Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Many times when I need inspiration for a column, I flip through old photographs. When I came across the picture of me doing my Charles Atlas imitation in front of our old Ford Fairlane, a story came to mind that I thought I would share.

When I was growing up in Sloss, there was a shallow place in Horse Creek where people would go to wash their cars. I’m not sure where the creek originates, but it meanders through east Walker County and is fed by pure icy water from somewhere deep in the earth.

Oftentimes on warm Saturday and Sunday afternoons, there would be a line of folks waiting their turn to wash the coal dust and road grime off their old cars.

It was usually a family affair. The dad would drive the car into the creek, shut off the engine, and then a herd of kids would bail out with buckets and rags and commence hand washing their car.

After soaping up the car, everyone would take their bucket, scoop it full of water from the creek, and start flinging it on the car to rinse off the soap.

It was not uncommon for this segment of the cleanup detail to get out of hand. Someone would intentionally take a bad aim and all of a sudden, little sister had a face full of water. All such attacks required full and immediate retaliation. Before long, the washers were wetter than the car.

One Saturday in August when I was about 10-years-old, we headed out to wash the Ford.

I was soaked to the bone and I’d had about as much fun as I could stand in the creek, so I wandered off downstream to check out the scenery. I was as barefooted as the day I was born. I came to an old hickory log that had fallen next to the creek and was about to step over. Just before I put my foot down, I glanced at the ground and what I saw put “the fear” in me. Lying in a sunny spot next to the log was a cottonmouth moccasin that looked to be as big as my leg. Somehow, I managed an evasive maneuver that was a cross between a high jump and a double-back flip.

I let out a blood-curdling scream that made my entire family unit come running at full speed.

My brother Neil must have had a similar experience in the past, because he grabbed the 22 rifle out of the truck before he ran down the creek.

The cottonmouth didn’t flee like a regular snake; he took stock of the gathering crowd trying to decide if he could take us all on.

Just as Neil arrived, the evil beast slowly slid into the creek and began to swim down stream. Neil was excited as he shouldered the rifle and then he fired off about eight rounds, none of which came anywhere near the snake. The last we saw of the tubular Satan, he was swimming downstream at a leisurely pace.

The story became part of our family’s lore. By the time we got home to tell Mama, the snake had doubled in size and looked as if it had eaten a small child before I came upon it.

We continued going to the Horse Creek carwash for years, but to this day, I never go barefoot on a creek bank and I always look twice before stepping over a log.

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