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Havoc In Motion
By Jay White
Mama and the Garter Snake
When I was a schoolboy in Sonora, Texas, we lived near an enormous elm tree. At sundown, sparrows, thousands of them, would conspire to set up the most garrulous din imaginable—quarreling over roosting rights, you see, and Mama never failed to remark about it. “My Lord,” she would say, “you wouldn’t think they’d get so fussy over a little piece of branch.”
Mama anthropomorphized every living thing. Animals spoke to her and to one another in Mississippi river bottom English. She knew what they thought, too. If she looked out the door and spotted an old hound trotting along with its head down, tongue out, she’d remark with compassion: “Now, that old dog there’s a-thinking, ‘Lord-God, ahm tard!”
She empathized with domestic animals, too. One time when we drove by a vast mob of sheep gathered to overflowing in a rancher’s home pasture for sheering. Mama surveyed them for a long moment before murmuring, “Lordy, I bet that one right in the center is hot!”
Mama loved all animals as long as they had legs. Through the days of my childhood I harbored numerous dogs and cats, a whitetail deer, two crows, a goat, a turtle, ground squirrels, lizards aplenty, crawdads, even tarantulas—any critter that had legs was fine with Mama. Snakes and worms, however, were right out. For some reason they terrified her. I was, of course, perfectly aware of her phobia.
One summer day when I was about ten, I captured a young garter snake (harmless) and sprung it on Mama. She yelled as if I had showed her the face of Satan himself and ran into the bathroom and locked the door. She was still in there two hours later when Dad came home from work.
My father only took the belt to me twice in my life, and that time was one of them. Whew! Still hurts.