Joseph and the Snake

My son Joseph and I had been spending the morning at my parents house one early summer day back in the 90’s. I was ready to go home but Joseph was off playing with his cousins out in the pecan orchard so I decided to just pick him up as I drove out. About halfway down the drive, I spotted Joseph and my nephew, Zachary, circling an old rotten pecan tree. They were about 13 or 14 years old at the time and had way more energy than me in the early summer heat. Nearby, Mr. Don, a neighbor who lived in the mobile home at the head of the drive, was sitting in his car with the air conditioner running and his window rolled down just enough that he could spit out his tobacco juice. He was holding an old school mobile phone. Dying of curiosity but too hot and tired to get out of the car, I pulled up close to them and rolled my window down to tell Joseph to get in the car it was time to go home to which he replied, “We can’t leave yet we have to wait for the police.”

                “The police!” I gasped, “why in the world are the police coming?”

                “Mr. Don called them,” Zack answered calmly while never hesitating in his patrol around the tree searching for who knows what. My boys, including my two sons and three nephews, were far from angelic and my mind was racing trying to figure out what kind of mess Joe and Zack had stirred up.

                Seeing that I wasn’t going to get a clear answer from the boys, I got out of my car to go ask Mr. Don what was going on. Mind you, Mr. Don was a grown-up, but he was an elderly man with a child-like heart who had bad eyesight, a weary mind, and poor judgement. He probably wasn’t the best at sizing up a situation, either, as his next words confirmed, “I called the cops to come catch the python.”

                There was no way anyone was going to convince me that there was a python running loose in the pecan orchard. Maybe if we lived down in Florida it would be a possibility, but we lived in South Alabama. I didn’t have a mobile phone, so I started to ask Mr. Don if I could use his hoping to cancel the call-out . Before I could get the words out of my mouth, a black and white Bayou La Batre police car came cruising up next to us. I’m still thankful to this day that at least the officer didn’t have the lights flashing or the siren screaming. He just casually got out of his car and ambled over to the boys and started asking them questions like, “How big was this python, was it in the tree, how long had it been there?” 

                As Joseph and Zack began describing the snake …. how they saw it slithering up the tree and into the hole and that the tail was still on the ground when the head went in, so it must be at least 10 feet long, etc…. another officer pulled up into the pecan orchard. This time it was a tan and brown county deputy cruiser. The two officers began chatting and swapping stories of big snakes they had each seen. Then one mentioned how he had once seen someone pour gasoline in a hole to get a snake to come out. Before I could stop him, Joseph went running off in search of a can of gasoline. It only took a couple of minutes for him to find gas at Mr. Don’s and he came running back with a red plastic cup full.

                At about this same time, the county animal control officers joined the party. They didn’t have sirens or a horn, but they did have several dogs hidden away in the little vented kennels on the back of the truck. All the dogs were howling and raising a ruckus. It was beginning to look like we were about to have a man-hunt and the search dogs had been brought in. Folks that lived nearby began to show up curious to see what all the commotion was about. By now we had about 15 people milling around including the officers, neighbors, the boys, and myself. Just about everyone who lived nearby was there except my parents who were still clueless about what was going on in their pecan orchard.

                Joseph was enjoying the chaos and he was on a mission to show the crowd just how big the “python” was. He shimmied up the old rotten tree, pausing for a moment to reach down for the plastic cup of gasoline someone handed up to him. He straddled the v between two limbs and was positioned directly over a large hole where the snake was thought to have entered the tree and then poured in the gasoline. For a moment, everyone was quiet waiting to see if the snake would make an appearance.

                As the seconds ticked by, my anxiety grew. Suddenly, I saw a tiny movement, not in the hole where everyone’s attention was focused, but in the shadows just above Joseph’s head. I tried to cry out a warning, but all that would come out of my mouth were little whimpers. In a split second, the snake lunged from the hole, and slithered across Joseph’s curly top before falling to the ground. Joseph cursed and sprang higher into the tree.  Fortunately, he was able to latch on to another limb and hung suspended from the tree by one arm. (This may have been the moment his future as a tree climber took root.) The snake hit the ground and raced past the crowd with several grown men and Zachary in hot pursuit. Joseph joined the chase as soon as he dropped from the tree.

Wouldn’t my grandsons just love this toy snake for pulling pranks? As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

                I’m not sure who caught the snake, but as the group came moseying back, at the head of the group was Zachary holding the largest, maddest snake I’d ever seen. Zack wasn’t saying anything, but the smile on his face spoke volumes. After several minutes of conversation, the men reached a consensus that the snake was indeed a rat snake and not a python, as if there was ever any doubt. The crowd began to disperse. The officers crawled back into their cars but appeared sorry to be leaving.

                I told the boys that they needed to let the snake go, but they insisted that it needed to be rinsed off first and I couldn’t disagree. They marched over to Mr. Don’s and hosed the snake down. Instead of letting it go then, they begged me to let them take their prize back to my parent’s house so that they could show it to their grandpa. I agreed but refused to let them bring it in the car with me, so they took off running back down the orchard carrying the snake between them.

                Even though I was driving back, they nearly beat me to the house. I got there just in time to see Joseph knocking on the back door. Zachary was doing the “gotta pee dance” so that when Daddy opened the door, Zack thrust the snake at him saying, “Here Grandpa, hold this, I gotta go to the bathroom,” as he tried to race past my dad.

                Startled, Daddy managed to catch the snake by the tail and the snake immediately whipped around and bit him on his arm leaving a nasty gash on Daddy’s paper-thin skin. Daddy slung the snake away and it slithered under the couch. Joseph quickly dove toward the couch and reached under to drag the poor creature out and also got bit for his efforts. Thankfully the snake wasn’t poisonous, just thoroughly ticked. By this time, we had all had enough excitement and it was not hard to persuade the boys to finally let the snake go in the nearby woods.

There was never a dull moment when I was raising my boys, and I have to smile looking back on all the crazy stuff they put me through. This was not the first or last time I had snake adventures with Joseph. The image below is of a ball python he later took on as a pet and left me to care for when he left home for a while in his late teens. I donated this snake to a science classroom.

pet python eating hotdogs
Joseph’s future pet python eating a hotdog. This is not the snake from the story but another serpent he “blessed my life” with when he was older.
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