In Which Striker the Snake Moves Into My Household
I've always had an aversion to snakes. As a kid growing up in the country, I was taught to be on the lookout for snakes, to avoid snakes, and whenever possible, to kill snakes. Thanks to this early training, I've never entertained the notion of owning a snake. Ah, how times have changed.
My pastor's wife Susan is a wildlife biologist at a nearby state wildlife refuge, and in the course of her work, gives demonstrations and speeches to local schoolchildren about wildlife preservation. One of the ways she captures the attention of her daydreaming, inattentive wards is to bring out a collection of snakes and show them to the kids. It never fails to make a huge impression on them: they gaze, wide-eyed as she reaches into a cage and pulls out a lovely, multicolored corn snake and lets it slither from one arm to the other. Susan keeps a collection of tame snakes on hand for these demonstrations, and recently she was surprised when what she thought was a pair of male corn snakes became parents of a clutch of baby eggs. The result of this union was a group of little wiggly-worm corn snakes, several of which were albino.
Susan wanted to give the snakes to a good home, as they aren't indigenous to this region and she couldn't find anyone to take them. She knew of my daughter Mary's love of animals and her desire to be a veterinarian someday.
"Hey, Basil", she asked me one day after church services. "You want a baby corn snake? I really need to get rid of one."
I laughed so hard I had to lean against a wall. "You wanna give me a snake?" I chuckled as I wiped my eyes. "Sorry, but I'm not in the market for snakes today. Thanks anyway."
That evening I jokingly made reference to Susan's offer, and Mary immediately picked up on it.
"Daddy. I want a baby snake. Can I have one please?"
"Honey, when I see a snake around here, I'm going for the hoe. The only good snake is a snake with it's head chopped off."
Unfortunately, the seed had been planted. I spent the next two weeks fending off my daughter's attempts to cajole me into bringing home a snake.
"Daddy, I'll never ask for another pet if you'll let me have a snake."
"Daddy, I won't ask Santa for anything for Christmas if you'll get me a snake."
"Daddy, I'l never ask for another birthday party if you'll let me have a snake."
Mary has always been a child who is very easy to please. She's rarely asked for things, and has always kept her Christmas and birthday lists quite small. Because of this, and because I'm a pushover where she is concerned, I finally said yes.
My wife Ann was another matter entirely. "You'll never have a snake in this house while I'm living here," she declared. It took an additional two weeks of work on Mary's part to get Ann in the proper frame of mind to say yes. It was little things. A note left in Ann's purse: Mommy, I love you. Can I have a snake? A picture of a happily smiling, rainbow colored snake in a field of flowers drawn by Mary and left on the fridge. A book left open on the coffee table that showed a group of cheerful children stroking a large boa constrictor. Against this gentle but persistent onslaught, Ann didn't have a chance. She finally said yes, and so the stage was set to receive a new member into the family.
The following Sunday evening I brought the new family member home in a coffee can with a plastic lid on top. I'd spent the whole drive from church eyeing the can nervously. Could the snake get out? What would I do if it slithered out and attacked me while I was driving? Could a baby snake-bite hurt?
When I arrived home, Mary met me at the porch bouncing up and down on her tiptoes and excitedly wringing her hands.
"Did you get it? Is it ok from the trip? It didn't smother in that can, did it?"
I walked on the porch, gingerly carrying the can in both hands as if it contained nitro glycerin. "No, the snake is fine. Let's go inside and get him in his new home."
"Home" was a plastic carrying cage for reptiles, full of bedding and large enough for the snake to slither around and do whatever it is snakes do. We assembled nervously in the living room. I eased the plastic top of the can off and peered inside. Coiled up at the bottom of the can was a small white snake, about as big around as a pencil and less than a foot long. Mary reached in, carefully gripped the snake and brought him up and out of the can. "Ooh, daddy. Look how pretty! I'm going to name him Striker!"
I recoiled in alarm. Great. A snake named Striker. Mary had reached in and grabbed that snake like it was the most natural, ordinary thing in the world to do. I watched Striker carefully, ready to spring into action at any minute if it went gonzo and attacked her. All it did was slither slowly from one hand to the other, coiling itself around her fingers and acting as if this was something it did every day.
"Look at his pretty red eyes, daddy." She held Striker up to my face.
I stepped back. "Uh, yeah sweetie. He's, uh, he's a real nice one." Striker did indeed have bright red beads for eyes, and this in conjunction with his blotchy, pale white skin gave him a creepy, toy-like appearance.
"Here Daddy," said Mary. "You want to hold Striker?" She held him out to me.
The idea of holding that snake was about as appealing as holding a hand full of broken glass. "No, no, you go ahead", I said hastily. "He's your baby. Have fun with him, sweetie."
Then came meal time. Susan had given me several frozen baby mice what she called pinkies for Striker to eat. Feeding him involved thawing the mice out in warm water, then placing them in the cage for him to eat. Thawing out frozen baby mice is a job that I can charitably call disgusting. Actually, the only thing more disgusting than preparing the mice is watching the snake eat them. After I survived the horror of unfreezing the mouse, I placed it on a paper napkin and set it in the cage, Mary placed Striker in the cage with it, and we sat back and watched.
Striker slithered up to the mouse, rubbed his nose along it for a minute, then proceeded to engulf it with his jaws and swallow it whole. His jaw practically unhinged itself and he spent a good 10 minutes or so manipulating his mouth around the mouse and getting the thing choked down. His face turned bright red from the effort, and when he was done he crawled underneath his bedding and was seen no more that day.
And so Striker became a part of the family unit. As time has passed, I've become accustomed to seeing him sliding around in his cage, or coiled around the climbing branch we put in there for him. I occasionally step up to his cage and watch him, and wonder what he's thinking in that little reptilian brain of his. Probably planning a violent revenge on us if he ever grows large enough. I bet he'd love to try fitting his jaws around my head. I've actually grown a little fond of him. Caring for his persona needs is relatively easy. Unlike the stinking guinea pigs we had at one time, cleaning his cage is a cinch. Empty the bedding, replace with clean, and voila you're done. He's odorless, quiet, and apart from the disgusting spectacle when he eats, he's easy to feed. We have an uneasy, yet peaceful relationship. I avoid him, and as long as he's not running loose in my house, he's relatively safe. Fair warning, though. If he ever gets loose in here, I still have a hoe and I'm not afraid to use it. Old, ingrained habits die hard.