Friday, August 14, 2009

Tales from my Father: A Snake in the Barn

Okay, time for another tale my Daddy told me when I was young. I mentioned before he wove a beautiful story and this was no exception. He told the story as a true one, though over many years, who really knows.

It begins with a farmer towards the end of a long day in the fields in Northeast Texas. Jim had been picking cotton all day as he headed for the barn. Wiping his brow, all he could think of was Ma’s stew which had been simmering all day. Even out at the barn the delicious aroma snaked its way to him, his mouth watering like one of Pavlov’s dogs, even as he opened the door to the barn to put away his tools. He left the cotton on the trailer to take to the gin tomorrow, but the mules had to be tended and taken to their stalls. They weren’t paying much for cotton, and he was calculating in his mind how he was going to be able to make lease and cover the cost for things they needed that could not be grown in their garden.

He had put the mules in their stalls, watching them slurp water to cool down from the long hot day. Outside the crickets were beginning to sing their tune. Jim smiled, knowing it had been a good day and now it was done and stew was waiting and, well it really wasn't such a bad life. He turned to head for the house when he heard an ominous sound. He froze immediately, looking carefully around him. There was the rattle again and he knew that could only be a rattler and that snake was upset and letting him know it.

Peering over his shoulder a few feet away he saw a giant rattler. He guessed maybe five or six feet but it’s hard to tell when they are all coiled up like that. Slowly he moved away, reaching for long handled hoe. Stepping around, he tapped the hoe causing the snake to strike. Immediately he struck down with a ferocious blow, separating the head from the rest of the body. The body was still moving, squirming about as they prone to do. Breathing a relieved sigh, he headed for the house for supper.

As he walked through the door, the scent overwhelmed him. The stew looked so delicious, and his wife had just stuck cornbread into the old wood stove. “Ma that smells delicious!”

“It’ll be ready in a few minutes. How’d the picking go Pa?” They called each other Ma and Pa even though their children had long sense grown up and moved off on their own.

Running his fingers through his grey hair, he responded, “Went pretty well. Had an unwanted guest out in the barn though.” He told her the story about the rattler. “One of the bigger ones I’ve seen.”

“So why don’t you go out there to the barn and cut off those rattles. Be a good story for the grandkids don’t you think?”

Pa rose up nodding, and grabbed the sharpest knife he had before heading out to find that snake’s body and retrieve the rattles. It was dark now, so he carried a lantern to see where he was going. Inside the rickety old wooden structure, he looked till he saw the snakes body still moving a bit in a pile of straw. He walked over and grabbed the tail and swoosh cut off the rattles and went back inside.

The meal was delicious. Soon enough they were done, and because farmers are up at the break of day, very quickly both were dreaming sweet dreams. Early the next morning, Pa heard the rooster crowing, and they both got up and after a full breakfast of farm fresh eggs, bacon, and toast from home made bread, he was ready to head out to hitch the wagon and go sell his cotton. The doors made their customary creaking sound as light filled the inside of the barn. He looked and saw the snake he had killed the night before. He took a second look and a chill went down his spine. This snake still had his rattles. “How could…” he said out loud. “What the…” Full realization crept over him. The snake was not the only one in the barn last night.

photo: Nathan Williams (my grandfather)

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