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Tuesday, July 26 2016

Gomer Pyle Saved My Life. Well, really it was my mom, but Gomer Pyle was definitely there. I was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time, living in deep rural North Carolina. Our property backed up adjacent to a big timber company's forest and they were logging that year, pushing dinosaurs into close encounters with children who ran with dirty feet through well worn dusty paths in those woods.

Our heads were filled with whatever adventure we'd seen on Sunday night television, be it Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, or the Wonderful World of Disney. We spent our daylight hours exploring the forest and letting our imaginations run wild with a heavy dose of Disney. These adventures came to a screeching halt, however, at 4 o'clock every weekday afternoon, when 3 kids and a pitbull dog piled into the house for our daily dose of Gomer Pyle, Gilligan's Island, and the Wild, Wild West.

Sprawling on the floor underneath the window unit air conditioner, we filled up on the familiar comfort of favorite television. That particular day was like all the rest except for one thing - my mother was taking advantage of the knowledge that for the next two hours the kids would be cemented to the living room floor. She was in the bathroom. By herself. Something you can't do often if you have three small children. This put her in just the right spot to see it when she looked out the window. A giant root was moving across the yard.

Yes, that's how she described it. A root. Okay, maybe it could have been a tree branch. Nevertheless, it had her attention.  Fixated on the image, she strained to see through the screen and to her horror she realized the root was actually a rattlesnake that was longer than a shovel. And it was crawling underneath our swingset, the very place her three children and one trusty pitbull dog would have been had we not been glued to the television. (Well, I think the pitbull was really more about the air conditioning than Gomer Pyle.)

So thus began a historic event for my family, one that has been told, and retold many times. I recall it vividly because it was the first time in my young life that I experienced real fear. As country kids, we were well versed about snakes. I was familiar with rattlesnakes, and had heard of copperheads, but never seen one. (I think I've seen my quota now though!) Mostly we just had non-poisonous hog-nosed snakes, and the occasional rattlesnake, but this dinosaur heralded what could be called the Summer Of The Giant Rattlesnakes From Hell.

I learned a great deal that summer, but none stuck in my head as strongly as watching the following events unfold. The first thing my mother did was make sure all children and the dog were still inside. Check. She then picked up the phone and attempted to call every man in the neighborhood to come kill this monster. They were all still at work, but my aunt wanted to come see it when mom finally got it killed. (Younger Self Observation: My mom is made of stronger cloth than my aunt. Frankly if my sister-in-law called to say she had a giant freaking snake in the yard, I'd come across the street to help.)

Since she had three small children, none of which may survive a bite from a snake that size, my mom did what any mother would do - she armed herself for battle. She found one of my stepfather's pistols, and she stood on the porch and attempted to shoot the giant snake as he moved through the yard. One by one the shots rang out. One by one they missed their mark. (Younger Self Observation: Learn how to shoot a gun properly.)  In her defense, it was a long shot and the snake was moving. Once out of bullets, she was left with a novelty paperweight in her hand, three fascinated children behind her, and one dog hiding in the living room.

So there was only one thing she could do - get out there with a shovel and kill that bastard the same way she killed all other poisonous snakes, chop off his head. This was easier said than done considering that he was longer than the shovel she was using. We stood on the porch and watched in utter fascination. Warrior Mom definitely trumped Gomer Pyle for our attention. I wasn't really afraid. After all, this was Mom, she could do anything. (except for shoot a gun, she clearly needed remedial marksmanship training in that.)

In this year of Summer Olympics, I just want to point out that my mother should have been on the US Track & Field Shot Putting Team, because the next thing she attempted to do was fling a cinder block onto his head to pin it down. Now first, let us all be amazed that my mother could fling a cinder block with any kind of distance and accuracy. A moment of silent reverence, please. Okay. Guess now what happens when a full sized cinder block lands on top of a full sized rattlesnake.

It bounces like a freaking rubber ball. And it pisses off the snake. Yeah. She definitely had his attention. From the snake's point of view, this was a clear-cut case of assault.  There he was, minding his own snakey business, when someone shot at him and then tossed a cinder block on his head. He was having a bad day. It was enough to make him want to crawl into the air conditioning and watch Gomer Pyle.

Since clearly the gun and the cinder block didn't work,  it was back to the shovel. Mom crept up on the snake. The snake waited. She chopped at his head. He sprang back and struck. And hit the shovel.

The sound of his fangs hitting that shovel rang across the yard and deep into my heart. For the first time it occurred to me that this was for keeps. This wasn't a game for our afternoon entertainment. It was Mom or the snake. And for the first time I felt real fear. We'd had it drilled into us. Do not get bitten by a rattlesnake. You will die before we can reach a hospital. This snake was bigger than anything I'd ever seen before. I knew that a snake could strike over twice the length of his body. He was longer than the shovel Mom was trying to kill him with. I could see she was woefully under-armed.

All I saw was a woman with an empty gun and a shovel. What I couldn't see was the weapon of courage that comes from a mother defending her children from a monster. And by the time Gilligan's Island was coming on, Mom had chopped his head off and we were celebrating like castasways who see a boat.

We were very proud of her. I mean, really, what other woman in the neighborhood could claim such an accomplishment? Take a few bows, Mom! So when my stepfather returned home that evening we bounced out to the truck to share the good news. He burst the bubble a tiny bit because in the bed of his truck was a rattlesnake longer than Mom's snake. Holy shit!  (I did not know that term yet, but I'm sure it would have been the perfect response. It might have gotten me popped in the mouth but it definitely would have applied to that situation. Just sayin.')

So after much oohing and ahhing on both sides, my stepfather hoisted Mom's snake into the back of his truck so he could cart both snakes off 'into the country'. In hindsight, considering that we lived in the middle of bumf*@# Egypt anyway, carting the snakes further into the country' seemed overkill. I suppose he just wanted to toss the still very deadly bodies into a place where kids and dogs wouldn't end up playing. Therefor, he drove them down a dirt road to a place called, ironically, Eygpt. During this trip he reportedly ran across yet another giant rattlesnake and a copperhead. Not having a gun with him, he resorted to running the snake over with the pickup and beating him to death with jumper cables.

Yes folks, these are the people who raised me. So while fourteen copperheads in one summer is disconcerting and annoying as hell,  it doesn't really measure on the yardstick of Bad-Ass Snake Adventures in my family.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:44 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Comments:
Well here I am with yet another keyboard under a spray of coffee as I watch the verbal cartoon unfold before my mind's eye of mum and her trusty shovel and gun. Reminds me a bit of some of our bush yarns such as the loaded dog http://alldownunder.com/australian-authors/henry-lawson/loaded-dog.htm GREAT writing thanks for a great laugh. [I know it's serious] but..."just saying" :)
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust) on 07/26/2016 - 06:01 PM
Just think how many hat band you could have made! By the way, I read that possums eat copperheads, along with ticks and other critters. Black snakes also eat copperheads but don't know if there are many around Texas. Good luck!
Posted by Virginia on 07/26/2016 - 07:40 PM

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