Saturday, February 21, 2009

Snakes Don't Die Until Sundown

Papa came into town this past week. He's about to leave on a 10-month job in Wyoming (where it snows every month of the year), and he's making his rounds, spending some time with his kids and grandkids (mostly the grandkids) and getting prepared for the trip.

I've always seen my dad as about 28 years old. I don't know if those are some of the happiest, most vivid memories I have of him, but that's how he usually looks in my memories. But, now that my brother and I have kids and he is called "Papa" more than he's called "Daddy," I've started to notice the traces of age. The fine lines on his face have become real wrinkles. He misses a lot of what we say because his hearing is not as good as it used to be. He's not 28 anymore, and he hasn't been in some time.

I've learned a lot from my father over the years, though, and I hope to learn more. When my mom brought a dead snake to my door a couple weeks ago, I remembered one good lesson that my father taught me: Snakes don't die until sundown.

She had found the snake in our yard. It was just a baby, something harmless like a garden snake. I'm not afraid of snakes, but when Momma waved that limp fellow under my nose, I wanted to take a step back.

When I was about 12, Daddy killed a snake in our yard. He told me to take the snake "to the end of the road," which was the area on our property where we put dead snakes and other such items. He scooped the snake, which had to be still warm, onto a piece of cardboard. As he handed me the cardboard, he said, "Watch him closely. Snakes don't die until sundown, you know."

Every step I took to the end of the road crunched into my ears as I cautiously carried the snake to his final resting place. I could see the snake twitching, just waiting to spring back to life, pounce on me, and inject some lethal venom into the right side of my neck. Wanting to run, but afraid I might jostle him awake, I walked slowly on the gravel. I finally reached very close to the end of the road, and I tossed that snake, cardboard and all onto the pile and ran like hell back to the house.

Flash forward about 18 years, and here I am watching my own son poke this dead snake with a stick. If it were possible to torture a creature that has already passed from this life to the next, Spark did it to that little snake. He finally discarded the fellow on the road by our mailbox.

The next day after school, Spark jumped out of the car as soon as we got home, ran over to the mailbox, and asked, "Where's the snake?" It had dried to the pavement, not much fun anymore. Spark ran off to play with a plastic shark in the mud, but I eyed the snake warily. I wondered what he had done just before sundown.

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