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April 19, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

I'm one of the majority that doesn't care much for snakes. I guess I could take it a step farther — the only good snake is a dead snake. I know it's not proper to think that way but I can't help it and make no apology for my feelings. I'm sure there's a lot of you who feel the same way.

My mother was one of those people deathly afraid of snakes. With her, snakes were no joking matter. She preached this to us religiously when we were young but it didn't really sink in until I presented her with a present. It was a brown paper sack tied with a pretty red ribbon. Inside was a red racer I had caught while mowing the lawn. You can't image the design on my butt. In place, the intricate floral pattern of the hand-carved cowboy belt she used was visible for two weeks as the bruise went through various colors of the rainbow. Forty-five years later, I still can't get close to my mother with a closed paper bag.


When I was 12 the folks built a new house on the edge of the New River, on the west side of Brawley. Our new house was south of what is now Terrace Circle. Back then it was Russell's dairy and milk cows pastured right up to our yard. We cleared the brush around the house and from the 20 acres below, in the river bottom. In the process, the bulldozer operator killed over 75 rattlesnakes.

How my mother got through the next 10 years is beyond me. Rattlesnakes and sidewinders were constantly showing up around the house. Drake, our dog, scratched on the back door one morning and we discovered a rattlesnake had bitten him. His head was puffed up as big as a basketball but fortunately the vet saved him.

I had a few close calls myself. My job was to clean the leaves out of the pool skimmer daily. The cover over the skimmer was a brass plate with a round hole in the middle to stick your finger in to remove it. After discovering a mad half-drowned rattlesnake coiled inside the leaf basket I never stuck my finger in the cover again. Snakes showed up in the skimmer a couple times a year.

Snakes have found their way into our house on several occasions, which has really livened up things around the old homestead.

My wife, Patti, had fallen asleep on the couch while waiting for our son, Mike, to come home from a high school game. When Mike and his friend Danny finally arrived, they came in through the wash room. Danny was walking ahead of Mike and as he stepped up into the family room Mike yelled, "SNAKE!"

This woke Patti up and she spotted a 6-foot gopher snake lying in front of the door. Mike grabbed a broom in the washroom to defend himself and Patti yelled for Danny, who had faded back into the washroom, to get something to help Mike. But when Danny peaked around the corner and spotted the snake, he shouted, "Dude, that's a snake." Mike, trying to get the reptile moving toward the back door said "I know. Get something and help me." Danny, who wasn't buying into the plan, replied, "I ain't touchin' no snake, dude."

All this time Patti was shouting directions while perched atop her command post, which happened to he the backrest of the couch: "Don't let the snake in the wash room. Watch out he doesn't bite you. Don't kill him on the new carpet."

Mike, who is afraid of snakes but was following his mother's directions like a trooper, used the broom and was finally able to sweep the snake out the back door.

The next time we had a snake in the house my mother-in-law, who lives with us, woke Mike up to tell him she thought there was a snake in the back room. Mike was still searching when Patti got up for a drink of water and told her about the snake before heading back to bed.

As Patti was drinking her glass of water she saw something move in the family room. As her eyes focused in the dark room she saw a huge gopher snake sprawled on the carpet. Patti yelled for Mike and he came running with a show cane, the kind used for walking 4-H pigs. Again, Patti climbed atop her command post and started yelling and speaking in foreign tongues.

Mike had no problem translating what would happen to him if the snake made it to the wash room or if he got snake blood on the carpet. Although he was deathly afraid of the snake, he was more afraid of his mother in her current state, and in a brilliant display of showmanship, he used the show cane to walk the snake outside.

Where was I all this time? I was asleep. I don't wake up for anything at night except earthquakes over a magnitude of 1.

Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at

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