I suppose, if you were to look around your neighborhood, you would find the same types of characters, but I like to think that my neighborhood is unique in its colorful characters. I’d like to introduce some to you. We will start with Snake Man.
You must understand that I am terrified of snakes. Even though I was raised on a farm where there were snake in the fields and our yard, I still always screamed and ran. And if I was on the lawn mower, I tried to run over the snake. I know this is irr-reasonable. My dad explained it to me. But still, I hate the things.
About a month after we bought our house, it was mentioned to me that our neighbor across the street kept boa constrictors as pets. He had two 13 foot snakes and sometimes “aired” them on his front lawn in the summer. I decided then and there that the first time I saw this happening, I would call the city, and the police, and the C.P.S, and my Senator, and my lawyer. There was a city ordinance against “airing” 14 foot boa constrictors on a lawn. There had to be.
I had never met Snake Man, but I imagined how he would look. He would have long greasy hair and tattoos and wear muscles shirts. Or maybe he would be a pale, stringy blonde with icy eyes. Either way, he would be scary. People that liked snakes were weird and scary.
The first time he “aired” his 15 foot pet pythons on the lawn, I locked my front door and pulled the blinds in the front room. Then I opened the blinds as I wanted to be able to have some warning if they decided to slither across the road to come and get me. Then I sat on an arm-chair with my feet off the floor. That way they couldn’t “get me” so easily.
He aired his pet snakes often that summer, and eventually, I stopped locking the front door every time he had his snakes out. Then one day I ventured outside. I wouldn’t wave at our neighbor or go over and introduce myself, but I just watched those horridly fascinating, 16 foot snakes. They did nothing. They just lay in the grass. But once, one of the Boa Constrictors raised up his head, and I ran back into my house and locked my front door.
My husband crossed the street and introduced himself. I stared out of the blinds waiting for one of the 17 foot pythons to grab my husband, but they just lay there. Every once in a while they would begin to move toward the street, and Snake Man would take their tail and pull them back toward his house. They were very massive, so he had to give them a hard pull to get those 18 foot constrictors back onto the lawn.
I decided to conquer my fear and cross the street, but once I got outside, I couldn’t do it. So I said a “hello” from my side of the street. When Snake Man answered, I noticed that he was missing a tooth–right near the front. It make him look like a pirate, and not the good kind. He also had short dark hair, a muscle shirt, and a tatoo. He had a nice friendly voice, but that was just an accident. Overall, he confirmed my image of weird snake lovers.
Now eight years ago, when we first moved into this house, we had just come from Flight School in Florida. That means we had very little. By very little, I mean we had $23.93 in our bank account. We made it. Just barely, but we did. But we didn’t buy any extras. We had no T.V., no internet, no cell phone, and we didn’t even own a radio.
So here I was in a town where I knew no one, and no one knew me, and my husband traveled 2/3 of the year. One hot summer afternoon, I put the two kiddos (LBG–Little Big Guy and Scout) down for naps. I had one of those miserable summer colds with a fever. I laid down in my bed and in my feverish state just stared up at the tree outside my second floor window. I thought, “Man! that tree is a bright green!” And my head throbbed and my fever made me ache, and I just stared at the leaves on the tree, and thought, “The tree just glows green.” And slowly I realized that my brain was trying to tell me something. I closed my eyes and concentrated, and this is what my brain said, “It isn’t spring. That tree shouldn’t be bright green in mid summer.”
Then I opened my eyes and tried to focus on the tree again. The leaves definitely were a bright glowing green. Then my eyes left the tree and I realized that not only was the tree glowing green, but the entire sky glowed green.
Now I was raised in the mid-west on a farm, and I knew that we were about to have a tornado.
Adrenaline overran my fever and banging head, and I swung my legs over the bed thinking about my two sleeping kiddos. I couldn’t remember if you were to close all windows, or if it was best to leave them open a crack so that there wouldn’t be suction outward if a window busted. I left two opened a crack and carried the kiddos down to the basement, and then I was scared. Very scared. The sky got black and the power went out, and I thought, “I don’t even have a radio!”
Then I realized that neither kiddo had their blankies, and I decided if the house was going to blow away my kiddos would need their blankies for comfort, so I ran upstairs and grabbed them. The wind was blowing, and it started to rain and hail.
I felt very alone in the basement with my two kiddos and two blankies.
I thought about calling my mom, but I realized she wouldn’t be able to do anything except worry, so I decided not to call.
Then slowly the wind died down and the hail turned into a hard summer rain. Then the hard summer rain left. I climbed the basement stairs and looked outside at the sky. The eerie green had pushed west. I could still see it in the distance, but it was definitely west of me. Then Snake Man came across the street to me. He asked me if I was okay. I was SO thankful to have someone care about me. I had been so scared and feeling so lonely. I didn’t care that he was missing one of his front teeth. I didn’t care that he owned two 19 foot snakes. I just wanted to be okay. I wanted to hear from someone that it was going to be okay. He told me a bit about the storm passing to the west. The tornado had touched down there. There was damage. It was still happening, so there wasn’t too much news yet, but the storm hadn’t hit us. I looked up and down our street. It was trash day, and there was trash everywhere. Snake Man calmly helped me find my garbage cans and lids. He picked up the trash with me in front of my house. He just talked calmly about what a mess it was and continued helping me pick up. And do you know what ran through my head? This thought right here, “Shoot! I will never be able to call the city on him now. He has been nice to me, and I will never have the heart to call about his pet snakes.”
I know. It wasn’t the biggest christian thought, but it was the beginning of the weakening of my Snake Man phobia. I eventually was able to cross the street and visit with him. I finally told him how scared I am of snakes, and he was very understanding. I told him I didn’t want my kids scared of them, so he helped LBG and Scout touch them. He offered me a snake petting. I tried, but I just couldn’t get closer than about 10 feet.
We visited some more and he mentioned that he was getting his front tooth fixed. I didn’t know what to say because I found the missing front tooth linked with my image of him as the Snake Man. Then he told me how he broke his front tooth.
Next door to Snake Man lives Mrs. Thelma. Mrs. Thelma was in her late 70’s at that time, and Snake Man had seen her in her backyard trying to prune her tree. Snake Man said, “Mrs. Thelma, you shouldn’t be doing that! You could get hurt on that ladder.” So Snake Man went over and helped her prune her tree. He was trying to reach a branch, when the clippers slipped and fell, hitting and breaking his front tooth.
Suddenly, I felt very, very, very small.
While I had been judging this man, he had been helping his elderly neighbor. While I had scorned his looks, he was trying to settle the insurance claim.
I left humbled.
I left ashamed.
Eight years later, I can point to things in our house that Virgil (formerly known as Snake Man) helped us move. He had a strong back and willing heart. He helped us move furniture and other large items. We have been to his daughter’s highschool graduation party, borrowed tools, and often visit across the street. Just a week or so ago, we visited him in the hospital. Virgil who played golf every day had a stroke. It was hard to see a strong man partially paralyzed, but thankfully, he is home now and walking on his own. So this post is dedicated to Virgil, a man I am glad is my neighbor.
–a humbler rebecca
P.S. Virgil’s snakes died. He still has his dog, parrot, and iguana. He often takes in snakes that owners no longer want and finds them new homes. He also volunteers his time to help at a local Reptile Center building cages and caring for pet snakes that have outgrown their owners interests.
Here Little Man is playing, “Doink”–which is rather like baseball with a bounced pitch and racquetball racket.