Snakes Alive Essay

By Wayne Brown

Guns were not my priority…at least not until ‘Banks and I became friends. My dad had one old single-shot shotgun that I had fired only a few times. The experience had not left me longing to fire it again anytime soon. Other than that, my only exposure had been with a BB-gun that I obtained in my pre-teen years.

Banks changed all of that. He always believed that you were just one gun shy of having enough guns. No one ever had “enough firepower”, in his opinion. At the time, old man (well, he seemed old to us) Frank Simmons had a combination watch repair and gun shop on the northeast access to the town square. He had a little bit of everything in there especially guns and watches. Old Frank was a damn expert on everything too.

All you needed to do was ask him to find out. It was like trying to let a little bit of water out of the Hoover Dam…hard to turn it off once it gets going. Of course Banks cared little for Frank’s observations but he was willing to endure it to get a look at the gun case full of all kinds of pistols. He would just say, “Ah you know Frank is full of crap, let’s just go look at the guns”. I had heard that Frank was a Jehovah’s Witness so I was always afraid that he would want to give us one of those brochures. I stayed on edge the whole time we were in the shop. I think Frank picked up on it too. Banks was oblivious; totally entrenched in the beauty of the guns; lost in the wonderment of firepower. I think Frank picked up on that too and left the brochures under the counter.

Out north of town along Highway 51, a man called “Grasshopper” Jones operated a thriving bait business. It could be said that Grasshopper offered the ultimate in fishing experiences with a full array of natural, synthetic, and plastic baits. I was pretty sure there was no one else on earth that knew more about bait than Grasshopper. I always wondered why they did not invite him up to the school on career day to talk about bait. Folks need a passion in life and bait was Grasshopper’s passion. It was both an obvious and apparent conclusion, all you had to do was look around.

In the process of buying bait for one of our other adventures, Banks and I had come to be acquainted with Grasshopper and his vast bait empire. The land around his shop was populated by rectangular-shaped man-made minnow ponds. Grasshopper raised his own little minnows which he sold as “live bait” to the public. He would pull the minnows from the ponds with nets and put them into minnow vats in his shop awaiting his next customer. Grasshopper taught us that there were three types of live bait: minnows, crickets, and of course, those wiggling red wiggler worms that were so popular with your “joe average” fisherman.

Yep, Grasshopper was a natural-born bait guru. Anyway, Grasshopper related to us that he occasionally ran upon a Cotton-mouth Moccasin snake when he was out netting his minnows. He wanted to get rid of them. Well, say no more…Banks knew two guys who were well-suited and well-armed for the task. Without consulting me, he volunteered our services to Grasshopper for snake eradication. Banks says, “Hell, we’ll even provide the ammunition”.

Banks planned to begin the snake eradication effort the next weekend. Very seldom did he brief me on “our plans”. He more or less just showed up at my house and told me to get in the car, “we had things to do”. This was the case as we headed up to Grasshopper’s with a car full of pistols, rifles, and a shotgun or two. I found myself wondering whether Banks’ dad, Belmont, had enough firepower left back at the house to defend it if the bad guys showed up. Of course, I am quite sure that Banks did not brief Belmont on the plan either. Belmont and I were both in the dark on snake eradication. Belmont also did not know that he was supplying the ammunition for this effort but Banks did and it made perfect sense to him. Come to think of it, I do not think we bothered to brief Frank Simmons on the plan either. You see, the important thing was that Banks understood the plan and others would be brought in on it as the need arose…that was the way it worked. Security was an “all-the-time” consideration.

Once we arrived at Grasshopper’s, we quickly commandeered a small aluminum boat and one wooden paddle. Banks took control of the paddle. Now he had both the plan and the paddle. As for me, I was just along for the ride, as usual. There we were out on the pond rocking along in that little boat as Banks paddled back and forth across the sides of the boat working his way toward the shore on the other side. Now the shoreline on that side was lined with overhanging Willow trees that tend to naturally spring up in areas that snakes like. They must have really liked this area around Grasshopper’s for there were plenty of Willow trees.

If one did not know different, he could have assumed that Grasshopper was in the “Willow tree-raising” business. As we paddled along almost turning over at times, I remember praying that this minnow pond was not very deep as I was a poor swimmer and we did not have any life preservers. There was no room in the boat for them as it was full of guns. I was pretty sure that Banks would try to save the guns if the boat turned over so I knew that I was on my own in terms of any life-saving efforts.

Banks paddled us to the edge of the over-hanging tree branches. He threw the paddle into the bottom of the boat and grabbed his binoculars to search the ground along the bank under the Willows for snakes. He scanned back and forth until he finally spotted one. He grabbed a pistol and fired off a shot at the spot on the bank. He missed the snake and we watched as it slid off into the water. Now, at this point, I had two things to worry about…drowning and where the hell was that snake going? I was pretty sure it was headed out to get in the boat with us. No one can shoot very well when they have all those things running through their mind.

Banks had a different set of thoughts processing in his brain. By his calculations, we had two problems in that we were not using the right gun yet and we were not close enough to the snakes. So he grabbed the paddle and we rock and rolled off toward the tree-lined bank with me keeping a constant eye out for that snake that was waiting to jump in the boat with us. By the way, did I mention that I am deathly afraid of snakes? Well, write it down ‘cause it is a fact.

We arrive to within six feet of the bank and are totally shaded from the sun by the overhanging tree branches. We are close enough to the bank that the binoculars are no longer required to spot a snake and it does not take Banks long to find one. I, on the other hand, am distracted as I continue to look for that one snake that I am sure is still stalking us around the pond. This time, Banks grabs the 12-gauge shotgun and unloads on the snake lying on the pond bank. In that instance, that one second, simultaneous with the deafening blast of the shotgun, every snake in the universe either crawled off the bank into the water or fell out of the Willow branches over our heads.

Suddenly, we were living in hell on earth surrounded by some very upset moccasins at having been blasted from their resting place by the sounds of gunfire. Banks was thrilled; he stood up in the boat and began firing all around us attempting to kill all the snakes before the ammunition ran out. I had a different thought as I crawled across the middle seat grabbing for the paddle. I wanted out of there and fast and I was the man for the job. In that instance that was the one thing of which I was totally convinced. I was paddling like mad; Banks was shooting like mad and stopping only to quickly plug a new load of shells into the gun.

The water was churning in a mixture of shotgun blasts, paddle strokes, and writhing snakes. Banks was screaming, “Shot ’em, Get their ass” but I had another plan. I was moving that boat toward the other shore just as efficiently as a new, outboard Evinrude would get it done. I could not get there fast enough all the time thinking that there had to be at least one snake in the boat with us. God help us if Banks spotted him before we could get to the other side. I was pretty sure this little boat could not sustain a shotgun blast to the floor without sinking rapidly. The result of that would bring the snakes and drowning back into my thoughts. I had to quit thinking and just paddle that damn boat with Banks yelling, “Where are you going? Shot ’em!, Shot ’em!” If two snake-eradication experts ever needed God’s help, it surely had to be these two. Banks had yet again found a way to include me in an event that I could never have possibly conjured up for myself and I now had but one mission…get out of it alive!

We arrived back at our point of entry carrying a speed of probably no less than 100 knots. I was not worried about stopping the boat. I just wanted to get close enough to survive the jump to firm ground without the threat of drowning or snake-bite. I launched myself over Banks and landed on that pond bank fairly certain that I would be getting out of the snake eradication business. By this time, Banks had overheated the guns and was waiting for the barrels to cool down. He was pumped and just about out of ammunition. The adrenalin was flowing and the wheels were already turning in his head as to how we would approach this on the next visit. I could see it in his eyes. I also knew that he was not planning to brief either myself or Belmont on this action either.

We dragged the little boat upon the bank, gathered up the hot guns and headed to the car. All the while, Banks is complaining that I had left him in the lurch by not shooting more snakes. I answered his complaints by pointing out that there were more snakes out there than two human beings could deal with and that we were just ever so lucky that we came through it with our hides in place. Banks placed the guns in the trunk of the car, slammed the lid shut, and yelled for me to get in as he fired up the engine. Once inside, he stated his observations as to our lack of success in the snake-killing venture. He concluded that we were “under-gunned” and needed far more ammunition. What we needed was to head straight up to Frank Simmons’ shop and remedy that situation immediately. As we sped away toward the shop, I found myself thinking that it was past time for me to ask Frank for one of those brochures. If I was going to continue in the snake-killing business with Banks, I had to get in touch with God.