One of the changes in Southerners over the last generation or so, is that we are no longer snake killers. Before some of you cry about not harming living creatures, let me just say, there was a time when “poisonous” meant “danger” and we didn’t feel badly when we chopped the head off a viper and didn’t apologize for protecting our livestock and children.
As the South moved from dirt roads to cul-de-sacs, you would think the snake issue would have gone with the wind, but even in my neighborhood of matchy-mailboxes, I’ve found several snakes slithering between the roses and rosemary.
Great Uncle Boonie pulled a pistol out of his truck’s glove box one day while standing around frying fish. He fired it once, and all the men looked over their shoulders and declared in unison, “copperhead,” then kept talking. It was no big deal, almost like swatting a deadly mosquito.
As a little girl walking to the car with my grandmother, she suddenly blocked me with her hand and said, “Stand still.” She left, then reappeared with the garden hoe and proceeded to kill the largest rattlesnake I’d ever seen. Just a few powerful, yet ladylike “chop-chops,” and the deed was done. Wearing a tan checked dress, she tossed the headless carcass beneath the mimosa tree and said, “He’ll wiggle till sundown.” From then on, I saw my grandmother as part “Ma Ingalls,” from Little House on the Prairie, with a dash of Wonder Woman.
A “good” snake eradicates your garden, barn or yard of pests, and he’s welcome, but unfortunately, they don’t stand around long enough for me to properly flip through a book to identify them, so screaming and running seems like my best option. My grandmother would be ashamed.
“Hushpuppy,” or “Pup Boy” was a good dog who died from a snake bite he received in a cool forest near Florala.
Making everyone in the room cry, his owner told how Pup Boy dragged himself home, with a swollen face, to die at his master’s feet.
With the heartbreaking snake-bite story fresh on his mind, my father spotted a large snake on the side of his house. Realizing his dachshund was in great danger, Daddy ran inside to get his snake gun. The coyote and bear guns were rarely used but stood ready if needed.
Returning to the yard, my Dad found the evil snake was still sunning himself, partially coiled with its head stretched beneath the azaleas. Taking aim, he cut loose and, “blam!” “blam!” “blam!” Daddy successfully blew three holes in his brand-new water hose.
Thinking his mistake was hilarious, Daddy asked his ophthalmologist, “Guess what I killed?”
My garden hose is textured black and keeps shriveling and wiggling long after I’ve turned off the water. It’s creepy and makes gardening an adventure. A generation ago, I would have kept a sharp hoe nearby and taken care of poisonous snakes like a bold Southern woman. My neighborhood association frowns on loud, blasting snake guns, so screaming and running is my only hope of survival. Fearful of both real snakes and my garden hose, what kind of city-slicker Southerner have I become?
This story first appeared on AL.com.