Ezra T. Gray
I do not know, I guess I admired the snake. Well, admiration is not exactly what I felt for it. Need, perhaps? Gladness? Most certainly. Or security? Yes, secure. That is how I felt. Secure.
However, it was still a snake and the snake is a symbol for evil, right?
I shan’t ever forget the day, the first time I saw the snake. Well, the first time I noticed it. I was told it was there before, but I had not seen it, or at least if I did, I didn’t remember it. In any event, it was about two o’clock in the afternoon. It had been an unusually cold spring, and we were blessed with a few great days warmth. The snake lay out on a rock, sunning himself. He was just an ordinary snake. Many had come before him and many would come after him, I supposed, but boy this one caught my eye. Mayhap I was ready for a snake. Anyway, I was going about my daily chores, when I saw him.
“You had better get off that rock, old boy. My father sees you, you will get the hoe!” My father loves to chop off snakes’ heads, and then cut them up thoroughly with that farming tool he wields so well. It seemed he heard me. The old serpent turned and looked right at me. “Huh,” I chuckled. “I wish Father was a bit more tolerant.” I was just thinking out loud. The snake then slithered off the rock and moved right toward me. It was nearly to my feet when I heard the sound of movement behind me. It was my father.
“Move out of the way, boy.” My father spat on the ground. “I’ll cut that damnable thing up.”
The snake slithered away quickly, just in the nick of time. My father’s hoe came down and missed it by a hair. I breathed a sigh of relief as it found shelter in a crack in the large boulder pile that served as a cornerstone in our yard.
“Boy, did you not see that thing? If you’d have moved a bit quicker, we would have got us one!”
“Ah, sorry,” I stammered, “I just… I just…. Sir, why is it that we hate snakes?”
“Snakes are evil,” my father said. “Evil.”
“But they eat rats, and Sir, you have to admit, we have rat problem in the barn. A bad rat problem.”
“We will take care of the rats, boy,” he said with great conviction. “We do not need a snake. We can, and have, taken care of ourselves many years. We certainly do not need a snake.”
“But sir, one snake? It’s just one snake, I mean, how bad could it be? Can’t it help us?”
“Help?” my father boomed. “Help? Help you and yours to an early grave.” He spat on the ground again. His brows drew together and his eyes were red with anger. “As long as I live, there will be no snakes on this place!”
When he spoke again, his voice was calmer. “Boy, I thought you knew my stand on snakes. I felt you understood it and shared it.”
“But just one….” I trailed off.
“Just one,” my father said. “There is no such thing as just one snake. There are always two, then three, then four and five. On and on. Remember me telling you about the old country? How my father thought he could court the likes of the snake? And what did he get for his trouble?”
“Death is right, but not at first. At first, because of the snake infestation, he lost his freedom to move around on his own, to farm the farm that had been in our family for years, and then he lost his livelihood and all the money he had. Then one of the snakes bit him.”
“Isn’t that what killed him?”
“Not at first. First he was sick. But the care of his health cost him so much that it took nearly all he had just to keep himself in snake oil medicine. Then my mother, your grandmother, was bit. By then, there was no snake oil to be bought, and even if there had been, they couldn’t have afforded it. She died. Then my older brother succumbed to a snake bite. We woke up one morning to find he and my father had died. That is when my remaining three brothers and I formulated a plan. We were going to leave, to come here and start over.
It was hard, the old country was our home. My people, your people, settled it. But someone thought they needed a snake to help make life easier, to catch the rats and mice while they slept. No worries, right? Wrong. The snakes took it all. They grew stronger and stronger, bigger and bigger, and when the rats were gone, they started on the chickens. They grew so big that one killed our calf and then a heifer. That’s what snakes do, boy. They grow and grow until they’ve consumed all that is around them, and wasted the rest. Then they turn on you.
With that my father turned and walked toward the house. Sometime during his sermon he had handed me his hoe. I looked down at it. “Sir,” I called, “your hoe!”
“Keep it.” He smiled at me. “You may need it.”
“Sir? I have one question.”
The man who was my father, the Fountainhead of my very life’s blood, turned and looked at me. “Yes, son?”
“What was the name of the old country, you know, where did we come from?”
“The USA,” the man said, “the good old United States of America.”
I watched him go into the house. I looked at the hoe. I had need of it, but not to chop weeds. I could see the old snake sneaking out again. I was close, close to adoration and close to dependency, but with the swing of my hoe I was free.
Dad was right. It is good to kill snakes.