First snakes?

Julie had a phobia...snakes.

After hearing her childhood experience, it doesn't take a rocket scientist or Sigmund Freud to understand why!

Don't know for sure how old she was, but it was definitely pre-teen...a mere puppy child. Julie had a room by herself...being the only girl at that time, a luxury that would soon be a distant memory. However, that proved to be her undoing...there were no witnesses.

Raised a "poor black child", the hardwood floors in her bedroom were not of the highest quality - i.e. there were knotholes in places...knotholes that were open to the environs under the house...and whatever might dwell beneath.

Yep, you guessed it by now...a snake slithered up into Julie's bedroom through that knothole. Now, THAT didn't bother Julie...for Julie, you see, was sound asleep! However, come early morning...Julie wakes up...with a feeling of pressure on her chest. Mr. Snake has crawled into the bed, probably seeking warmth, and curled up in repose on Julie's chest.

Now...don't know how big the snake was...may have been quite small. However, to a pre-teen girl waking from a peaceful slumber, the snake probably looked like something out of the movie, Anaconda!

Well, what's a girl to do? There is no one in the room with her that she might be able to alert...without alerting Mr. Snake. Screaming in abject horror - like high school girls when they see a RAT at in tiny little mouse - was NOT an option. There will be no startling of Mr. Snake!

So little Julie Ann Marie Jones lay there a rock...watching Mr. Snake. Finally, Mr. Snake awakens, slithers off of Julie's chest, off of the bed, and down through his entry hole in the floor.

Up bounds little to find her report her horrifying experience...seeking the comfort that only a mother can give.

Well, mama ain't buying it...concluding that little Julie had had a nightmare. (Well, she got THAT right!) Everything will be better now, mother consoles. Well, little Julie ain't buying THAT...and keeps pleading her no avail.

So...night falls, and it's time for bed. Little Julie begs mama for help. Mama tires of the pleadings and escorts her daughter to sleep. Fat chance! Little Julie lies in bed watching, waiting, for the return of Mr. Snake. And, Mr. Snake does NOT disappoint. The snake's head pokes through the hole, slithers across the floor toward the bed, and returns to his place of comfort from the previous night.

(Folks, I'm not making this stuff up. Can you just imagine!!!)

Anyway, the next morning, little Julie goes through the same pleadings with her the same are just having nightmares!

Don't know how long this went on...I'm sure it seemed like an eternity to Julie.

Finally, Julie is lying in bed one morning...with her "pet snake" comfortably resting in place, when lo and behold in walks mama...caught that snake in bed with her daughter. Mr. Snake safely made his exit, but mama was now a believer! Mama took steps to "secure" Julie's room, sealing any and every opening that she could find.

It worked...Mr. Snake never made a return visit.

Again...I think you can see that Julie had a well-earned phobia about snakes. Julie could NOT bear to look at snakes on television. Julie could NOT bear to look at a picture of a snake in a magazine. Julie Newell did NOT do snakes! (I think that's why she would later have so many problems with some of the administrators that wandered through Cairo School District Number One!!!)

Well, even Julie and I can get tired of driving to Cape or Carbondale EVERY day, so we decided to drive to St. Louis. (Now, once again, I’m fuzzy on the time period here…not sure whether we were still in the dating stage or whether we had gotten married by then. I’m leaning to the former, although it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference to the story!)

Anyway, when we get to St. Louis, I decided that we ought to pay the zoo a visit since she mentioned that she had never been and I had fond childhood memories of same. Little did Julie know the horror that awaited her…little did I know the horror that awaited her!

As we are wandering the grounds, literally looking at lions and tigers and bears…and other, more exotic species, we finally come upon the reptile house. Having no snake phobia myself and NOT KNOWING THAT JULIE HAD A SNAKE PHOBIA, I start leading the way to the entrance.

I noticed that she seemed to be less than anxious to enter, so I asked her if there was something wrong. Well, Julie had not yet told me of her “snake adventures” and evidently was not anxious to reveal the existence of her phobia…maybe afraid of the impact of such knowledge on her boyfriend (or brand new husband.)

So…we enter the reptile house. Folks, if you’ve never been…this building is just jam packed with, well, reptiles. Snakes galore! Small, medium and large!

Julie, being the trooper she always was, decided that confrontation with her phobia…face to face…would resolve the issue in her favor! Yeah, we went from cage to cage (glassed in, of course) looking at all manner of reptiles. (In retrospect, I’m thinking she must have managed, without me knowing, to keep her eyes averted – or closed – during much of the tour. On the other hand…if you have this abject horror of snakes, can you REALLY close your eyes while totally surrounded by them…not knowing when one of them might find an opening in the glass and slither out of its cage and…CRAWL UP YOUR LEG?!

I can’t even imagine what Julie was going through. Later, she finally revealed her phobia. (I think it was right before our next trip to the zoo.)

Julie had given rave reviews of the zoo to her sisters and they had begged to go with us on our next trip. Before our departure, Julie informed me that she would NOT be entering the reptile house this time…and the reason why! Guess she figured if I couldn’t handle the trauma of her having a phobia, then so be it. She had already put herself through a supreme test by surrounding herself with snakes last time. It was my turn to be tested! Well, that was an easy test to pass. I asked her “Why didn’t you say something? You didn’t have to go in there…I don’t like snakes either!” (No phobia…I can look at them…just don’t like ‘em.)

Incidentally, there WAS one snake that she did look at...stared at for the longest time. The 25-foot python! It was so huge, I don't think she considered it real. Or, maybe, just maybe...she thought it was her old "friend", Mr. Snake...all grown up now!

As you most likely know, phobias can be dangerous. If you have this overwhelming fear of something, confronting it can make you lose all awareness of your surroundings and all reason.

Case in point…a trip to Giant City State Park.

Ahhhhhhhhh, Giant City! Ron and Julie’s own private lover’s lane!!! Okay…we shared it with hundreds and thousands of others, but who’s counting!?

Even we couldn’t drive forever. And, you can’t sit in a restaurant forever…without gaining a hundred freaking pounds. And, how many movies can you watch…although we sat through “Fiddler on the Roof” - a row! That’s like a 3-hour movie!

So, when the weather was nice… Ahhhhhhhhh, spring in Giant City, when a young man’s fancy turns to…PICNICS!

Hey, it worked for us. We even continued doing picnics in Giant City AFTER we were married and had a house of our own where we could…stay. We even mini-picnicked, just for old times sake, last year…stopping by Quizno's, picking up a couple of sandwiches, and taking a trip down memory lane.


Well, you can’t just sit in Giant City and eat all day either. Location may be “everything”, but you would still gain weight. So, exercise is mandatory…and Giant City had the nature trails and all the rocks you would ever want to climb.

And, we manage to find “our rock”…which overlooked the park nicely. It was elevated…probably 30 feet high with a sharp drop-off. However, “our rock” was several feet from the edge, so Julie’s other phobia…heights…didn’t really come into play.


We had been sitting on our rock, uh, passing the time, uh, talking, when Julie decided to take a breather and stretch her legs. She stepped down off the rock and walked maybe halfway between the rock and the edge of the drop-off. Julie turned to look back at me…and froze.

Thank God she froze! With her phobia, she could have back-peddled and gone right off the edge of the cliff. For, lo and behold, she spotted a snake…right beneath the rock upon which we had been sitting.

So much for THAT rock…never returned to that spot again. However, Giant City still had enough allure that we returned…often. Julie just made sure that we “scoped out” the surroundings BEFORE we sat down…not after.

By the way, after the “cow bell story”, you may think my “humor” might manage to get me into trouble with Julie…and her snake phobia. I mean, who could resist rubber snakes in the desk drawer, or under the seat of the car, or…the variations are limitless.

Well, I may have a weird sense of humor at times, but I know when to leave well enough alone. I could tell that Julie’s snake phobia was NOT fertile territory for jokes! I am NOT a sadist! I’m also NOT masochistic…I knew that Julie would flat HURT ME if I ever planted any rubber snakes for her to “discover”.

No…that would be done by someone else. And here, the details totally elude me. Julie did one tour of summer school, and some teacher – knowing or not knowing Julie’s phobia – planted a fake snake where Julie would find it. Julie was NOT HAPPY and told the teacher in no uncertain terms that THAT had better not happen again! Evidently, she got her message through…LOUD AND CLEAR! Hey, Julie let him live…although I CAN'T remember if he returned to the District the next year. (Just kidding!)

And, a final word…before I tell my last snake tale. Luckily for Julie…or Doyal…Julie was “evicted” from Cairo High School PRIOR to his arrival. Doyal is a science teacher who likes to wear a boa at school. No…NOT the feathered type. (We won’t go there!)

No…Doyal likes to bring his pet boa constrictor to school to show the students. Julie Newell would NOT have been able to handle that…the situation, much less the snake! There would have been a showdown of major proportions…and I would have put my money on Julie.

No, Doyal only had to deal with another female teacher down the hallway and she wasn’t as aggressive (oops, sorry, Julie…“assertive”) as Julie Newell. I won’t mention the female teacher’s name, but her first initial is “Barbara”. Barbara has the same phobia and dreaded each and every day that Doyal insisted on wearing his boa to school!

Okay, the last snake episode…

In our current home, we have a fireplace…a “real” one that burns real wood logs. Therefore, we have a woodpile…which of course are known for attracting snakes. And Cairo definitely has snakes, including the two-legged type (but we won’t go there either…at least not today!)

On occasion, I had spotted “signs” of snake activity…like a shedded skin, of which I quickly, secretively disposed. (I mean, Julie told someone who had talked of snakes in Cairo that if she ever saw a snake in her yard, she was moving. Julie did NOT “joke” about things like that often, and I did NOT want to move again. Once was enough!)

Well, the house directly behind ours used to be owned by a church…serveed as residence to the minister and his family. (For whatever reason, there was a big turnover in ministers. At least every other year, we would have a new neighbor.)

One of these families liked to garden. I didn’t think too much about that, having grown a tomato or two in my time. However, I swear to this day that this family must have decided to employ a natural deterrent to garden pests. THAT summer, I must have been confronted by at least a dozen snakes…something that had never before happened.

As I said earlier, I don’t like snakes…can’t tell one from another. Since at least some of them are poisonous, I have to assume that all of them are poisonous. But, again, most importantly, I have a wife who will make us move to Ireland if she walks out into the backyard and sees a snake…especially a dozen snakes, slithering through the tall grass, directly at her!!!

That summer…and succeeding summers…I took great pains in keeping the weeds pulled and the grass cut short! I had quickly found from personal experience that snakes DO just love tall grass.

One morning, I calmly walked out on our deck and casually looked down on our brick patio. There is this 6-foot snake calmly sunning himself/herself/whatever! (Ask Doyal, he can explain the difference.)

I panic! Oh, God, PLEASE do NOT let Julie come outside about now!

I calmly turn and walk back into the house to see what Julie is up to. Seeing that she is cleaning the bedroom, I tell her that I am going to work out in the yard for a while. Quickly, I exit, stage south with the intent of getting a shovel and killing me one serpent! (Yep, been known to do that…sorry, Doyal.) However, when I walk out back, I see the snake slithering toward the garden of the house behind us…safe beyond my reach.

Needless to say, for quite some time, I made checking the backyard my number one priority in the morning!

It was the following Winter when I finally decided to tell Julie about A snake…no way we are going to talk about a DOZEN snakes. When we had our first cold snap, I decided that a fire in the fireplace might be nice…and romantic. So, I told Julie that I was going to start a fire and headed out back to get some wood. On my way out, Julie (having heard about those snakes in Cairo…and knowing about their affinity for wood piles) said “Ronnie, be careful…watch for snakes!”

I responded “Well, honey, I wasn’t going to tell you…because of your “snake thing”, but I do think I saw one out by that pile at the end of last year.” Julie says “YOU DID?!” I lower the alert status (and hold off the moving van) by saying “Well, I’m not sure, but it might have been.”

With THAT simple assertion, I knew that Julie Newell would NOT be venturing anywhere near the woodpile. In fact, I don’t think Julie ever ventured down to the ground again…restricting herself to our deck. And, fortunately, our sunbathing snake never made a return appearance.