Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Slithery Best Friend

My Dad and older brother and sister at The River.
Circa 1952 BD (Before Diane)
I caught a snake. Garter variety.
The banks of the river abounded with such things, as well as frogs, tadpoles, minnows and other slithery, slimy denizens of the milky water.
It wasn't unheard-of for my mother to be the calm recipient of a bullfrog, salamander, and cup full of minnows . . . all on the same day.
Okay, so, squeamish, I wasn't.
And my mother was a saint.
But snakes, we usually had a harder time catching. Actually laying hands on one was a treat. An achievement.
I know. I know. We probably should have explored other hobbies . . .
I was understandably excited about my snake. I wanted to share.
I decided to take it to school.
I can't remember just how I managed this. Perhaps my Mom helped me by putting it in a shoe box. But it, and I, somehow made it safely on the long bus ride.
Then I was the center of attention as everyone on the playground crowded in for a peek. In fact, my snake was so popular that my teacher arranged for me to take it to every classroom to show the kids.
For the first time in my young life, I was the center of attention. I was popular. I was famous.
Yes, well, it rather went to my head . . .
To make my snake a bit more visible, the principal offered me his own glass fishbowl. Now it could be seen at all times.
I thought it was terrific.
I don't suppose the snake was very impressed.
I walked into each of the six classrooms, filled with importance. Then I would talk about my snake . . . ummm . . . knowledgeably.
"This is a garter snake. I caught it by the river. It's kind of cold and . . . smooth. It can swim. It eats frogs and other stuff."
Hey, I was six. That was as knowledgeable as it gets.
Then I would reach in, grab my snake by the end of its tail and lift it out for everyone to see. The snake would, obligingly, stretch up and flick its tongue.
This went on for the lower five grades.
Then, the last class. My oldest brother Jerry's class. The grade sixes. The big guys.
I was more than a bit intimidated.
I carried my sideshow exhibit into the class and went into my spiel. Then I lifted my snake. And stared in horror as the last two inches of its tail . . . broke off.
The poor thing dropped to the floor and began a frantic slither towards somewhere else.
Several girls screamed.
I quickly pounced on it and scooped it up, dropping it back into the goldfish bowl.
Order was restored.
Then I realized that I was still holding the piece of the snake's tail. Flushing, I dropped it in with the snake, then quickly seized the bowl and scurried out of the room.
My 15 minutes of fame were over.
For the rest of the day, my snake sat on the shelf at the back of my grade one classroom.
After school, my Mom was waiting for me at the bus stop. She loaded my brothers, George and Jerry, my snake and I into the car.
On the way out of town, she pulled over into the campground beside the river.
"Okay, Diane," she said, "let the snake go."
I stared at her, horrified. Let him go? But he was mine! We'd been through so much together!
She nodded.
Heaving a sigh, I opened the car door and carried my prize to the riverbank.
I looked back at her.
She nodded again.
Now, I should point out here, that I could have simply taken my slithery friend out and laid him in the grass beside the river. Or even set the bowl down and let him crawl out there.
But no. Instead, I made my way down the very edge of the river and tipped up the fishbowl to drop my companion and friend into the milky water.
And unwittingly added an exciting postscript to the story.
Because I also dropped the fishbowl.
My principal's fishbowl.
I did try to make a grab for it, but it quickly slid out of my reach and disappeared. I stared at the place where it had last been seen.
I was in so much trouble.
I remember looking at my mom, horror written across my whole face. She just rolled her eyes and shook her head.
She was so accustomed to me.
She must have sorted things out with my principal, the first of many such exchanges, because I never heard anything of it and it was soon forgotten.
But I often think of my little garter snake friend and wonder just what happened to him. Dropped into a foreign world, miles from his home. Part of his tail snapped off.
Did he survive? Even prosper?
I like to think so.
But more thought provoking is the fact that I had absolutely no fear when catching and handling my snake.
If he had been a chicken?
Totally another story.
Go figure.

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