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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A Southern Boy Turns 50

I wish I could remember the day my parents brought my brother home from the hospital, but I can’t. I was seventeen months old, and I was angry. According to Mother, I avoided her and wouldn’t talk to her when they came home. I’m not a silent-treatment kind of person, but apparently, I was then. My life had changed forever. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a change for the better. See slideshow:

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Today, that baby brother turns 50. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I do want to celebrate him.

Growing up, we were polar opposites. Mother used to say, “No matter how long you were outside…five minutes or two hours…you came back in clean, and he came back in dirty.” He was all boy…snakes, snails…you get the picture. I was all girl. He was always funny; I wasn’t so funny. I made mudpies, but he made mudpies to have a mud fight. I hated to get in trouble; he didn’t mind getting in trouble. I was a rule follower; he was a rule breaker. I evaluated situations before getting involved; he threw all caution to the wind. I wanted to do well on standardized tests; he wanted to make patterns with the dots on standardized tests.

When we were kids, Brother (I call him Brother, and he calls me Sister) loved playing outside. And I mean he loved it. He loved fishing, hunting, baseball, basketball, getting muddy, Tonka trucks in the dirt…if he could be outside, he was happy.  He was always athletic. I think he could ride a two-wheeled bicycle before he was three; the neighbors in Brewton were amazed. He played baseball with the older boys in the neighborhood. He fished in the neighborhood lake. When we moved to Spanish Fort, he would talk me into going through the bamboo to the creek behind our house…where I once saw a gigantic rattlesnake swim past; I ran home and never went back after that, but he did. I would still venture into the bamboo with him, so he could show me green snakes eating frogs or black snakes slithering by, but I didn’t go back to the creek.

Daddy spent countless hours throwing a baseball with my left-handed brother. Oh, I was so jealous that he was left-handed; it got so much attention. We all had fun together, but Brother and Daddy were a team. They were both funny and appreciated each other’s humor, but Daddy was more serious and cautious than Brother.

Because he has always been adventurous and funny, there are stories. Oh, the stories! One of my favorites is about a phone call Daddy received one night when Brother was in ninth grade. It was from a teacher whose class I had been in two years before, Coach Long. I had always behaved very nicely in his class. And then along came Brother. That night, Daddy picked up the phone, and Coach Long said, “Mr. Parmer, I sure hated to have to call you.” I’m sure they exchanged pleasantries before Coach Long told him the purpose of the call. “Mr. Parmer, your son is a leader, but he’s leading my class in the wrong direction (emphasis on the first syllable..DI-rection).” Uh-oh. Uh, yeah…. Brother was in big trouble. Apparently, he had been quite the class clown during Coach Long’s class. For the rest of the school year, I had to visit Coach Long every two weeks and ask him if Brother was behaving correctly. He would laugh, and I would too, but Brother behaved well for the rest of the school year, and he and Coach Long developed a mutual respect for each other…later becoming friends.

When Brother was 14, Mother drove past a local church and saw Brother driving a friend’s car…doing doughnuts in the parking lot. When she asked him about it later, he told her everything was under control…he knew how to drive…at 14. Apparently, he had been driving a friend’s car…frequently…big trouble. Another time, after he could drive legally, he and a friend drove a truck into a construction site. It was a weekend, so no one was there. They drove the truck down a steep loose-dirt hill and then couldn’t drive it out. Daddy borrowed a truck with a winch to pull them out…more trouble…and a lecture about responsibility and self control. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” I know about the lecture, because I sat quietly at the top of the stairs and listened.

Brother is a lot of fun, with a contagious laugh and a sometimes warped sense of humor.   But Brother’s not all fun and games. He’s a licensed airplane pilot and skilled boat captain. He’s strong in a crisis. He helps folks on a regular basis and expects nothing in return. Over the years, he has helped stranded motorists on interstates and back roads; helped people move; and more. When we were young, we looked out for each other and felt each other’s pain. If someone slammed Brother’s fingers in a door, I cried. Mother told people when we were little that if something happened to her, since Daddy traveled with work, my 17-months younger brother would take care of me. We’ve been through life together. We’ve lost both parents together. Everyone else may not get us, but we get us. We are connected.  All his humor hides a big heart.

That class clown is all grown up now; he’s still an overgrown little boy, but he’s 50. He has a beautiful wife; two handsome, smart sons; and three awesome bonus sons. I’m lucky he’s my brother. Have there been times I’ve wanted to wring his neck? Yes. Have there been times I’ve needed his support? Yes. Now that both our parents are gone, we know it’s even more important to support each other. We talk almost every day  and often call each other with silly trivia questions.

I’m lucky my parents brought that baby home 50 years ago. Happy Birthday, Brother!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rookie Gardener

I’ve said before that I am no gardener. A few years ago, I had some pretty good luck with gardening in my backyard, but then I developed a fear of snakes and became afraid. Every time I thought about sticking my hands into or near the dirt, I was terrified I would pick up a copperhead.

In Mecklenburg County, the only venomous snake species we have is the copperhead, but it seems there are lots of them. Growing up in Alabama, we had six species of venomous snakes, including three different types of rattlesnakes, which are highly dangerous to humans. I’ve seen more than my fair share of rattlesnakes and copperheads. In fact, I came dangerously close to stepping on a big diamondback rattlesnake when I was 18. To learn more about the venomous snakes of Alabama, including the copperhead, click here. Be forewarned: just like Jaws made us all afraid to go back into the water, seeing the pictures of these snakes may make you afraid to go back outside altogether.

Back to gardening. For years, I did nothing, till this year, and I’m not doing a lot, but I am doing a little. I have more than one inspiration. I want to have some sunflowers in memory of my parents this summer, and posts by my friend, Michelle, owner of Corner Copia Gardens and Gifts in Fairhope, Alabama, would make anyone want to try their hand at gardening. To see her Facebook page for inspiration, click here.

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Photo from Corner Copia Gardens in Fairhope, Alabama

While I want sunflowers in my backyard, I’m not planting any other types of flowers. We have some beautiful knockout roses that continue to bloom, so I don’t feel like I need to add much to those. I’m adding a few vegetables.

One thing I’ve always loved is a good homegrown vine-ripened tomato. When my friend, Wendy, lived here in Charlotte, she had a neighbor who grew some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life. And I’ve had a lot of tomatoes. Growing up, I didn’t care for tomatoes. I think a lot of kids are turned off by the slightly acidic taste of tomatoes. When I was in college, I went to the lake with a friend, and her mother had some homegrown tomatoes for us. Not wanting to be rude, I ate the slices she gave me, and I never looked back.

If you are a tomato person, you know store-bought tomatoes are deceiving. Every year, I make the mistake of picking up some beautiful tomatoes in the grocery store with hopes they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Then, I get home and slice into them, only to find they are hard and ugly on the inside. A good, homegrown tomato is just as red on the inside as it is on the outside.

Throughout my life, I had seen my daddy eat tomato sandwiches. He loved a good tomato sandwich, and apparently, my mother knew the perfect way to make them. It’s not difficult, but if you don’t make them just right, you can mess them up. My daddy liked his tomatoes peeled. Weird, I know, but that’s what he liked. Sometimes, I peel mine too. But the main thing is to use white bread…not whole wheat, not whole grain, not pumpernickel or rye…white bread. On the white bread slices, slather your favorite mayonnaise. Daddy preferred Hellman’s, but I prefer Duke’s. Yes, you can use the reduced fat versions, but because good tomatoes are hard to find, I don’t want to mess them up with the reduced fat stuff. Add tomato slices to the mayo-slathered bread and top it with a little salt and pepper to taste. I can almost taste it now. ***It’s difficult to find Duke’s Mayonnaise in some parts of the country. If you’ve never had it, you should try it. You can order it from Amazon here.***

Obviously, I’m trying to grow my own tomatoes this summer. My husband and I picked up a few small plants, and he put them in the ground. We purchased Bonnie Plants brand Big Boy tomato plants and Better Boy tomato plants at a local store. To see the Bonnie Plants website for tomato information, click here. It’s not too late to do your own. I’ve been tending ours. That means I’ve been calling my brother to get tips on growing good tomatoes. I’ve also been checking online for information. So far, I haven’t killed them yet, and we even have a few small tomatoes showing up on our plants. I looked online to see how long it takes tomatoes to ripen on the vine, and on average, for the types we are growing, it takes about 75 days after germination. That seems like a long time. I’m counting down the days and hoping I don’t kill them before then.

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I’ve also planted a few other vegetables. We’ll see how that works out before I go into any detail.

My friend, Leah, in memory of my parents, gave me a Sunflower Grow Kit earlier this year, and I was so excited to get that started, and so far, they’re growing! The kit included potting soil, seeds, plant food, and a bag in which to grow them. You can see various grow kits here. I also planted some Burpee brand sunflower seeds, which you can find at your local home stores. I purchased mine at Home Depot, but they have them in Lowe’s too. If you live in or near Wetumpka, Alabama, you can visit the Lowe’s there and see my handsome nephew, Brennen.

My sunflowers have been a little slow-growing, but in the past few days they seem to be getting some traction. I have hope. Sunflowers aren’t difficult to grow, and I had huge success with them 16 years ago, growing some of the biggest, most beautiful sunflowers I’ve ever seen. I planted mine a little later than before, but with sunflowers, I think that’s OK.

For planting this year, since I still haven’t overcome my fear of snakes, I wore gardening gloves and used a gardening trowel. I don’t know how much protection that offers from snakes, but it made me feel better. I found myself scanning all around me while I dug, though. I won’t even walk out onto the patio without checking out the steps before opening the back door.

As the summer progresses, I’ll keep you posted on my gardening. Hoping for tall sunflowers with big heads and some juicy tomatoes soon.

Go play in the dirt!

***If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please invite friends to like the facebook page.***