Tale #2 “The Snake That Got Dad”

It was a hot spring day, that afternoon in 1946. Dad, my brother, Bill, and I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon picking berries.

Dad was always careful to remind us not to mix raspberries with blackberries as we picked, something about blackberries being of stronger flavor ruined that of the raspberries that have a milder and sweeter flavor. For me, I was just interested in filling my bucket so we could get out of that scratchy berry patch as soon as possible.

Bill, at age nine and I at age eleven were a couple of portly young guys. We loved and admired Dad. So did most people who knew him. Everybody around Newark and Chatham called him “Kenny.” Chatham was the little town about five miles north of Newark, Ohio, where I grew up. Grandma and Grandpa Pierpont had lived there many years. I never knew them to live anywhere else.

Dad, a very sociable man, knew everybody around Chatham, it seemed. His days on a farm where he grew up had gotten him acquainted with all the folk around those parts. When we wanted to go hunting or berry picking on someone’s land, Dad always asked unless he had already received “blanket” permission to be there. That blanket permission led us to recognize several certain places almost as our own, we went there so often.

Places like “Harry Hoar’s Orchard” and “Downey’s, Swamp, The Old Home Place, Ely Wince’s Lane” and “The Down Timber” were household names and places in our home all the years I was growing up. We were in all of them many times in a given year, as I recall.

The present story centers around the place “The Down Timber.” It was there that adjacent undisturbed pieces of land produced patches of grass and berry bushes. Lush berries were always there in abundance. Of course, it took some “scratchy” work to get to them through the tall grass, young saplings and briar patches.

On the afternoon the events of this story took place, Dad, Bill and I had picked our share of berries. Dad always cautioned us to carry the full buckets “softly” so the berries would not crush. If either my brother or I had telltale signs of berry stains around our lips Dad let us know we were not very disciplined in our picking. “Don’t pick and eat ‘um,” he would say.

We had just made our way out of a patch of berries, that afternoon, and were tramping along through “The Down Timber.” Dad called it that, I realized later, because the owner never harvested trees for lumber from any of the woods, so the trees were left lying, for years, where they fell. This made for some pretty imposing brush piles as the tops of trees decomposed over the years they lay there.

As we walked through an unusually open area, one with many tall standing trees, we came upon a large brush pile. Someone, it seemed, had thrown many small limbs, sticks and twigs together forming a brush pile a couple of feet tall and probably ten feet around. We neared it as we walked, laughing and talking together.

Suddenly, near the edge of the brush pile we were approaching, we spotted a large dark-colored snake. As I recall, Dad was to my left with Bill a couple of steps behind and back a little to my left. Bill and I froze in place. Suddenly Dad called, “Lookout!” He advanced toward the big snake cautiously. To say Bill and I were scared would be putting it mildly.

As Dad advanced, Mr. Snake turned and slithered quickly under the brush pile, threshing for a second, and then he was gone.

This paragraph is for you snake lovers who may happen to read this story. My dad was a kind man, law-abiding and especially so when it came to protecting songbirds, game that was out of season, fish that were too small to keep, et cetera. On this particular day, however my dad seemed intent on teaching us a lesson about snakes. Without the facts of what happened next, I could not be relating this story for our enjoyment some sixty years later. Please bear this in mind as you finish reading the story.

As the snake disappeared under the brush, Dad whirled around to us and yelled, “Quick, get sticks and beat on the brush!” In a mix of fear and excitement, Bill and I ran to get the nearest sticks and hurried back with them. As I ran, it occurred to me that maybe we would all be better off leaving the thing where it was. But, Dad’s excited shouts echoed in my head and I ran back and forth only once or twice hitting the brush pile myself, but mostly handing the sticks to my dad. Bill, as I remember, did the same.

After what seemed a long time but was probably less than a minute our big, black serpent, moving at surprising speed, appeared from under the brush and, whipping back and forth, headed away from us. I leaped back and so did my brother. What happened next terrified me.

As the snake gained speed, in his quest for freedom, Dad, half in a crouch chased after him! After several quick strides across the open space, Dad bent down and reached out his right hand. In a flash the snake ascended into the air, twisting and whipping around. My heart stopped beating! I screamed out to my dad, “Oh Dad, has he got you?” I didn’t look at my brother, but I am sure he was as scared as I.

What happened next amazed me. The snake’s tail was firmly in my dad’s hand and Dad began whipping the snake round and round above his head. As he did, the curled body of the snake began to stretch out. This was all in just seconds. Dad yelled out in answer to my scream of terror: “Oh Dad, has he got you” and replied as he continued twirling the snake above his head: “No, but I sure got him!” At that instant Dad violently jerked back on the big snake’s tail and brought his muscled arm to a standstill.

Please remember that these stories though tall tales are TRUE tales! Now, more than sixty years later, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the snake’s head flying through the air, probably eight or ten feet off the ground. Dad tossed aside the snake’s body and we turned to gather our berry buckets.

Yes, an innocent snake died there in “The Down Timber” that day, but two boys’ admiration for their dad soared to a new high. Mr. Snake didn’t get dad there in that woods after all, that spring afternoon, but, I assure you, “Bill” and “Little Kenny” walked a little more proudly when they thought of their dad. I love you, Dad, I’ll never forget you!

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