screamed as the event took place, which made my father jump and my mother come running out of the house to see what was the matter. Mom, panicked by my scream, started yelling: “What’s wrong? What happened?” I choked out the words: “Dad just…. (tears rolled heavily down my face)….he…he just killed my friend.” “Wh-wh-what?” screamed mom. Mom turned and ran towards dad, who was still chopping up my friend into bits. “Stay put Ryan” shouted mom. As she got closer to where dad and my slain friend where, she stopped cold in her tracks, and seemed to have goose bumps. “Our son was out here playing with a copperhead, even had it draped across his shoulders.” Again mom shook like she was cold and her eyes met dads’ eyes and then both of them darted for the front porch where I was still screaming.
Mom tackled me and flipped me in every which way examining me, all the while yelling at dad to get the snakes head and body in a baggy and to get the car started. She dragged me inside and put my shoes on while crying and she called Grandma Dixie to pick up the girls from school and bring them home and wait for us with them. Meanwhile dad had a pair of tongs and freezer bags and went to collect my friends head and his body. “Hurry up Richard” mom screamed through her tears. As my father entered the car I asked mom “Why are you crying momma? Are you sad for the snake?” She said for me to stay calm and to think good thoughts. So I sat back and thought about what is a good thought. Then I thought a great thought about my sisters getting home from school and me scaring Robin with the snake. Shelly would have loved it, since she was a tom-boy.
Suddenly we took off engine roaring, gravel flying, and then the tires squealing on the black top. This was fun! Dad was driving fast like a race car driver, passing cars on both sides, honking the horn and yelling for them to get out of the way. I thought we should drive like this way all the time. It had not been a very long enough ride for me. And we arrived at where the dreaded doctors’ office was but parked in the ER. “Eeeeeewwwwhhh” I thought to myself. My mother was crying so hard, which made me think; could someone cry so much that they would need a doctor?
Abruptly removed from the car and nearly jostled to death we entered what I heard called the emergency room. Dad and mom were yelling at the ladies there in white outfits, which made them fall all over themselves running about, and then rushed us all into a room. Setting there on the table, I watched my father pace back and forth in the little room as mom kept crying and holding me tight. Dad said a few choice words and followed with “I will be right back”. He returned in a minute with my friends head in the freezer bag and with him was Dr. Frazier. This Doctor was a big man; he made funny noises when he breathed. He had small rimmed glasses, a scruffy face, wildly eyes that seem to match his gooney bird walk.
Suddenly it came to me as to why we were at the hospital! Mom was upset about my friend and we were here at the hospital to fix my friend! I really love my parents I thought to myself as the Doctor came over looking at me. Looking over his glasses he sort of glared at me and I glared right back as sternly as he stared at me. Then I had to grin and laughed out loud. He had a puzzled look on his face as he raised one white fluffy eyebrow at me. He asked dad for the specimen in the bag we brought in. “Whoa…this…this is a copperhead!” hollered the doctor. “You think your son was bitten by this? He inquired. Next dad told the whole story and of his and moms concerns.
“Hey Doc…..” I said as I remembered a certain rascally rabbit would say. “Are you going to fix my friend? Then the doctor asked me “Did your friend bite you, son?” I thought of this question to be a very strange question and then replied…..”Do your friends bite you doc….because they shouldn’t….and if they do, someone should smack them in the mouth and say NO!” This comment made mom and the doc chuckle a little until dad said in his fatherly no-nonsense voice….son, did the snake bite you? “No daddy, it didn’t bite me and I am upset with you and I am telling Grandpa you killed my friend…..you bully!” The doctor proceeded to examine me and finally proclaimed; “Nothing here but boogers and ear wax” as he pinched my nose and gave me a wink. A few forms filled out and out the door of the hospital we went.
Once back in the car and on our way home my parents did not say a word. It was an eerie silence all around me in the back seat. I thought to myself I must be in big trouble. Should I have been bitten? Was I supposed to be bitten? Was it a radio-active snake? Would I have become something like spider-man….a snake-man! Then images of fighting bad guys as a superhero flashed though my head. Grand adventures, world saving events, evil sinister arch fiends I would battle for justice and peace were what I started day dreaming about. Then as suddenly as we seemed to arrive at the hospital we were home. As we pulled into the drive my sisters were on the front porch. Shelly was sitting there with her match box cars, Robin with her silly dolls. Grandma Dixie was sitting in the front porch swing crying, she must have heard about my friend and was as sad as I was. I leaped out of the car and ran up to grandma and said “I know Grandma, it is sad, poor snake thought dad was gonna dig a hole for him, not kill em.” Dad had heard what I said to Grandma and scooped me up all the while laughing. He squeezed me so hard that I let out a fart which no one seemed to mind. Except mom who said; “Ahhhhh who’s butt fume is on the loose?” Then she ordered everyone into the house for a talk.
Family meetings usually meant bad news in our house. Once inside dad ordered my sisters and me to sit on the couch and listen. He started to explain that not all animals are safe to be around or to touch. “Some of them can actually kill you…like the snake Ryan was playing with this afternoon.” Then Robin piped up “EEEEEEEWWWWWWHHH, you were playing with a snake…….that is SOOOOOO GROOOOOSSSS.” I told her to be quiet with an evil look of content across my brow. Shelly added: “Cool a snake…..what kind was it? “A copperhead which is a very poisonous and dangerous snake!” said dad. Shelly’s eyes were huge green globes of awesome disbelief and standing still fright. “ You shouldn’t go near a copperhead, they can bite you and within minutes you would be dead, and then who’s going to play with me and the matchbox cars in the sand box?” said Shelly. I was getting upset with the mean things my family was saying about my friend. He did not do anything wrong to me. I was perfectly fine; he didn’t hurt me or bite me. So why did dad have to kill him? He could have let him crawl away. “Where things like snakes and other animals naturally evil?” I wondered to myself.
Suddenly and very loudly through the front door came scrambling Papa Rinehart and he was aimed right for me with Grandma Rinehart carrying two bags. “He’s alright Dad.” said my father to Papa Rinehart. “Wheeeewoooo Lord Almighty!” said Papa. Now Papa Rinehart was a big man who loved the outdoors, gardening, fishing, and hunting which he shared this love of the outdoors with me. Teaching me a lot of things about nature was a habit of his. Most of his teaching was to my mother’s despair because of my natural tendency to be ornery. He picked me up and took me to the dining room table and Grandma brought over books she had brought in after Papa jolted through the front door. Shelly followed us and sat down as well. Robin went off skipping and combing her dolls hair. Dad went to mow the lawn, at least so he said. I think he went to see if my friend had any friends in the yard still. Mom, Grandma Dixie, and Grandma Rinehart went to the kitchen and from the sound, started cooking dinner.
Papa flipped through the pages of a book and found a picture of my friend. He read aloud to Shelly and me all the things about copperheads. What they ate and how they killed their prey. That’s when I realized that my friend wasn’t to be my friend. Since of that day’s event and my fascination with all creatures, Papa started teaching me all sorts of what are considered dangerous animals that were in our area. He also taught me the safe ones and the truly harmless ones. Dinner was ready and we all sat down and ate a big meal and laughed at the story of the emergency room visit. Papa continued with his wilderness awareness teaching right after dinner and kept hard core with it for the next two weeks. And all summer long he would take me out exploring and seeing the wild safely and under his guidance.
Now I remind you I was a young boy who loved to explore and haunt my sister Robin as well as our mother. My Mother who really did not like any kind of snake, knew her son well enough to only let me play outside with this warning; “Leave all snakes alone, don’t play with them, don’t touch them, don’t even go near them!” “Well why not…they are so cool mommy.” I hollered back. “They make my skin crawl and I just don’t like them….uuugghhh.” Mom said shivering in disgust. That told me in that very moment my mother was dearly and utterly afraid of snakes. With the knowledge Papa had ensured I knew, and knew it well, I was armed and dangerous and ready to prosper from his hands on wilderness awareness training. And so it began my pranks with snakes on my mother and even more pranks on my sister.
As I mentioned earlier we had a huge garden behind our house filled with every sort of vegetable imaginable. My family would spend a lot of time tending to the garden by weeding, watering, fertilizing, planting and picking. Weeding was one of my main chores and this is where I would find beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and night crawlers to annoy my oldest sister Robin. And boy would I terrorize her to the fullest. I would place beetles in her doll house, frogs in her bed, even put noisy crickets in a jar under her bed and a jar of them in her closet. It drove her nuts and she would never hunt the crickets down to get rid of them. She hated bugs and was afraid to touch most of them. One day I tossed a Praying Mantis into her hair and she froze solid, tears gushed out of her eyes, and she wet her pants all at the same time. I admit I felt a little bad for this and when mom asked what I was thinking of when I did that. I answered: “I don’t really know mom, I just get a case of orneriness going on.”
School was out for my two sisters and man did my days change again. Lunch time was a time I enjoyed except for now because of my sisters we had to have mac and cheese every day. I always liked the fresh vegetables’ I would bring in for mom to fix for lunch and we’d drink some root beer. Robin had to have juice and Shelly didn’t mind having whatever was in the glass for her to drink. It had been about two weeks when I had had enough of the mac and cheese when I decided it was time for me to pull a prank of purpose. The purpose was to stop mom from making the dreaded mac and cheese. So every day I would get up and start early with my weeding chores in the garden in hopes to find a partner for a prank. One particular morning after it had rained the night before, the garden was to muddy to walk in, so I went around the outer perimeter of the garden looking and searching for just the right accomplice. Then suddenly right between the lettuce patch and the cucumber patch I saw it. A little garden snake had felt me walking by the edge of the garden. It had stopped moving and froze like it was dead. I went up slowly acting like I didn’t notice it and turned a few cucumbers over. I went to snatch the snake and it did not move at all which I thought was awesome like an opossum.
With snake in hand I ran up to the front porch tip toeing inside and into the kitchen to the pots and pans cabinet which I noticed is always close to the floor in every house I had been in. Grandma Dixie’s’, Grandma Rinehart’s, even Aunt Verda’s pots and pans cabinets’ were all at floor level. “What ambush pranks I could pull on all of them!” I thought to myself. There it was the mac and cheese pan with lid sitting right inside the door. I removed the lid, placed the little snake inside the pot, and replaced the lid. I ran into my room grabbed some cars and headed for the sand box. After all it had rained the night before and wet sand it great to build ramps and bridges with. Shelly had woke up and asked what I was going outside for. “To play in the sand….it rained last night…and you know what that means…..and man I can’t wait for LUNCH to get here!” I said with over emphasis and zeal. Shelly looked at me like I was a weirdo.
Shelly joined me outside in the sandbox and we built a mega city of tunnels, bridges, ramps, and a swamp area full of hazards. There was a pit of quick sand that one of Robin’s’ dolls WHO had tragically become a victim of. Then the shrieking prissy princess appeared on the front porch yelling at me and threatened to tell mom on me for touching one of her things. So I picked the doll up by the hair and put under the outside faucet and washed it off and handed it to her. She stormed off into the house only to return with a towel and her doll brush. Staring at me like she could set me on fire just from glaring, she brushed the dolls hair angrily, and making faces at me by snarling. Unmoved by her tactics for a confrontation, I remembered the snake in the pot, and laughed heartily out loud. Shelly asked what was so funny; “you know she is still gonna tell mommy on you.” “Oh that is not what I was laughing about Shelly!” I snorted. “Then what is so funny?” she asked. Being my tom-boy of a sister I told her the details of my morning and plan of scaring mother with the snake. “Ooohhhh you’re gonna be in trouuubbblllle!” laughed Shelly. Robin had overheard what I told Shelly and was about to scream tattle telling off to mother. However, in that exact moment, there was a screech louder than Robin could ever make from the kitchen. Followed by my full name being yelled and screams of fright broken by more yelling of my name to get in the house right now.
There she was up on the kitchen table all a fright and frazzled, the pot with the little snake remained on the floor and the lid was on top of the top cabinets on the wall over the kitchen counter tops. “Get that darn snake out of my house now young man, and bring back a switch from the Willow Tree when you come back in.” mom said in a threatening voice. “Wait a minute here, I have to save you from the snake and get a switch to get a whipping, I don’t think I‘ll get the snake out of here then…..It is gonna be a long day up there on that table mom.” I said. Robin had of course followed me in and uttered in snobbish reference “I will save you from the snake mommy and fetch a switch for you!” As she went to reach in the pot for the snake, it coiled back and took a defensive strike at her hand which sent her screeching out of the kitchen and brought Shelly running in to see what was actually happening. “Please Ryan just get it out of my house….now!!!!” pleaded mom. “Do I still have to get a switch?” I asked. “No, just make sure you wash your hands after you let that snake go far away from the house!”
That night at dinner, mother told dad the events that had taken place that day. Not wanting to now be in trouble with my father I kept my head down staring into my plate. Dad was silent as mom told him all my statements that I made to her and the way I got out of the whipping I should have received for not leaving snakes alone and for even bringing them into the house. I sunk about three feet into my chair as the whole room was drenched in a torment of silence. I did not want to look up into the eyes of my father and see his angry face glaring at me. I could feel his eyes burning into the top of my head. I wanted to cry, and then suddenly I wanted to laugh because the image of Robin jumping back and running away screaming kept entering my thoughts. As I looked up to meet my father’s gaze, it felt different then that you’re in trouble feeling, and I was actually grinning so wide it made him smile as well. Not a moment had passed and he grabbed mothers’ leg from under the table with a hissing noise which made her and Robin scream and followed by all of our laughter. While we started to eat mom pleaded with me once again saying “Please son, please do not ever do that again….no more critters in the house….please, please, do not do that again, or your dad will have to teach me to shoot a gun!” “Ok mom, I will try, but you know every now and then I get a wicked case of the orneriness!”