As a science teacher my Dad often brought work home, which included all kinds of living, stuffed or dead creatures. We lived in the midst of an ever changing menagerie. It started in the 60’s. We spent every weekend at the beach collecting shells and sea life for Dad’s 50 gallon saltwater tank, and dead specimens for his dried Sea collection. He taught my older brother and I how to catch octopus, starfish, slimy creatures and crabs of all sizes. I still dislike the feel of sand between my toes.
When Dad took a taxidermy class in the early 70’s our summer vacations suddenly included road kill. We’d stop and inspect every dead thing we passed. If the fowl or animal was salvageable he’d bag it and work on it when we stopped to camp for the night. Rare animals could cloud his judgment and he often pushed “acceptable” to the limits. One red fox was so ripe Dad lost his dinner working on it. Then there was the huge porcupine we found one morning that couldn’t wait until the evening. Dad attempted the impossible trying to skin the large pincushion as Mom drove the camper over winding mountain roads. He still has scars to prove it.
During the school year all the reptiles lived in cages in the classroom. When summer vacation came they were moved into a giant terrarium in my brother’s room. The boa constrictor and reticulated python were family favorites and we enjoyed getting them out to play and show our friends.
One year, when I was twelve, Ricky, the 5’ python, escaped the classroom during winter break. My Dad and students hunted for him over the following months, but never found a trace. Then, a few days after school was out for the summer, I received a call from one of the school janitors.
“The snake, we found the snake! You have to come get it!”
I tried to explain that my parents were not home, but the janitor was insistent that we get the snake right away. So I grabbed my younger brother and a paper bag, jumped on my bike and peddled as fast as I could. I told my brother to stay with the bike, then took the bag to my Dad’s classroom. The janitors refused to go into the room with me.
There was Ricky, all five feet of him laid out on the counter beneath the windows sunning himself. He raised his head and looked at me as I crossed the room. We were old friends, but he looked pretty skinny and wary from being on his own for three months. I hesitated, then reached out to pick him up. Flash—he struck like lightning! I stood shocked looking at my now bleeding hand, marveling at the number of pinpricks forming the perfect outline of his bite. Snakes have many small teeth in addition to the two large fangs. It didn’t hurt, but the janitors who were watching from the doorway started screaming. I got mad, grabbed the rebellious reptile, stuffed him in my bag, threw him on the bike with my brother and rode home.
Dad thought the whole incident was funny. He figured the snake had been hiding in the classroom ceiling and when school let out came down to the counter because it was hungry.
I don’t miss the iguanas, horned toads, rats and other creatures I grew up with, but I still have a soft spot for very large tropical snakes. The picture is of my Dad with Bowie, the Boa Constrictor.