DKG Fine Arts Gallery
By Ulana L. Ratley, TX © firstname.lastname@example.org
“Mommy, mommy, a baby rattlesnake just bit me on my foot!” screamed my little three year old brother Aaron. He clutched his hurt foot as he whimpered from the pain.
My two younger brothers and I had been playing in the backyard behind the wash house of our old 1920's farmhouse on my parents farm five miles northwest of Burkburnett, Texas. We loved to dig in the dirt, build little roads in the red sandy soil where we pushed our little toy cars, and played with our little rubber animal people.
My mother was washing our week of wash at the old washer using a hand wringer and rinsing in galvanized metal wash tubs. Soon as she heard Aaron's cry, she immediately stopped putting Daddy's faded blue work shirts in the wringer, and rushed across the Bermuda grass to where my brother was crying. Panic filled my mother's face. She carefully examined the bite on his right foot and saw the red marks. Mother was frightened and did not know what to do. What does a woman without a car or truck for transportation who is living out in the country a mile from her nearest neighbor do? Daddy, a science teacher, at Burkburnett Junior High, drove our only car everyday to his school. We did not even have a telephone to call for help.
Mother racked her mind. What should she do? She could try to walk to town carrying Aaron, but she had her youngest son one year old Max and me, her five old daughter Ulana. Mother could not take all three children with her and did not feel right to leave Max alone at home with me. She was heartbroken and did not want Aaron to die from the rattlesnake bite. He was such a small boy and probably would not survive such a bite. Aaron usually had a huge smile on his face and a twinkle in his blue eyes. But now his energetic frail body was shaking as he tried to put on a brave front. He always was our toughest little man seldom crying when he was hurt.
Next Mother carried Aaron into the house and laid him down on the double white metal bed in the children's bedroom. She continued to try to calm him down by patting him on his back. As Mother thought and thought trying to come up with a solution to this terrible life or death problem, she had a brainstorm. Quickly this former fourth grade teacher grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil. She asked Aaron to draw the rattlesnake. Aaron clutched the yellow pencil in his small hand and drew a creature with numerous legs and a stinger on it. It was obvious that this creature was not a rattlesnake.
“Thank God,” Mother sighed with a rush of relief. It looked as if this creature that Aaron drew was a centipede.
Earlier that week Daddy had opened up an old well between the wash house and the dirt storm cellar. He was searching for fresh drinking water for our home. When he opened up the well, he had discovered numerous centipedes swarming around the opening. Daddy was disappointed when he tested the water, and it it was salty like the previous well that he had dug. The oil fields used salt water to bring the oil to the surface and had contaminated all the fresh water in the area. Our drinking water came from a neighborhood water line twelve miles a way.
Therefore one of the centipedes must have escaped and was just waiting in the grass for a likely victim. Aaron thankfully was not allergic to centipede bites, and his wound healed after the red swelling went down. He had survived the “baby rattlesnake bite.”
Mother finally could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Aaron had only been bitten by a centipede. We never saw a rattlesnake in our yard around our old white farm house or on our farm when I was a girl.
Aaron was always fascinated by nature and helped Daddy on our farm. He grew up and went to Texas A & M where he earned his PhD. After graduation he worked for the Peace Corps. Then Aaron began his long career with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This was a fitting career for a boy who grew up out in the country enjoying nature and once thought that he had been bitten by a baby rattlesnake.