Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Snakes make exciting stories

“So, Uncle Bob, tell us the most exciting thing that’s happened to you on the Opening weekend of Dove Season,” requests a young man after that event of 2007.  

We were gathered around the Swimming Hole, an appropriate place to be at that time of year. I cocked an eyebrow at the youngster (this is an aside, but people who are youngsters in my judgment keep getting older!) and cogitated.

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“Besides the year a crop duster crashed into the dove field?” I asked.

“Yessir, besides that’un,” he nodded. “Everybody knows about that.”

“But you’ll have to admit, that was pretty exciting,” I declared.

“Yessir, I know it was, but we’ve heard the story so many times, and heard the poems and songs, seen pictures of it. Heck, I’ve got a couple of pilot friends who have talked about doing it theirownselves, just to get that kind of fame.”

“Well, okay, but that was REALLY exciting,” I grumbled. “What about when my daughter B.C. was born on Opening Day?”

“That’s woman stuff,” he opined (never having a child hisownself yet). “What about some real MAN stuff: you know, like someone shooting someone?”

“Well, there was the time that Big Robert almost shot Ronny James, but that was an accident, and anyway, he missed Ronny entirely,” I remembered. “Scared Daddy worse that Ronny, since Ronny was a Marine and somebody missing him was nothing to get excited about. But Big Robert put that old Remington pump in the closet; he never even picked it up again.”

“Then there was the time cousin Jack the Whacker let his gun go off standing next to me. But it missed me, and he was too young to be scared. The other folks in the field got pretty excited until I stood and waved that I was okay.”

“Those were misses, though,” the youngster pointed out. “Any hits?”

I thought back: “Well, a couple of hits on snakes. Uncle Tullier, who was the original Mr. Five By Five, almost stepped on a rattlesnake going after a dead dove one day, and he did a standing six-foot backward jump before emptying his gun into that palmetto. Then once I stopped by Dr. Hollis Burrows, who almost had his limit, sitting on a log at the edge of the deadening. I took over a couple of cold cokes and sat next to him to visit while I drank mine.

I got up to go, and looked back as I started to get in my pickup, and a four-foot rattler was stretched out right behind the log we’d been sitting on – where Hollis had been all afternoon. He blew that snake to smithereens, and got in the back of my pickup to go home!”

The youngster agreed that rattlers were pretty exciting, but those incidences had happened to others, not me.  Had I been snakebit?

Besides being the unlucky kind of snakebit all my life, I have been struck three times by poisonous snakes, I admitted, and one of those times was the day before Opening Day. Br’er Beau and I were up around the farm pond with cane knives (machetes) trimming low limbs on willows and pecans, so hunters could stand in the shade around the pond. I had just drawn back my cane knife to whack a limb above my head, when Beau yelled, “Snake!  Behind you!”

Try something for me here: stand up and raise your right arm above your head, then turn sharply to look at the ground behind you. Almost invariably you will come up on the toes of your right foot as you pivot, raising your right heel.

That’s what saved me: a two-foot moccasin struck me in the heel of my boot, where the calf of my leg had been right before Beau yelled. I continued my downstroke, cutting the viper in two eight inches behind its head.  Would you believe that the eight-inch head section charged me, to strike again?!!

Now, that was exciting, but I whacked him off REAL short. However, in my youth I had read a Kipling (or O.Henry?) story about an India man being struck and killed by a cobra. His son inherited his sandals, and died soon afterward. The sandals still held a broken-off fang in the heel. I could feel a scratch every time I pulled on those boots and walked anywhere. I’d stop to check a dozen times a day.

I ended up burning those boots two weeks after that Opening Day Strike!