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  • The oldest child, a 13 year old boy, had been left in charge again, a job he took very seriously. Jack Byrd, half Apache, a friend of their mother Jean, said that whenever the kids did something wrong, just beat the oldest. One thing was for sure, the oldest child would soon find the guilty party and mete out the justice they deserved. Jean was at her wit's end with five rambunctious children and too busy to closely examine the logic in this child-rearing strategy. There was no father. One thing it did was to make an even bigger bully out of the oldest, a flaw he already possessed in spades.

    Jean had moved her little flock out to the country. They lived in a farmhouse about five miles outside of town. The children thrived there. There was a big pond and dense woods bordering the property, ripe for exploration. The children caught frogs and butterflies on languid summer days. In the winter, they built snow fortresses that could be seen from space. Days were spent swimming and climbing trees. They laid on their backs spotting cloud animals in the sky and they experimented with fire, all unsupervised. Their mother left in the morning and would be gone until supper time. In between, they were to complete chores, not use the stove, share the television equally, and be nice to each other. It was a tall order.

    Annie and Laura tested their older brother, Norman. Annie was the second oldest and Laura was after her. After a small two year window, then came the little boys, Chip and Chris. Norman usually gave a speech that began before the dust in the road had settled as his mother's old car rattled away, carrying her off to work. Most often, the rest of the children listened to Norman's directives while shoveling spoonfuls of Cheerios into their mouths. He would give the orders and the girls would already be planning on thwarting him. Annie felt Norman needed to be knocked down a peg or two. He was a serious boy, had recently been reading Gray's Anatomy, already planning on a future medical degree. He wasn't enough older than she or Laura to hold any kind of real authority over them, so when they crossed him, they got punched.

    The Day of the Snake started out much like any other. The children ate their breakfast while brother Norman assigned chores to be completed before any fun could be had. Annie and Laura were assigned the kitchen and bathrooms. The little boys had to make beds and vacuum. Norman would supervise while watching Johnny Quest, his favorite show.

    After breakfast, Annie and Laura began to do their chores. While Laura did dishes, Annie armed herself with rubber gloves and scrubbing bubbles from under the sink. As she turned to climb the steps, Laura turned the dish sprayer on her sister's back. Annie shrieked, then came bounding back down the stairs to chase her sister, who was already running. Norman heard nothing, far removed from the kitchen and lost in his program. Laura turned to run and managed to find a loose fork on the floor with the tip of her big toe. She hopped around holding her foot. Annie came over and inspected the damage. Two perfect little holes were beginning to bleed out on her sister's toe. Nothing serious.

    Or was it? Annie looked at Laura, then looked off into the distance, towards the living room. Laura could see the gears turning in her sister's head. Annie put her finger to her lips. "Shhh," she said. After a few whispered instructions, the girls nodded, smiling. "Ready?" Annie asked and Laura shook her head yes. Laura got on the floor and began rocking back and forth holding her foot and wailing. Annie ran into the living room and switched off the television. "Hey, turn that back on," Norman said angrily. "Norman, you have to come quick - Laura stepped on a snake in the kitchen! I don't know how it got in here. It had a diamond shaped head. I think it was a copperhead and it bit Laura's foot!!! Hurry!

    Norman was off the couch in a flash. He found his sister on the floor. She was rocking and holding her foot. Norman remembered everything he read about poisonous snakes. He told the girls to be calm, he, Norman, knew what to do. Annie watched with delight as Norman brought his mouth to Laura's dirty foot and began to suck the poison from her toe. Laura looked at Annie and they both burst out laughing.

    Years later, when the family gathered, Laura liked to tell the story. "You got away," she says to her older sister. "I was not so lucky, I was already on the floor." When Norman realized the trick his sisters had perpetrated on him, he was ready for a fight. Laura said her brother hit her so hard she went blind for a minute. Annie ran out the back door, still laughing so hard she was gasping for air. Norman decided not to chase her. Instead, he called their mother at work. Both girls were confined to their rooms for the next three days and no television. Jean decided that the three oldest children could take turns being in charge for the rest of the summer. Annie and Laura gladly served their punishment, agreeing wholeheartedly that Norman sucking Laura's toe would go down in history as a crowning achievement. To this day, Norman gets mad when the story of the snake bite gets told. He says to his wife - You see why I am like I am? Did I ever tell you what they did to me at kickball?


    image: hiltonpond.org
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