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Southern Snakes
by Carl Wayne

Most sons of the South have at least one good snake story. We grew up with them. We shared our chicken and eggs with them. They rid the corn crib of rats. Some scared us out our minds. And sadly, we chopped off they little heads or put a .22 rifle bullet in far too many of them. It's an old enmity put between Adam and that mean snake in the Garden of Eden.

The last snake I killed was a water moccasin, or a cottonmouth as we called them. Last summer while visiting the inlaws in the country, the grandkids saw one coming out of the garden aiming to slither under the house. Since the house has a lot of character, that being age and lack of plumb, I knew I better do something quickly if anyone of the female persuasion in my family was going to sleep that night. So I grabbed a hoe and relieved it of its head. I've felt bad about it ever since. I suppose it wouldn't harm anyone unless it was cornered. But I was going on pure instinct instead of thinking it through at the time.

The next to last snake I killed was a copperhead. It came out of a bed of marigolds underneath an FHA tree, that being the maple tree required for every new home to get an FHA loan in those days. I sacrificed snake and marigolds all in one swath of the mower. Like my friend Gil once said, only me and the laundryman know how scared I was.

Snakes were a part of Momma's life when she was growing up on a farm. Her brother caught rat snakes, also called chicken snakes, and put them in the corn crib to reduce the rat population. Chicken snakes were known to partake of an occasional chick or egg, but a chicken snake is just a rat snake in the wrong place. Uncle Pitts would grab the chicken snake with its tell-tale lumps, put it inside his shirt, then deposit it as a rat snake in the corn crib, when he got tired of hearing his sisters squeal in terror.

Momma said they were all scared of blue racer snakes because they heard one could catch you and bite you.

Momma's favorite way to kill a snake was to smother them to death in heel dust. She also was a crack shot with her trusty single shot .22 caliber Remington rifle, and claimed to be able to shoot a snake between the eyes. She sometimes brought home swamp rabbits and squirrels for their supper. In my memories I can smell the linseed oil we rubbed on the stock and the blue oil we cleaned the barrel with when I was big enough to shoot the rifle and take care of it.

Garter snakes, green snakes, and cricket snakes all get a pass. They are just helping get rid of insects like when the chickens were turned loose in the potato patch to eliminate potato bugs.

Copperheads, cottonmouth water moccasins and politicians are bad news and should be avoided at all costs. We already had them in the country, but with suburban sprawl, we're moving into their homes. I imagine some enterprising lawn service will start selling snake repellent spray along with deer, skunk, and raccoon repellents. I don't guess anything will repel politicians, unless it's hard work.

Part of my younger years were spent in Acadia Parish, Louisiana. Another 50 miles south I'd a been a fish. We were on the edge of the marshes in rice country, so water moccasins were wherever we played, fished, or picked dewberries. After Hurricane Audrey in 1957, they were real bad. They came out of the marshes, some said to feast on the many animal carcasses. I remember one sunning on the front porch step when we returned from Sunday School. We just shoo'ed it away.

I suppose in my more mellow years, I would like to for all of God's critters to have their space. I just need to be more tolerant of varmints. After all, it's usually me disturbing their homes.

Aint God good!


Carl Wayne tells us about himself:
"I write gardening articles for the Collierville, Tennessee, Independent, the Southaven, Mississippi, Press, and Desoto Magazine, all from a Southern perspective. I point out the correct pronunciation of ants (aints) and peonies (peOnies) and advise always to plant hydrangeas on the north side of the house. I've been in software development forty years, the last twenty with a large overnight express delivery company. I have taught computer science as adjunct faculty at local universities over twenty-five years. We have a small farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where we raise a large garden with my in-laws. My in-laws were there when the REA strung the first electric wires in that area. They were killing hogs. That night for supper they had liver and lights."

Write Carl Wayne at this e-mail address: Rows of Buttercups

Read more of Carl Wayne's stories at USADS:
Laws Hill, Mississippi, Fish House
Eco-friendly Gardening: Yes, It's Weeds
Me and Mimi in the Garden

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