The Year of the Snake


Year of the Snake


Or, How The Child almost did not come to exist.

First, let me just say that, yes, I know that 2015 isn’t really the Year of the Snake. It’s the Year of the Sheep. Which doesn’t sound nearly as sassy. As a matter of fact, Chinese families everywhere have been working the calendar so that their babies’ births do not fall during the Year of the Sheep. (If you care, you can read why here, especially if you think I might be making this up.)

Well, anyway. It’s the 7th of January, and I know I really should have written this post last Wednesday, but it was New Year’s Eve and I was afraid everyone (but me and the Dude) would be out celebrating, so I posted that piece about ‘When Harry Met Sally’ instead. So sue me.

But back to me and snakes. Let me explain. It’s not that I don’t think snakes have their place in the world. I admire their efficiency at dealing with rodent-type vermin. I also admire their pelts or skins or whatever you call them, when replicated on shoes and handbags. But I really don’t want to know any snakes. You know, like in person. As pets.

Some people don’t feel this way. The Dude’s family, for example. Waaay before I met His Dudeness, he and his family really liked snakes. Look at this picture. It shows the Dude (holding snake), while his older brother and cousin look on in admiration. You can just tell that they can hardly wait till it’s their turn to do a little snake-cuddling.

The Dude gets up close and personal with a snake while  Brother Bill and Cousin Charlie look on.

The Dude gets up close and personal with one of many snakes.

In fact, when the Dude and I were clearing out the basement of the house on Long Island, there was this huge glass case, oh about six feet long and four feet wide and high. It had a big log in it. I ask ‘What is that?’ He answers ‘a snake cage’. I say ‘Well, we can get rid of that.‘ He says ‘We might want a snake some day.’ I then made a face that proclaimed loud and clear ‘over my dead body’.

Maybe I’d have felt differently if my own family had owned snakes. (hah) Though we did have a pretty respectable reptile contingent among our many pets. I remember an iguana named Cleopatra who liked to hang out on my middle brother Roger’s nice warm shoulder. And we had turtles. My sister kept a pair named Pete and Gladys (after some long-ago sitcom couple).

And there was a very large turtle named Herman who was in residence years before we moved into our house. He hung out in the basement. I still shudder when I think of picking up a missed ping-pong ball and feeling his beady little reptilian eyes staring up at me from right next to the tip of my tennis shoe. That ping-pong table is long gone, but good ole Herman’s probably still down there, somewhere.

But back to the Dude and his family snake fixation. It was well after the Dudester and I had forged our bond that I found out about the Dude’s father’s particular fondness for snakes. Patients of his who knew about this, those who lived in exotic far-flung snake-filled locales anyway, would indulge him by sending him rare specimens. The Dude’s mother would actually go to the airport and pick up mysterious hissing boxes punctured with air holes — and bring them home. The contents of the boxes would then hang in gunny sacks over the backs of doors. Or — and this you may find hard to believe — would roam free in their house (!)

Which brings me to the point about The Child almost not existing. Lucky for me (and the Future Software Engineer and Gorgeous Genius now known as The Child), I met the Dude some time after this Snakes-as-Pets Period. As I told Said Child on many occasions, if I had met her future father in high school, the whole relationship would have been nipped in its teenlike bud if I had ever gone over to his house to, you know, shoot pool or listen to records and had run into one of his Dad’s ‘pets’. Even if the Dude did have an amazing basement Rumpus Room with a fantastic record collection, and even though he looked like this:

Get Yer Motor Runnin' (ahem)

Get Yer Motor Runnin’ (ahem)

I could go on and on with tales of snakes. Like the time, when the Child was in Third Grade and the Dude and I were at Parent Night and the teacher said there was going to be a snake in the classroom for Science and they would auction off said snake at the end of the semester and I asked ‘how much to not get the snake?’ But this post would end up being as long as War and Peace (which is actually a pretty great page-turner; give it a shot sometime.)

So back to the Whitmores and their snake/pets. The ‘not dangerous’ snakes (the ones not hissing in the gunny sacks) would just sort of you know, slither. Randomly. All around the house. And hang out with the family. Like puppy-dogs. Or kitty-cats. Except they were snakes.

Once, or so the Dude tells me, the Whitmore TV stopped working. The repairman came, tinkered a bit, then removed the back of the set. ‘There’s your trouble’, he said, somewhat shakily, as he pointed out a poor dead ‘pet’ who had crawled in there to get warm and then had a rather nasty encounter with electricity.

Which brings me to the end of this story. It involves a TV, New Year’s Eve, and a couple of ‘pets’. In this case, two boa constrictors. Who happened to be curled up around the arms of a nice comfy chair where the Dude was sitting, watching Guy Lombardo. (Click if you are too young to know who this was, but basically he was a band leader who hosted a New Year’s Eve show for many years.)

So. The Dude is in the darkened (for better TV watching) Family Room with the rest of his Family (including the two boas), all watching Guy do his New Year’s Thing, when the doorbell rings. It’s their next-door neighbor, being next-door neighborly and bringing over a bottle of champagne.

He comes in, calls out ‘Happy New Year’! Everyone gets up to greet him properly, including the Dude. Thereupon, the neighbor goes over to the vacated Dude Chair (the one festooned with snakes) and sits down. The two boas, sensing a nice new warm body, whip their heads around to hiss him a friendly ‘hello’. The poor neighbor, not knowing that this was a snake-friendly household (how would he? who would expect this?) immediately screams, jumps up, and runs out into the snow, never to be seen or heard from again.

But he did leave the champagne. And a great story.

For more about the Whitmores and snakes, stay tuned. (Believe it or not, there are in fact more snake stories, but, trust me, they’ll keep.) And, if you haven’t done so already, do check out ‘Don’t Try to Pet Her’, which stars another really scary animal not owned by the Henrys. Or even the Whitmores. But worthy of your attention. And your underwear.

New York City. January 2015

23 thoughts on “The Year of the Snake

  1. drallisonbrown

    You know, there really isn’t much difference on the creepy-pet-ometer between snakes and iguanas….and yet, you are quite judgmental about your future-husband’s pet preference, LOL!

  2. Okay, never scream at a snake. It freaks them out, and even constricting snakes can and will bite when threatened. Go ahead and run if it makes you feel safer (the bigger snakes are slow anyway, and I’m assuming these boas were big boys) but don’t scream. Their bite won’t kill you or anything, but it hurts and gets messy.

    Now, if I may speak directly with Dude? Dude, I know you’re not keeping snakes anymore, but we still need to talk basic snake safety: never ever ever let them roam free. Even if they’re non-venomous, and especially constricting snakes. Because while wild snakes won’t kill anything they can’t eat, housebound snakes are in a weird situation for which their natures leave them totally unprepared. They can get confused about the size of the thing they’ve taken on, feel threatened, or simply (as happened to my very own ball python) go through weird adolescent phases where they decide they’re bigger than they are. Snakes, in short, are beautiful animals who do not benefit from human companionship and therefore don’t make good pets. If you must have a captive snake (for some reason, on some future date, when your wife has forgotten all the rules) please remember that it is not a puppy or a hamster and can’t be expected to learn the rules of pethood the way a social mammal would.


    • Ah, the voice of Snake Reason! Thank you, dear ‘Actual’. Putting my own anti-snake prejudices aside, I always thought that The Dude’s Dad’s penchant for letting his pets roam free was a bad idea–and for the snakes too. After all, one of them bit the reptile dust when he/she got cold and crawled inside the TV to warm up (!) Thanks for reading, and for your Snake Sanity! xoxo

  3. I’m alwayzzzzzzz amazzzzzzzed by how many don’t like snakezzzzzzz. Loved this!
    We had a bull snake for almost two years. The only thing I didn’t like was how often he escaped and the amount of baby mice he ate.

  4. david

    Wonderful story. You sure do have a knack for writing which of course I always knew as you are a successful professional writer. Your style reminds me of Nick Hornby in his book reviews, which by the way I love. When I read them I always think that he is in the room chatting with me.

    • Thank you! I absolutely love Nick Hornby. So the comparison is very flattering and much appreciated. And yes, I am ‘going for’ a style that feels like we’re in the same room together. In fact, my family often says ‘I’ve heard you tell that story SO many times!’ So I guess I’m now inflicting them on my readers (!)

  5. merl

    Jackie was the snake. haha. I got used to having her in my bed and kind of liked the cold snake on hot nights, in Louisiana that’s every night.

  6. merl

    I once lived in a house with a couple who had an 8 foot boa who share my water bed and liked to ‘cuddle’ with me. That damn thing was cold and when I first woke up and saw her next to me, I kind of freaked out a little. I had to put her out of my bedroom when my girlfriend came over, she was scared of Jackie.

  7. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Don’t know which I dislike more … snakes or mice, but I do know I have battled snakes with my large wooden hammer and won!

  8. Myrna Henry

    The THOUGHT of snakes has always left me quite speechless! Enjoyed your blog, as always.
    Love, kisses and non-reptilian hugs!

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