Evil Legless Things...
When I was a bit older we moved from the Thompson Street house in Elmira, to Centerville, Pennsylvania. Centerville is a tiny little town stuck in the middle of nowhere. It is one of those places where everyone knows everyone—a good thing when you are a child growing up there. Although I was quite young when we lived there, I had the run of the town. I used to go across the street and play with Earla’s son. I don’t remember his name, I just remember playing with him in Bentley Creek which ran behind his house. I spent a lot of time over there, as mom and Earla were good friends. My favorite food at that time was white Wonder bread, spread with butter, and sprinkled (heavily—more like piled…) with sugar. Then I would cut off the detestable crusts and pick a little piece of bread off, roll it into a ball, pop it into my mouth and savor it as if it came from Julia Child’s kitchen! It’s all a little embarrassing as I am known as the vitamin popping, green shake drinking, water bottle carrying, health nut queen now, but there is no denying my roots.
If you know me, you know I am absolutely, beyond reason, terrified of 'evil legless things.' Snakes, in other words. I am as terrified of a baby garter snake as I would be of an anaconda. I hate saying the word—or even writing it and I had to make myself actually type the word here. It just gives me the heebie-geebies. But, back when I was under 5 years old, I can remember going over to Earla’s, and her little boy had an old coffee can full of baby garter snakes. He dumped them out on the patio and they were all slithering around my feet. I was a little freaked by this—but certainly not terrified and-- I was interested. (Imagine that!) Fast forward ahead a year or two. We moved from town to a farmhouse where no one had lived for a couple of years. You can imagine what had taken up residence in the tall grass around the house and barn… lots of very long snakes. Much longer than I was tall. Unfortunately for me, that oldest brother of mine-Sim, felt compelled to pick them up and chase me with them. Now maybe if I hadn’t run that first time, or maybe if they just were not as long as I was tall, this story would have turned out differently. But in fact when he picked up a squirming, gigantic snake and started yelling , “it’s gonna get you!” I ran, he chased, and a phobia was born. I have forgiven him, now—well, I am 59 years old, so I guess it’s time to take some responsibility for myself, and in fact, he has admitted to not really liking picking up those snakes anyway and is sorry he did it. I walk through any woods with fear—tall grass being the worst… I send anyone around me into the garden first-even the dog, to scare away any lurking snakes. I am more terrified if a person is holding a snake than if it is on the ground. It might, and probably will, choose to slither away, but if a person is holding it, you never know what they might do!
In 7th grade during biology class, the teacher had taken a snake out of the cage and was talking about it. I, of course, was at the very back of the group of students, staying as far away as possible, pretending to pay attention to his words while really watching to be sure that snake wasn't going to 'get me.' The teacher, to be sure we all got a chance to touch the horrid thing, pushed his hands (holding the snake) between the students in front of me to give me the opportunity to touch it and discover for myself that its skin was cool and dry, not slimey—but I was in the hallway running away before he had time to react! Running and screaming down the hall is not the way to become popular in 7th grade, I can tell you that. And by the way—I am sure there are some of you reading this, thinking that they aren’t slimey. Well, I will tell you what I tell anyone who wants the truth. I know a snake’s skin isn’t slimey. It is their character that is slimey. I rest my case.
It is very hard to reprogram such early programming. I have taken books on snakes out of the library and made myself touch them. I have forced myself to watch them when they show up in a movie. I have not watched the movie, Snakes on a Plane. No, that is not happening. It has all had minimal impact. Not long ago in NYC I was walking in a big crowd of people during a street fair and came upon a person with a gigantic, bright yellow snake draped around his neck—I got a knot in my stomach, I immediately went into fear mode—how can I get away? (In a crowd of thousands in NYC? Right.) My whole world narrowed down to me and the snake. “Where is it? What is the man doing? Where is he walking? Is he behind me now? I lost sight of him, oh, no! He could be anywhere.”
You get the idea. I still have a lot of work to do to write a new script about snakes in my head. My granddaughter is helping me . If she hears me use any euphemism other than the word snake—like 'evil legless thing'—my punishment is no hug from her that day. Tough teacher!