Let’s Talk About Snakes

When I was growing up in Alabama, snakes were a full-on reality. I don’t mean green snakes or milk snakes or oak snakes. I mean real, scary, venomous snakes. In fact, in Alabama, there are six kinds of venomous snakes. For comparison, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, there is one type: the Copperhead. But in Alabama, you have to watch out for the Copperhead, the Cottonmouth (also known as a water moccasin), the Timber Rattlesnake, the Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Pygmy Rattlesnake, and the Eastern Coral Snake. You can see pictures of them at Outdooralabama.com here. And I should tell you…they are plentiful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve run into lots of Copperheads since moving to North Carolina nineteen years ago, but I was reminded about those Alabama snakes when I saw an article on Facebook today about a woman in Greenville, Alabama, who was bitten by a Timber Rattler. You can see the article here. According to the article, she had to have 16 vials of antivenin…sixteen!

I shared the article on my personal Facebook page with a statement about how I likely narrowly escaped death when I was 18. My nephew, who remembers all the stories I tell about my life, immediately commented that he was sure I had told him the story, but he didn’t remember it. And that’s when I realized I probably had not shared it. Why? Because I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to “hang out” in the woods. I don’t like ticks. I don’t like snakes. I don’t like excessive nature. “Nature,” in Alabama, means you might encounter any number of those creatures and more.

But on this particular day when I was 18, the summer before I went off to college, I ventured into the woods with three friends. Full disclosure: I didn’t really know we were going into the full-on woods. The family of one of the friends had a “hunting camp” in the woods, so we were going there to hang out one Friday night. Now, when I heard “hunting camp,” I guess I was thinking more “hunting lodge.” As we drove, in a Jeep, through the woods to the hunting camp, I started to realize it was really a camp. The fact that there was no road to it was my first clue. And I was a little scared…not gonna lie…I was scared. But I had to play it cool.

We arrived at the hunting camp, and I’m sure my eyes were wide. I looked at it. I’m sure I looked at one of my other non-nature friends, hoping she would say she was scared, but nope. She let me down. She was actually laughing and smiling. I knew I was in trouble. There were no power lines anywhere. I had thought we would be going to a small house where there was television, a refrigerator, modern conveniences. Nope. Heck, when we walked inside, I discovered there wasn’t even much of a floor. I was scared.

It was at this point I spoke up. I don’t really remember what I said, but I made it clear I wanted to get out of there. Nope…not gonna hang out up there. Fortunately, my non-nature friend in the party spoke up too. Hanging out in the “hunting camp” was not an option. I’m sure I said something along the lines of “Let’s leave now.” So we did.

There were three stair steps to get out of the “camp,” and I was leading the charge to the Jeep.

I stepped down the first two steps, and just as I was about to step off the bottom step, I saw a giant rattlesnake slithering by…right where my foot would have dropped. Now, I’m not exaggerating. It was a huge snake…a Diamondback Rattlesnake. A frightening creature. They can get up to more than five feet long, and they are thick-bodied, scary snakes. I’m not sure how big this one was, but he was big. Fortunately, he had no idea I was there, so he just kept slithering by. If he had been aware of my presence, he would have made noise…aren’t we all glad rattlesnakes have rattles?!?! I don’t know if I gasped. I don’t know if I screamed. I know I pulled my foot back quickly and stood frozen on the steps till the snake had passed, but then I was afraid there were snakes I didn’t see! I was scared to go back into that God-forsaken “camp,” but I was afraid to touch the ground to get back to the Jeep. Finally, one person went ahead of me, and then I ran to the Jeep.

As we drove out of the woods, I cried. Yep, cried. I said a prayer of thanks to God that He had spared me that terrible fate. I said a prayer of thanks that my brother was still alive; he spent so much time in the woods that he should have been bitten by at least one snake. I also prayed that the car would not break down before we got back to civilization.

For days, I thought about how fortunate I had been. I would have died if that snake had struck me…no doubt. There is no way my friends could have gotten me out of the woods fast enough to save me, and there were no phones to call an ambulance (which wouldn’t have been able to find me) either. I had seen death in the form of a Diamondback Rattlesnake and escaped.

The moral of the story? Well, there are a few lessons here. Don’t go places you aren’t supposed to go. Stay out of the woods. “Hunting camp” does not mean “hunting lodge.” One (a lodge) has real walls, electricity, and modern conveniences, and one looks like a place you might find a dead body…mine if I had stepped on that snake. And this has nothing to do with that particular snake tale, but it is a lesson: I don’t like brown water…like water in lakes and rivers…never have, because snakes can hide in the water. My friends, Angela and Mary Ann make fun of me for it, but here’s what I think: that brown water is their home…the creatures, I mean. I don’t want them in my home, and really…I don’t want to get in their home either.

A few years ago, in Maine, one of the kids with me kicked a ball into a grassy field, and I had to retrieve it. As I ran out into the field, I thought, “I wonder if they have venomous snakes in Maine.” As soon as I got to the ball, I saw a snake. And as soon as we got back indoors, I looked up “snakes in Maine” and found they had no venomous snakes. Whew!

Maybe I’ll move to Maine…

 

 

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Today is the anniversary of the death of a very dear friend. We became friends in 2004, right after my daughter turned one, and her son (her first child) was about six months old. Our lives were intertwined for years. Dynamics changed as our kids got older. My friend took a job. She moved to the west coast. She and her husband divorced. They moved again to the east coast…New England. But we always remained friends. Was our friendship always perfect? No. She was hurt when she took her job and our playgroup didn’t envelope her kids the way we should have. We didn’t always agree with each other’s decisions. But we were friends. We were the kind of friends who would have always been friends…and then she died.

And here’s what I always hear…”Life goes on.” But what exactly does that mean? Her life didn’t go on, but the lives of her children, family, and friends have gone on. Because she had moved away years ago and never answered her phone, she wasn’t a part of our daily lives in Charlotte anymore. But she was a part of my life…and she was a part of the lives of others. I’m not going to say all that sappy stuff like “she lit up a room”…or “she was always good.” People were drawn to her, and I was flattered that she picked me as her friend. But she wasn’t perfect, just like I’m not. But dang it…she was my friend. And she was the mother to two children…now aged 13 and 15. She was the daughter of two wonderful parents who loved her beyond measure, and her sister and brother….well, they adored her too. She loved her family more than anything, and they were always active in her life. But her life stopped on June 4, 2018. Gone too soon. She was just 46, even though the priest at her funeral kept saying she was 47…that actually made me chuckle during the service, thinking of what her response would have been, “Are you kidding me?! Don’t make me older than I am!”

She was active. She exercised all the time and ate really well most of the time…even though we did love eating Doritos together late at night when we vacationed in Maine. She loved red licorice, Zotz candy, and Spree candy. Those were her weaknesses…her guilty pleasures. She didn’t eat them all the time, but she sure enjoyed them when she had them! There was a candy store in Kennebunkport, Maine, that sold the perfect red licorice for her, and we were regulars there. Once, she was going to another store, so I went to stock up on candy. I had forgotten my wallet, so she gave me her credit card and her drivers license. I laughed, saying, “Ummm…if they ask for ID for the credit card, there is no way they are going to believe this!” She was tall, dark, and Irish/Italian. I’m short, fair, and Anglo. She said, “Just take it!” Luckily, they didn’t ask for ID, so I was able to stock up on licorice, Zotz, Spree, and good old-fashioned candy cigarettes for us. Go ahead. Grimace. We didn’t care. Candy cigarettes were old school, and we liked them.

My friend had suffered since she was a teenager with various types of cancer. Lymphoma, breast cancer, leukemia…life wasn’t easy for her, but she kept living it…till she didn’t. I think I always believed she would continue to beat cancer…till she didn’t.

Her children, a boy and a girl, are being raised by their very capable dad. He’s a good dad, exposing them to the world while also making sure their souls are nourished. They go to camp with other children who have lost parents to cancer. They have loving grandparents, and they have aunts and uncles who love them too. But they don’t have their mother. She’s not there every day to encourage them to finish homework. She’s not there to hug them when they need it. She’s not there to guide them, listen to them, help them, parent them.

So yes, life goes on…but it goes on without my friend. For her children, life goes on without their mother. For her parents…without their daughter.

Things happen all the time that make me think of her. Every time I go to Dunkin’ Donuts and order an iced coffee with extra cream, I think of her. Every time I drive past her old house in Charlotte…at least twice a week (I do it intentionally)…I think of her. Every time I think of summer on the beach in Maine…I think of her. Or summers at the pool…all our friends had memberships at different clubs, so we would alternate the pools we visited during the summer. Every time I eat Spree or Zotz, I think of her. I even saw a Santander Bank in Cancun and thought of her…she had worked for them at one time. I was talking with someone last week about Mike’s Pastries in Boston…thought of my friend; she introduced my daughter to cannolis at Mike’s Pastries. Every time someone mentions the Virginia Creeper bike trail, I think of her and the time we took our children…it turned into a comedy of errors, but we survived. Every time I pass the hospital, I think of her, because we actually spent quality time there together, when she was having chemo. Mention California Pizza Kitchen, and I think of the time she almost died from an anaphylactic reaction when we were having lunch there. When I think of my daddy’s cancer diagnosis, I think of her too, because I was on my way to dinner with her when I found out Daddy had pancreatic cancer. And every time I hear about a young person who has cancer, I think of her and how long she fought.

My friend hasn’t been forgotten. She is still a part of our lives and our regular conversations. She taught us a lot about friendship. Tonight, our playgroup friends will gather for dinner, sans kids, to drink a toast to our friend who is no longer with us…one year gone. Life goes on…but it goes on differently.