Saturday, November 12, 2011

The saga of the snake in the piano: Sept. 7, 2003

You just can't make this stuff up. And when you are part of my family, you don't even have to.

A snake in the piano is no match for Momo

    My parents live in a house on five wooded acres, so sometimes there is a snake in the piano. 

    Well, not sometimes. It happened just the one time, while I was visiting on a recent Friday. Mom called Dad downstairs to show him the snake just as it slid out of sight. My father moved the piano away from the wall, studied the situation and announced that he should probably shoot the snake.

    "How are you going to do that without shooting the piano?" I asked.
    I was standing on a chair, holding my 3-year-old son, Jack, on my hip. The snake was coiled, its body resting half in and half out of the back of the piano. Jack watched intently as my dad directed a beam of light at the snake. 

    "Can I have the flashlight please?" Jack asked, reaching.

    "I’ll just wait for it to poke its head out and then shoot the head," my father explained. 

    "But won’t that make a hole in the floor?" I asked. 

    "It would be a terrible mess," my mother agreed, glancing back and forth between my father and the snake.

    I squinted at the back of the piano, trying to see the snake from my perch. "It’s got a pattern on it," I said.

    "I don’t think it’s a dangerous snake," my mom said, drawing closer to the piano.

    "How do you know?" my father demanded. 

    "I’ll go get the snake book," she said.

    "We have a snake book?" I asked.

    "Now can I have the flashlight please?" Jack pleaded.

Mom went and got a book full of snake pictures and leafed through it looking for a photo of one of the snake’s relatives. Dad shrugged and went upstairs to fetch a gun. 

"Can I have the flashlight NOW?" Jack asked impatiently. I stood in the chair and waited to see what would happen.

    My father is a city boy who grew up in apartments in New Jersey. He’s most comfortable inhabiting small spaces where other people come and fix things when they break. He likes guns, though, which is more the result of his military career than any affinity for the Southern tradition of firearm culture.

    My mom grew up in rural Florida when rural Florida was still the very deep South. She’s the reason they live on five wooded acres. She was raised around both guns and snakes, but she’s not crazy about either of them.

    After a few minutes of flipping fruitlessly through the snake book, my mom trotted upstairs, then reappeared with kitchen tongs. Just ordinary tongs, the kind I use to pluck ears of corn out of boiling water.

    "I’ll just grab its head with these," she said, clicking the tongs in the air. 

    "Mom, those are kind of short for catching a 4-foot-long snake," I said.

    She considered that for a moment, then went in search of bigger tongs.

    Jack and I stood on the chair. "Can I have the flashlight now?" he asked meekly. 

    "Maybe later," I said.

    The snake poked its tiny black head out from behind the piano. "You’re lucky my dad didn’t see you do that," I told the snake. 

    Mom came back in with a scythe. "I found this in the garage," she said.
    "What are you going to do with that? Cut off its head?" She shrugged, putting the scythe down on the carpet. "I don’t really want to do that. I think I’ll just grab it with the tongs." 

    I could hear my dad rambling around upstairs, getting his .22 out of the closet, hunting for bullets.
    Mom picked up the tongs, walked over to the piano and waited for the snake to stick its head out. It obliged her. She quickly clamped the tongs around its neck, right behind the head. 

    "Wow," I said. "I didn’t know you could do that."

    Jack, still perched on my hip, giggled as my mom lifted the writhing snake and walked outdoors with it. I hopped down off the chair and followed her into the back yard.

    "What if your dad still wants to shoot it?" she said, holding the furious, twisting snake aloft.

    "Throw it way out into the woods so he can’t find it," I said. She did. The snake vanished into the vinca. We trotted upstairs to tell my dad to put away his gun and found him searching for a stray bullet on the bedroom floor.

    "I dropped one and I can’t find it," he said. "It’s the same color as the rug."
    Later, as I strapped Jack into his car seat, I told him to try to make a mental record of the day his Momo caught the snake in the piano with kitchen tongs.  

    "You’re probably old enough to start remembering stuff now," I said, leaning over him to buckle his seat belt. "This is one you’ll want to tell later."

    He watched me with his blue, blue eyes.

"Please," he said, "now can I have the flashlight?"     

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