The story below is an excerpt from our Sept./Oct. 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The potential standoff between Elvis the snake and Chubs the attic dweller could bring peace to the lady of said dwelling.
People tell me I’m so lucky to live in a historic house way out in the Shenandoah Valley. These are the same folks whose knowledge of country living comes exclusively from their subscription to Country Living magazine. These are the people that own homes devoid of “historic quirks.” These are the friends that are, quite frankly, delusional.
Houses older than 100 years are cranky, despite regular maintenance. Changes in temperature and seasons send our home into board-bucking spasms. There’s no way you can know about every little crack in a house this old. Antique boards shrink and swell, so a tight joint in July will be a critter causeway by Christmas. While you might not know all the openings that have unlocked as the summer’s humidity gave way to fall’s crisp air, I guarantee you that every shivering animal within two miles knows about them. The first cold snap of the year changes our house from a cozy abode for two to an apartment building for a dozen.
There is something living in the attic right now that must weigh 30 pounds. Gruff and I are still doing rock-paper-scissors to see who has to go up there and try to trap the chunky squatter. In the meantime, I have declared the attic off limits.
Unfortunately, the new tenant has issues. Whatever else Chubby is, he is most definitely terrified of thunderstorms. We have a tin roof, which I think amplifies rain storms in a lovely way. The attic tenant disagrees. When thunder cracks, Chubs panics. He races around the attic, sounding like a lop-sided bowling ball picking up the spare. I feel sorry for Chubby when he’s frightened. Yes, I habitually anthropomorphize animals. Honestly, I’m just one bunny rabbit away from living in a Beatrix Potter book.
On occasion, our version of Wild Kingdom gets more serious than a few mice and a fat freeloader. I’m shuffling to the coffee pot one morning, all while being circled by 400 pounds of hungry dogs. I’m not awake. Out of the corner of my eye, I sense movement. Slithering along the toe kick of my cabinets is a copperhead! The mastiff saw it at the same moment I did and lunged. I grabbed his collar and hollered for Gruff to get the dogs out of the kitchen. By the time the dogs were safe and I was wielding a meat cleaver, the snake was gone, last seen heading for the stove.
Here’s where Gruff questioned me, a cleaver-brandishing woman, on whether I was sure it was a copperhead. Listen to me. Never question a country girl’s ability to identify snakes. We are schooled in herpetology from the time we are toddlers. Once we start walking steadily, we are sent outside to play and you just never know what you’re going to run across in the country. By the time I was four, I knew that black snakes were okay, garter snakes emit an impressive stench if you handle one, a copperhead’s skin is pinkish, and cottonmouths have an all white mouth interior and are hostile, even by snake standards. I still remember Grandpa’s snake rhyme, “Red and black, friendly Jack, but red and yellow, shoot the fellow.” My point is, country girls know their venomous snakes. Do not question me, particularly in my own home.