We were “river rats” – that’s what they called us. We lived in the bottoms, close to the railroad tracks and the Missouri River.
Nearly every year the river flooded and turned our dirt streets into creeks full of fish, snakes, and trash from towns upriver. Some years the Missouri took the whole bottom, rushing into our house so we had to get out fast with whatever we could carry. When the water went back down, we scraped mud off walls, scrubbed with strong bleach, and moved back in.
Mama did that year after year. She learned to deal with floods. But the snake pushed her over the edge. She didn’t want to live in a house where snakes could come and go as they pleased.
Daddy said we couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. We owned the old house on River Street and some years the water didn’t get in it at all.
It wasn’t an argument, or even a discussion. Daddy made the decision. Mama lived with it – and a whole lot more.
Snakes in the Kitchen is an early childhood memoir of growing up poor in the early 1950’s, in Mokane Missouri. It’s a story of one woman’s efforts, against all odds, to pull her children out of the mud and into a house with indoor plumbing.
Mama never gave any thought to Women’s Rights, but she knew she didn’t have any. She didn’t know anything about women’s liberation, but she knew a man had always been in control of her life. Her father forced to quit school to take a job when she was thirteen. He refused to let her see the man she loved and pushed her into marrying a man she hardly knew.
She didn’t know anything about equal pay for women, she just wanted a job so she could feed her children and keep a roof over their heads. She was trapped in a loveless marriage with a husband who was harsh and openly unfaithful. Divorce was a disgrace to her family and friends, but she faced the disapproval and held her head high as she built a new life for herself and her children.
Snakes in the Kitchen includes many award winning biographical stories published here for the first time. The title chapter won the top Midwest Writer’s Workshop non-fiction award in 2013. The second chapter, The Day Grandma called the Doctor, took the same award in 2015. The author was recorded telling Mama and the New TV and the video was used as part of a Smithsonian sponsored exhibit. Other chapters won the Storyteller Magazine Award and the Lt. Fred Guidry Search for Excellence Award.