Saturday, August 13, 2011

Stories From Flowers On The Fence Country: Rattlesnake Saturday Afternoon

I told y’all that special people wouldn’t be the only thing my fence collected, remember? Places have a magic all their own. My little hometown is Small Town America epitomized. More properly, it’s best described in the words of a Tim McGraw song as a “stop sign on a map dot.” Jeffersonville, Twiggs County, Georgia, doesn’t even have a traffic light. I kid you not. We have two four way stops. The town, the whole county, is a place country music comes from.

Everybody knows everybody else. They know your mother’s maiden name. They know you’re from one particular family or the other by the shape of your nose. They don’t even have to know your family name to know that, though of course they do. They know who makes the best pound cakes, who makes the best potato salad, who grows the biggest tomatoes, the greenest ferns. Since we’ve been here, I’ve come to believe that country music has grown in popularity because folks who aren’t country folks don’t really believe such places exist but they wish they did. And folks who are country folks know such places exist.

We came to Jeffersonville in the early 90’s from a pretty big middle Georgia city, lured by that very smallness. And we built a house in the middle of fifty acres that we purchased for a song, a feat that could not be replicated today even with the current economic conditions. It might not be the only place in the world where it’s possible to own fifty acres of land within the city limits but off-hand, I don’t know of any others.

My driveway’s about three-quarters of a mile long, lined with the beauty of the Southern woods. In the spring, wisteria blossoms tumble from the trees and hang in glorious veils of purple. Warning! If you’re coming down my driveway, keep watch for crossing rabbits and squirrels, for slow-moving turtles, for coveys of turkey, for deer. Frequently groups of two or three will leap one right after the other directly in front of the car. At dark fall, whippoorwills and hoot owls call back and forth in conversations you swear you could understand if you could just listen deep enough. At dusk, the deer often feed in the edges of the yard proper, where the yard begins to slide into the woods. In the winter, it’s not uncommon for as many as ten or twelve of them to graze at night in the part of our yard we call “the bottom.”

Such beauty, however, does not come without a price. Even the Garden of Eden had snakes. And let me tell you – the South has snakes. We have plenty of the non-poisonous varieties, of course. The problem is, we have damn near every variety of poisonous snake that exists. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. We don’t have Egyptian asps. What we do have, in plenty, are moccasins and rattlesnakes.

And so it came to pass one Saturday afternoon two summers past, I was busily engaged in house-cleaning. My house is a full house. My kids are grown, but both my sons, Patrick and Lee, are still single and still live at home. My daughter Rebecca and her husband Jason have a lovely house not three miles away from us. They have wonderful jobs but their hours? Not so wonderful sometimes. Consequently, my grandson Austin considers both their house and our house equally home and is perfectly content in either and with either set of grown-ups he might have custody of. We have three dogs, all wonderful flowers acquired from here and there, including the side of the road and parking lots – Max, mid-sized mix; Maya, huge-sized, mostly Dobie; and Murphy, small-sized mix who sounds like he’s possessed by a demon when he gears up and makes you wonder if it’s time to call the Exorcist.

On this Saturday afternoon, my husband Randy, oldest son Patrick, and Austin (who had spent Friday night with us) departed for the big-little city of Dublin about twenty miles south of us for haircuts and general errand running. Maya indicated she would not be ungrateful were she allowed outside for a bit. Neither of the other dogs seemed interested in a yard break. I let Maya out and went back in a few minutes to let her in, summer being in full swing and it being viciously hot.

As I opened the door, I heard Maya growl. Then she charged forward, heading for the trees on the far side of my bedroom. There’s a particular growl that raises the hackles on the back of the human neck. This was such a growl. I rushed down the steps and saw – two monster rattlesnakes mating. They were entwined, weaving like Cobras rising from baskets to the snake charmer’s flute, standing fully two feet in the air, thicker than a man’s arm, at least six to eight feet in length! Both of them!

Maya stood a respectable distance away from them, barking insanely. I screamed at her to come back, stupid on my part, I know, but she listened. I got her inside while thanking God that she’d been the only one out. Max would have charged them, I knew it, and Murphy was only about four months old at the time and weighed maybe eight pounds. I tried to stop the scenes playing in my head which insisted on showing me the consequences of a puppy that small charging what he would have considered big play toys.

Safely inside, I considered my options. My husband had been raised hunting, most Southern boys are, but he didn’t care for it. His idea of a good time involved camping and hiking, not shooting. Consequently, our sons had not been raised knowing how to handle guns. Randy’s prized Browning Sweet 16 shotgun was in the closet, always maintained in perfect condition even though he didn’t hunt. (I understand that’s considered a pretty special gun, not that I knew anything about how to use it.) So. I had a gun, and I had a male body in the house, but Lee had never handled a gun other than BBs and pellet guns. Neither had I. Actually, I’d been a crack shot with a BB gun as a kid, but I didn’t think BBs were going to make much impact here. My son-in-law was a hunter and a trained deputy sheriff, K-9 officer to boot, but we had Austin in the first place because both Becca and Jason had worked late the night before and had to go into Macon that morning for some reason that now escapes me.

Where the heck were reinforcements? Was the crew on the road, coming home from Dublin? Yes, they were. Over Patrick’s sync, nicknamed by the family Lola, Randy shot out instructions on how to load the Sweet 16, ignoring my protests that there was no way I was going to hit ‘em even if I did get it loaded.

“Don’t let those things get into the woods! No tellin’ where they’ll lay the eggs, they lay in the edge of the woods, we’ll have a swarm of damn baby rattlesnakes hatching in the yard come spring!”

“Mama, y’all leave that gun alone!” Patrick hollered. “Y’all miss, they might charge you! Rattlesnakes’ll charge, you know! And they move freakin’ fast! Austin, hush!!” This last to Austin, cheerfully calling in the background, “Ganmama? I get haircut, Ganmama! And new Thomas Train!”

“Austin! I’m tryin’ to talk to Grandmama! Mama, don’t you try it, do you hear me?”

“Where the Hell's Jason?!” Randy exclaimed in disgust, and hung up. I knew his speed dial was in operation, hunting Jason. Within seconds, Becca called.

“Mama, we’re on the way home. Jason’s on his phone, calling the other deputies to see who's close. He says don’t you or Lee dare try to shoot ‘em, he says they’ll be real aggressive, if you miss, they really might charge you. And for sure, they’d get away! And besides, Jay says they ought to stay where they are for a while, I mean, look what they’re doin’, after all! If he can’t get anybody, he’s comin’ just as soon as we get home, we’re closer than Daddy! And don’t go out there!”

No worries on that count. Because oh, yeah, Lee and I were standing at my side bedroom window watching the intertwined, writhing, mound of snake flesh, which didn’t give any indication they were ready to disengage activity. At this point, they'd twined themselves down to about 4 feet from that window. We had a good enough view for me to assure myself that no, I hadn’t exaggerated on the size of the things. These snakes had been around for a while.

Within minutes, Becca called back. “Mama, Josh was in the office doing paperwork, he’ll be right there!” I could, in fact, already hear the sound of an engine coming down. Jason’s wonderful partner Josh! I will spare y’all any graphic descriptions, except to say that muscle spasms last for quite a few minutes after a snake is dead (can you say “iiiccccccckkkkkkkk”?) and I will further assure all of you that no, down here in middle Georgia, rattlesnakes are not a protected species.

Yes, there are snakes even in Eden. But down here in Flowers on the Fence Country, we take the good with the bad. And do y’all realize that in this small little town, I didn’t get such personalized service because I was a deputy’s mother-in-law? Any citizen in such a situation would have gotten just such a response from the deputies. Because down here, calls to the Sheriff’s office aren’t from faceless people, they’re from Becca’s Mama, Miss Gail; Sam’s cousin, Mr. Brown; Miss Sally, John’s Aunt. That’s the way it is in small towns where everybody knows what time everybody else eats supper. And what they ate.

Glance around today’s blog for some pictures of my woods! Don’t forget to go all the way down to the bottom! And don’t worry, I didn’t take any pictures of the snakes. And they really don’t come out that often. Maybe next time I’ll tell y’all the story of the night of the drunk naked man in his underwear. Yeah, I know he wasn’t really naked if he was in his underwear but the night of the drunk man in his underwear just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So y’all come back now, hear?


  1. Very visual. I absolutely hate, hate snakes. Even reading about them, I won't be able to sleep tonight. Seriously, if I see one on TV, it stays in my mind for days. You painted such a descriptive picture, I don't know if I can get it out of my mind. I do love the idea of your small town though. It sounds great.

  2. Shivers down the backbone. I wouldn't have known what to do I found that happening in my back yard. Well I would because we don't have snakes in New Zealand so I'd call the Min of Ag, but even so - two giant rattlesnakes - shiver again.

  3. You, Dear Gail, sure can describe the adventures life sends our way.

    Like you, I grew up in a small town. We only had one police man...he moonlighted during the day as the local pig farmer and on Christmas Eve as Santa Claus.

    We only had two acres of land, but our whole town was just a mile long. If you were there you either lived there or were lost.

    I grew up with three brothers 9 years, 4 years older, and 3 years younger. I've already told the story of the 13 year old boys that decided the knothole in the chicken coop looked like a right seductive female, so I won't repeat that one here...besides I was 16 at the time and horribly traumatized.

    At a very early age I learned how to entertain myself at dusk, when the bats come out to forage. I'm sure there are many in your Flowers on The Fence country that can recite my story, but for those that can't.

    If you stand in the middle of your acreage and look up at the still somewhat light sky, you can see bats zipping around.

    Mind you living in the country means no theater round the bend, no pinball arcades...(this was before video games) drugstores with soda fountains to belly up to. What we had was the sky, some rocks and the urge to watch our throws make the bats engage their built in radar.

    Doesn't sound like much, but there's something entertaining about watching bats circling stones, you, little old you, toss high enough in the sky to make them take note.

    Okay, nowhere near as entertaining as the mating snakes...And as much as I KNOW the knothole story would pick up the's already been told. Don't want to get a rep for boring y'all like old men who sit in their sweaty tank t-shirts, guzzling beer, telling you the same story they forced you to listen to twenty minutes ago. And I doubt anyone would be interested in my tales of playing hide "n" seek in the town's funeral home either.

    Gail...thank you for sharing your adventure and photos of your little kingdom. Loved em all.

  4. This sounds like the basis of a wonderful story, Gail! You did a magnificent job describing an idyllic scene then tainting it with danger. Snakes! I grew up in the city of Boston and have never been out in my New Hampshire back yard because my husband said there are snakes. I may have to move to Ireland! Lovely post, really enjoyed it.

  5. The only thing I can say to this is "Snakes alive!" - Well, I could say more, citing the Acts of The Apostles about how it came to pass that Malta has a legend about how vipers have no venom, but then I would have to say where the poison ended up, so I won't...

  6. I lived on a farm complete with snakes, protected snakes, and in Australia we have lovely lethal varieties that are also aggressive. My answer was to have a little nosy dog (Aussie Terrier) to go anywhere the children went, so it would be the target rather than the humans. My friend down the way, chose a Fox terrier, same reason, same awful snake filled year. That same year we lost several Aust Cattle dog pups to breeding Red Belly Black snakes. On a previous occassion I lost a full grown horse to a tiger snake.
    They were just a part of life and death.

  7. What a wonderful, but terrifying way to start my week. Your small town is like my home town. Lin, my dad was the undertaker so I played a LOT in the funeral home! You described the idyllic home and then shattered it with the snake story...LOL! Great storytelling. I couldn't stop reading. Thanks. Glad you love your small town as much as I love the memories of mine.

  8. Hi, Gail. Wonderful description of your town, and it sounds so much like many little wide spots in the road in Missouri. You wax eloquent on your home and it is seductive (in a good way).
    As regards rattlesnakes, they will not charge you unless they are cornered. I lived with lots of them out in western Nebraska. a rattlesnake can only strike about one third of its total length, so a six foot snake can strike about two feet. But when they do, they are lightning fast, and if you're within range, you're bit and that's that. On the good side, most folks bitten by rattlesnakes do not die. Sometimes they wish they were dead because it can make you very, very sick.
    I have a snake story but it will have to wait for one of my blogs where I take us back to a childhood home in southeast MO.
    Fun reading your post. Love your way with words. Keep it up!

  9. Hi Gail, Thanks for visiting my book launch on Wendy L's blog. Sounds like Tess would get on well with my mc, Cal. Great to have you as part of the party.
    I now have your blog safely listed on my blog page too. Finally figured out it was Mozilla not Blogger at fault.