I suppose it was the heat of the humid August day that started it all. Tom Trueblood and I were tossing rocks on the roof of the Boxholm School bus barn out behind our house and watching them roll down the corrugated roof. Don’t ask me why this activity was one of the favorite things to do on a summer day…it just was. Perhaps it was because it was too hot to walk down to Mel’s 66 Gas Station and get a Grapette pop. Or maybe it was because we didn’t have a nickel to make the buy, but suffice it to say we were amused with the rocks and the bus barn.
At some point we decided it would be neat to get my BB gun and shoot sparrows in the plum thicket next to the barn. When I went in the house to get my shoot’n iron my Mother said that we could dig dandelions for a penny a piece. I thought about the heat and thought about how 5 dandelions could buy us a pop and then I thought about shooting sparrows. Shooting sparrows won (or lost, depending on your point of view). I told Mom that we’d rather plink sparrows than dig dandelions. As usual, she warned us not to shoot any robins or other birds.
We loaded up the Daisy rifle with perfectly round copper coated BB’s and headed back to the bus barn to see what we could do to reduce the sparrow population. The sparrows were uncountable down at the Felco Elevator where my sister’s boy friend worked, but we weren’t allowed to shoot down there any more after breaking a window in the scale office the summer before. Unreasonable, we thought. We dug dandelions to pay for the window.
So we sneaked up to the thicket around the back of the bus barn and scored almost immediately. Tom and I were pretty good shots (except for the scale window last year). After a dozen or so kills we heard the sound of the old reel power lawnmower backfiring as Tom’s Dad, Ed, tried to get the thing started. Tom and I had always wanted to mow with it, but our Mom’s wouldn’t let us. They said we were too small and it was dangerous.
The old thing started up and was roaring away as Ed worked his way over to the orchard on the side of our house. The noise ended the sparrow hunt and we both wondered, now what. Then it happened.
We asked Ed if we could mow the orchard and, of course, he said yes. After all, it was an awful hot day. We asked him if he would pay us a quarter to mow the orchard and he said he’d give us each a dime. Mable Berquist’s flash cards paid off. We did the math quick and figured we could each get a pop and a candy bar after we finished the mowing.
We took turns. One of us mowing and the other looking out for our Mom’s so we wouldn’t get in trouble. It didn’t take long for us to kick up a snake in the tall orchard grass. Mr. Trueblood would always take off after the snake with the mower whenever he saw one. You could always tell when he had routed a snake because there would be a crazy path cut through the orchard and then he would stop mowing. He was afraid of snakes.
Tom was mowing when the snake slithered out ahead of the mower and I yelled to Tom to slow down. I ran in front of the whirling blades and lost the critter in the tall grass. I bent over and stalked the garter snake with the stealth of a sideshow snake charmer. The 3 foot yellow and green striped sidewinder was no match for me. In a flash I had him in my grip and held it up high. Mowing was over. Tom and I wondered what to do with it and we decided to show it to my Mom. She didn’t mind snakes and always hated it when Ed would run over them with the mower. She said they ate mosquitoes and spiders and were good for the garden.
When we got to the house we hollered for Mom to come out, but there was no answer. So we went in and hollered again. Mom answered back that she was upstairs. We went up the stairs to the landing and up the second set of stairs to the upper floor. Mom was nowhere to be found. The bathroom door was shut so I thought maybe she was in there. We opened the door and Mom was in the big old claw foot bathtub taking a bubble bath in the middle of the day. I asked her why she was taking a bath in the middle of the day and she said she was trying to cool off a bit.
She didn’t seem to be too alarmed that Tom was with me (bubbles and all) and she didn’t seem to react too much when I pulled the snake from behind my back. The startle response occurred when, for some inexplicable reason, I dropped the snake into the bathwater. Mom screamed. Tom and I ran. The snake didn’t know why it was treading water in a sea of bubbles. We headed for the plum thicket and cowered under the cover of heavy underbrush. Somehow we figured we might have made a mistake. We stayed there for quite a while. When we got hungry, Tom went home. Ed came and got the mower. Mom let the snake loose. I spent the rest of the day in my room. The fact that I couldn’t watch Howdy Doody and Winky Dink on TV didn’t matter because we didn’t have a TV.
The good thing about it all was that it wasn’t as bad as the time I poured Mom’s Channel #5 perfume that Dad had gotten in Chicago and had given her for Christmas. I thought it would make the toilet smell better. And it did.