The announcement for this years family reunion just arrived. I am ashamed to admit that I have not attended this reunion in more than twenty years, but am planning attend this year. I have been corresponding with family I have not communicated with in years, and but I see that our reunion chairman has upped the pressure to make sure I attend. You may also recall that my mother’s family name was Rice–this is the Rice Reunion.
So how do snakes figure into a reunion announcement? Read on.
This was written by my cousin Don. Don lives in Elkins, West Virginia and the time period he is referring to would have been the 1950s. In the announcement he wrote:
“Do you know there are some old Rice snake tales? I was remembering the days when the Rice cousins of my generation all made regular journeys to the farm of Aunt Mittie and Uncle Emmons. It was always an adventure for us “city kids” (hey, we thought Elkins was a pretty big town). The one cousin who was nearly always a fixture at the farm was Dice, a little older and presumably wiser than us young’uns. On one occasion, a few of my younger brothers and I had been traipsing around the meadows with Dice when we realized in a panic that we might not reach the safety of Mittie’s kitchen before darkness descended and caught us without a flashlight. It wasn’t the dark that scared us so much as the thought that snakes might come out and ambush us. Dice told us he had helped Emmons spread snake repellant on the fields, and said we were safe. We put our faith in his assurances, and he led us unharmed back to the house. It was quite a while before any of us realized he had used a white lie to give us the courage to follow him.
“Then there was the time the four older boys went with Mom on one of the few real vacations we ever had, all packed up in the station wagon and off to Williamsburg and Jamestown. We were able to swing the trip because we could stay with Aunt Lois Richmond in the area. Once there, we were taken under the wing of another older cousin, Jeff Richmond, who at the time had an affinity for reptilian pets. We put on brave faces, but were particularly nervous when he pestered a hog-nose snake until it played dead. To be fair, that wasn’t the only high point of the trip!
“Do I remember those events correctly? Who knows? Maybe Dice and Jeff can make the Reunion this year and straighten me out. Am I telling true snake stories, or selling snake oil?”
Don, you “got it right.”
The hognose Don mentioned snake is one of my favorites. They can grow to a length of three feet. Healthy specimens have thick, heavy bodies and a wide head and the characteristic upturned “hog nosed” snout. They are found throughout the eastern United States in sandy soils and pine forests. Their diet consists almost exclusively of toads. Toads, when threatened, will inflate their bodies in an attempt to prevent snakes from swallowing them. The hognose snake has a pair of “fangs” in the back of its mouth specifically to deflate the inflated toad. Nature will always find a way!
Hognose snakes can be very intimidating. When threatened, they hiss loudly, puff up and spread a prominent cobra-like hood behind their heads. This threat posture is usually enough to scare away predators and especially people. If the threat, say a person’s hand, continues to approach, they will lunge forward, striking wildly. These strikes, however, rarely if ever actually hit the aggressor, but fall short or off to one side. If the snake is actually attacked, it will very likely go into convulsions, throw up any recent meal, and then roll over as if dead–“playing ‘possum.” Assuming the threat then gives up and goes away, the snake will cautiously begin to turn right side up and crawl away.
I am looking forward to the family reunion.