Don’t mention snakes in front of Mom

Writer’s Block

Lots of words have been written about mothers. One of my favorites is: “Only a mother would think her daughter has been a good girl when she returns from a date with a Gideon Bible in her purse.”

Moms will walk through broken glass, rusty nails, shards of razor blades and fire – barefoot – for their kids. But my mom had her limit: snakes.

When she was just a girl, her big brother threw a garter snake at her, the way so many loving big brothers do. The incident scared her so much, her lifetime phobia of snakes became locked and loaded.

I remember one time when she took my siblings and me on a summer picnic. We drove up to a mountain lake, rented a small boat and rowed across the lake to a secluded beach. We had no sooner set down our blankets and picnic basket, than Mom noticed several little sticks wriggling around in the sand. But they weren’t sticks. They were small snakes, really small. I’ve seen bigger caterpillars. But that was all it took.

The woman screamed loud enough to be heard in outer space. Without even bothering to gather us up, she leapt back into the boat and began rowing away. When she was out about 20 yards, she called out to us. “Swim to me,” she yelled. We did – and once in the boat, she rowed us back to other side of the lake, piled us into our car and sped away faster than an Indy driver.

She just hated serpents. She couldn’t watch a TV nature show if it happened to feature a snake. She recoiled from snakeskin boots at the shoe store. She refused to wear boas, garters or moccasins.

She wouldn’t let us watch Monty Python. On a trip to Idaho, she told my dad just to keep driving past the sign that read: “This way to Snake River Canyon.”

She wasn’t around when the movie “Snakes on a Plane” came out. Good thing, or she would have never traveled anywhere again. And she would have positively shuddered to hear about the real life news story that happened in Australia a couple of weeks ago.

During a Qantas airline flight to Melbourne, four baby pythons somehow escaped from their enclosure in the cargo hold. After the plane quickly landed, passengers scrambled off in a panic.

Even though the entire plane was fumigated, the snakes were never found – dead or alive. Cue the creepy music.

It reminds me of an incident from some years ago on KING TV’s local sketch comedy show “Almost Live!” I took part in a taped bit that required a number of large writhing snakes. A local snake wrangler arrived with a big sack that contained, he said, 12 snakes of various types, all between 6 and 8 feet long. It was a sack that Santa Claus probably never carried, except for really bad kids.

We shot the sketch in an empty office at the TV station and, once done, the wrangler gathered up the snakes and put them back into the bag. But even though he counted several times, he could only account for 11 snakes. He finally decided that he must have been mistaken about bringing 12 – and left.

Before long, the tale of the rogue snake was spreading through the TV station like an Internet rumor.

“It escaped into a vent and was now moving through the duct work,” went one popular theory. We realized what a ratings booster it would be if the snake suddenly plopped onto the anchor desk right in the middle of the 5 o’clock news. We’d finally be able to find out for sure just how high Dennis Bounds.

But the escapee snake, if it existed, was never found. There are some who believed the reptile may have made its way into the sewer system and slithered several blocks underground to Channel 9, where it would suddenly emerge some night during a pledge break.

That certainly would have made the phones ring.

And made my mom give up TV for good.