Where There Were Snakes Reprinted January 22, 2015

When I was a boy, we caught garden snakes in a field next to a place called the Tub Factory over by the railtracks.  

We trapped the snakes by stepping on their tails.  Pinching them behind their heads we picked them up, looked at their flickering tongues and peered into their angry, cold eyes.  

Their teeth were little bumps.  You didn’t bleed when bitten, but they wouldn’t let go.  

We’d collect six or eight of them in coffee cans, all writhing at the bottom.  I took a can home to my mom once.  She wouldn’t let me keep them as pets. 

The field of snakes was behind the rambling old Eden house with its clapboard exterior that time had painted weathered and grey where seven brothers and sisters lived.  

Their father Mit, a full blooded American Indian was a mean, hard drinking railroad man cruel to people even outside his family.  

His oldest son John was a bad apple.  He combed his greasy black hair into a pompadour, wore cuffed jeans, points, white t-shirts with cigarettes rolled into his sleeve.  His half smile and white teeth belied angry, cold snake eyes that said he could kill you if he wanted.  

People said he even scared his father.  

Legend was he tied cats’ tails together, threw them over clothes lines and set them on fire. 

Later in life he changed his ways, married a nice girl and became a Baptist minister.

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