The first chapter of my memoir –
All hell broke loose and kept on coming when Mama found the snakes in the oven. The first time was bad enough. She was just pulling the bread pans out of the oven where she had set the loaves to rise. When she reached in for the pan, there was that big old blacksnake coiled up right beside it.
Mama screamed, threw the bread pan across the kitchen, slammed the oven door shut, and ran on out the back door hollering at the top of her lungs. I was sitting under the kitchen table playing with my doll. The oilcloth hanging down over the old round oak pedestal table made a neat kind of hideaway playhouse for me and I spent quite a bit of time down there. Mama must have forgotten I was there; else she never would have left me to be eaten up by that big snake.
Of course, by the time Mama got back into the house with Daddy and he cautiously opened the oven door to see what she was hollering about, there was nothing to see.
The snake had skedaddled.
Daddy allowed as how he figured Mama had done scared it clear over into the next county.
“It’s still in there someplace! Down inside my stove! You got to find it and kill it!”
Mama was still pretty worked up and didn’t even seem to notice the bread dough flung all over the linoleum. Daddy had stepped in some of it and got it all dirty. But a good sized blob had landed under the kitchen table right in front of me. I picked it up and shaped it into a ball. It was still warm and yeasty smelling. I watched Mama and Daddy’s shoes stomping back and forth and fed my rubber baby bits of dough. She couldn’t get much in the little round hole of her mouth, but she shared with me and after a while all the dough ball was gone.
Daddy pulled the stove out from the wall and looked in all the drawers and doors. No snake. He did figure out how it probably crawled in along the gas line that ran to the big propane tank outside. Mama said he needed to figure out some way to block that hole. Daddy just shoved the stove back against the wall and went back outside.
The next morning, after Daddy had gone to work, and the big kids were all gone to school, three of the neighbor women came over to have a cup of coffee with Mama. It was warm and peaceful under the table, the curtain of the oilcloth supplemented by a circle of flowered house dresses, white anklets and chair legs pulled up close. The murmur of the women’s voices was a pleasant background to my play. Mama was telling her friends all about the snake in the oven. She got up to demonstrate, talking all the while.
“I opened the oven to get the bread, and there….” This time there was a whole kitchen of women screaming. The snake was back, coiled up on the oven rack just like yesterday. But Mama was braver this time around. She grabbed a broom handle and pulled the snake out into the floor. It landed with a thump and a hiss, slithering away from the broom and under the table. With me. The snake’s long black body was solid, heavy and warm as it moved across my bare foot. I was frozen in place, watching like it was happening to someone else.
Mama was down on her knees just in time to see the tail end of the snake disappear up inside the hollow pedestal. She grabbed my arm and yanked me out.
“Get back! Get back!”
Back up against the door, I watched as the four women flipped the heavy table over and fished the snake out. Once it was on the floor Mama attacked it with a garden hoe she had fetched from the back porch, jabbing, hacking and yelling until the smooth black body was slick with blood, the head completely separated from the faintly twitching tail. She didn’t stop until Ida May grabbed her arm and pulled her away.
“Myrtie stop it, now! The dang snake is dead and you’re cutting up your own linoleum!”
She was right. Black slashes marched across the faded pink cabbage roses and light brown background of the worn linoleum. Mama used the broom to push what was left of the snake out the back door and then flipped it into the dusty yard. I ran after her and watched the chickens pounce on the pieces, pecking the snake and each other viciously as they fought over the unexpected meal.
The next morning when Mama set a plate of two fried eggs down in front of me on the big round table, I thought about the snake and how desperately it had tried to hide. I thought about the white leghorns with their feathers spattered in blood and their orange beaks flinging around pieces of the snake, trying to get him swallowed before another greedy beak could grab him away.
I thought about it. But I was hungry. In a little while I ate the eggs.
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