Snakes in the Kitchen by Donald Harbour
In the late 1940’s until about 1957 my family lived on a farm outside Malvern, Arkansas, the hometown of my mother Alene. Momma canned a lot for our family. Dad grew the garden with the help of my brother Mike and I. Dad was a city boy from St. Louis, Missouri. He was not even close to being Southerner. I truly feel he never understood what it meant although he married my mother, an Arkansas girl. He did try to fit in, he just could never step up to that plate of squirrel and dumplings with any joy or a morsel on his fork.
Mom would keep the canned produce she was going to use for our dinners in the cabinet under the sink. The rest was out in a cool place in the garage work shop. One day mom came into the living room and announced to dad that she thought something was under the sink hissing. Mom and dad did not like snakes while Mike and I thought they were creatures to be caught and admired.
The conversation went something like this.
Mom; “Bill there is something making hissing noises under the sink.”
Dad; “Well what do you think it is?”
Mom; “I don’t know but I think something has gotten into the house and is under the sink.”
If mom had never said, “something has gotten into the house and is under the sink,” dad would have been okay with taking a look. With that statement the unspoken die was cast: snake! Our farm and several others was on a flat rise above the Reyburn Bottoms. This is a marshy slough that Reyburn Creek ran through. When the creek flooded its banks every year a lot of slithering fork tongue critters paid us a visit. Dad now thought one of them had made a home of mom’s kitchen.
Mike and I were made to stay with mom at the door to the kitchen while dad put on a pair of leather gloves and preceded to carefully open the door to the sink cabinet. Reveled was a dark cavity with jars of vegetables stacked up. We all were silent listening. In a moment there came an audible hiss out of the dark under the sink.
Mom was being a good wife and encouraging Dad. She kept saying, “Bill, be careful you don’t get bit.”
This man had served in the South Pacific during World War II, crawled through jungles full of enemy soldiers, malaria, skin devouring fungus and enormous snakes. Now my father gingerly knelt before the cabinet and began to slowly remove the jars one at a time. The hiss was intermittent and each time it occurred dad would jerk his hand out of the void. We didn’t own a flashlight and you could barely see under the sink so dad had to probe in the dark.
The removal process was taking a long time. Mike had fallen asleep and I was spread out on the floor on my belly in my underwear. As dad reached in to remove one of the few remaining jars the hiss took on a different sound and got louder as the jar came out of the cabinet. With the force of a Sandy Koufax pitch my father slung the jar behind him smashing it against the refrigerator door. Mom screamed and snatched Mike off the floor, I jumped up and we ran for the living room. This is one of the few times I ever heard my father curse, it wasn’t pretty either. “You guys can come back,” he yelled.
The kitchen looked like a bloody war zone. Red goo was splattered everywhere. Immediately I thought dad must have pulled a monster of a snake out of the cabinet area, cut its head off with the snake emptying its life blood during its death throws. But there was no snake. Just goo that looked remarkably like tomatoes. There was no hissing either.
Dad spoke to mom, “Alene, the hissing was one of those damn quart jars of tomatoes you canned last year that had turned bad and was fermenting. That’s what was hissing. The seal on the lid was broken.” Every once in a while as mom was canning we would hear dad say, “you aren’t canning anymore snakes are you Alene?” Mom didn’t like that and Mike and I would start giggling with mom admonishing us, “you hush now boys.”
Every time I see a snake or pick up a canned Mason jar I have to smile remembering the deadly snakes in the kitchen.