summer of busted myths

Campfire

I was sitting in the backyard with Walter (not his real name) last night. He’d pitched such a fit about my Keurig not making coffee fit for a real man that I put some wood in the firepit and let him brew up some real, honest to God cowboy coffee. He said that the reason my moustache is so white now is that I don’t have to strain the grounds through it because of that hoity-toity machine that I love so much. I guess civilization has a way of doing that to you.

We reminisced about hard won knowledge that lasted us a lifetime and for once we agreed on one lesson that will always remain in our top ten. It was our summer of the busted myth.

I guess we were about fourteen years old at the time and we had gone bow hunting for rabbits down by the old cemetery near Carpenter’s Bayou. Back then the area was big depression on the banks of the bayou and filled with chest high scrub growth. A great place for rabbits. Not so great for kids. After a morning of hunting we both looked like we’d been whipped with bob war (that’s barbed wire for you foreigners north of the Red River).

It was hot and our canteens were empty so we decided to ford the bayou to a subdivision on the other side. We were hoping to cadge some fresh water from some kind soul’s water hydrant.

Being young, dumb and gullible — we’d been told by a friend of a friend’s friend that a cottonmouth will not bite you underwater ’cause he’d drown. With that bit of carefully validated information tucked away, I waded into the chest deep water while carefully holding my relatively new Ted Williams lemonwood and fiberglass bow and quiver full of arrows over my head. Just like Ramar of the Jungle. (Am I the only one who remembers Jon Hall’s greatest role?)

I had just struggled up the far bank when I heard an ear piercing shriek from behind. I turned to see Walter launch himself straight up into the air like a submarine launched ICBM — with a four foot cottonmouth hanging from his right thigh.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “Looks like that friend of a friend’s friend might have either lied or been chock full of hose pucky.”

I don’t mean to sound callous or uncaring, but when Walter grabbed that snake and slung it halfway to I-10 he looked like Daffy Duck walking on water. I’ll swear to you that there were still footprints on the water when he got to the other side. He zipped past me like the ten foot bank was a mere speed bump.

I caught him about twenty yards past the embankment and tackled him. Good Boy Scout training kicked in and I cut his pants leg off and managed to leave most of his leg intact. The leg was already starting to discolor, so I put a tourniquet above the bite, hoisted him up on my shoulder and started for the subdivision that had been our original destination.

Fate smiled on us because there was a guy watering his lawn when we crossed the road. He loaded us into his pickup and took us the two miles to Tidelands Hospital where they went to work on Walter.

I don’t want to go into gory details, but hemotoxin is a nasty beast. Even as quickly as we got him to medical care, they had to excise a bit of muscle and it left him with a large scar to remind him that snakes DO bite underwater.

A few weeks later we were lolling around a campfire and I could tell that something was on Walter’s mind. And that’s always a dangerous thing. You can’t let pressure build up like that without having a relief valve.

It turns out that Walter blamed me for him getting snake sucked. He’d had a few weeks to ponder and it came to him that by me crossing first I stirred up the snake that laid in wait for him to cross. If he’d crossed first I would have been the one to get chewed on.

The reason I said earlier that this was a lifelong lesson for us cropped a little over four years later when we were enjoying our Senior Trip to sunny Vietnam.

Walter swears that the reason I always liked walking point on patrols was because I knew that Charlie would let me get through the kill zone before he lit up the command element. Since Walter was the Old Man’s radio operator, that put him right in the thick of things. Everybody in the company thought we were nuts for nearly having fist fights over who got to walk point on the next patrol. You can see that something as simple as a snake bite can leave a lasting impression and have consequences far beyond what anyone would believe.

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