Given a few seconds to think about it and my mother would jump in front of a train to save one of her children, any child for that matter. But there is a limit to even a saint’s ability to overcome deep seated fears. Mom had two such fears, roaches and snakes. Of the former she might say, “I know the Bible says God made everything, but I don’t believe He made a roach; Those things were hatched in Hell.” When she saw one in our house she could not and would not sleep until she killed it. I’m talking about north Florida, the Garden of Eden for roaches: pine needles, moisture, heat and humidity.
She kept bottles of “Black Flag” in every room, or so it seemed. When a roach was spotted she would go to no end to flush it out of its hiding place so she could drown it in poison and the squish it for good measure. Many a night we were stirred from slumber by the sound of her high pitched squeal. We would come running as if called to the Battle of Armageddon. Wherever she last saw the demonic bug became the front lines of offence. Remove the covers from the bed, no problem. Remove the mattress and box springs, just a minor challenge. Empty the dresser drawer of each item, one at a time, inspecting each for shadowy figures, we can do that. All the while we hoped and prayed for a sighting. Just one roach was all we needed, any roach would do just as long as Mom could be convinced it was the one she had spotted. More than once we moved every piece of furniture in her room, emptied ever drawer, and removed every item in the closest while creating the Mount of Everest in the middle of the room. Those pesky little creatures sure know how to hide. Once the dirty deed was done we could drift off to sleep listening to mother singing “Victory in Jesus” as she cleared a place to lie down on her bed.
I have never doubted my mother’s love for me except for that one Saturday afternoon at our favorite fishing hole at “Dead River” on the Little Satilla River. “Dead River” was a little half-moon lake formed when a flood cut a more direct channel in the river leaving the lake attached on both ends. Our favorite spot was the gator hole, a deep, black pool that opened to the little lake. It was a great spot for catfish and perch. You could always catch a mess there.
On this particular day Shirley and Darlene were less than sympathetic with our passion for bobbing corks. They stood behind us on the bank, arms folded in defiance. When Mom and I approached the black waters I noticed a moccasin sunning itself on the opposite side of the pond at least twenty feet from us. I gave it little thought. “If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.” On our side Mom and I stood on a large log lying half way down the bank, a perfect platform about two feet above the water and eighteen to twenty inches below the bank.
We were not catching any fish. I noticed the snake move away from the water’s edge and hoped the fish would return. I got a nibble and was closely watching my cork when I heard a strange sound over my shoulder, “snay, snay, snay.” I glanced at the source and saw Shirley franticly pointing toward my feet. Darlene was silently pointing and bouncing. I looked down to my right and saw the fanged descendent of Lucifer less than a foot from my foot; in the same instant both girls screamed, “SNAKE!, Moma, there’s a snake!”
I one smooth move I twirled and jumped up the bank toward safety. Not knowing where the scaly beast was, Mom grabbed my shirt tail to pull herself up the bank. She went up and I came down. I knew where the snake was. I grabbed her arm and pulled myself up and she came back down. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Each of us was clinging to the other in hopes of salvation. Each of us succeeded in pulling the other down on top of the confused serpent.
We finally made it to safety and watched the reptile slither down into the water. I know he must have told this story to his children and his children’s children. “Kids, did I ever tell you about the time I had fun with a couple of humans?”
Whenever the story came up in our family, Mom never let me forget I didn’t try to save my own mother from a poisonous snake. I never failed to question her so called motherly instincts. Neither Shirley or Darlene ever developed a love for fishing (at least as far as I know), but sure do enjoy reliving that day.
Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee
May 2, 2010