“It’s dark up here!” Jason yelled.
“Hang on, I’ll open the door,” I said. We, along with his little brother Josh and a friend of theirs, were playing in our grandfather’s barn. It was a warm summer day in the mid ’80s, and we had made our way to the hay loft. It was dark, and even hotter with the door closed.
I reached for the bailing wire that I knew held the door shut by hooking over a nail. As my hand was almost to it, I stopped. Something didn’t look right about the shadows. Then the wire twitched. I stepped back and kicked the door as hard as I could with my 11-year-old legs. It swung open with a rattle and squeak, startling the other boys, I think. But then …
“Snake!” I yelled. We all hit the ladder heading back down within a second. Some climbed down, some jumped from halfway or more. I don’t recall who did what. But, I do recall that big black snake draped over the corner of the hay loft door as it swung out in the air, 20 feet up. We ran, yelling and screaming, up to our grandfather’s house.
Daddy Almon, as all the grand-kids called him, had lived his entire life in the rural south. An outdoorsman who loved to hunt birds and rabbits, he always had a shotgun handy. Once he settled us down and figured out what was going on, he walked casually down to the barn, toting the shotgun that lived over the door in his utility room. I’m not sure what gauge it was, or what kind, but I think – looking back in my mind’s eye – that it was probably a Browning A5.
“Well, that’s just a black snake,” he said stoically as he shouldered the shotgun. We all watched as one big boom brought the snake down from the loft door. It hit the ground and started the famous sideways slither with its long body, booking it toward the treeline.
“A black racer! Look at it go!” he yelled, seemingly delighted to watch it run. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, or if it was that scatter-gun or a shovel that my older cousin Chris was wielding that ended the racer. That experience cemented two things in my memories, though.
- Summer in the south, especially rainy days, means snakes. Always watch where you put your foot in the grass, or your hand in a dark hay loft.
- Daddy Almon and a shotgun just went together.
When the snake ordeal was over, that scatter-gun went back on the rack in the utility room, likely still loaded. Back then it wasn’t a concern so much. It was out of reach of the littlest kids, and by the time we were six or seven, we all knew not only basically how to use guns, but to not mess with them without an adult’s help. They were just a part of life in the south, out in the country. They were a part of who we were; part of our heritage and family.
Even now, 17 years he’s been gone, and every time I drive past his old house and see that old barn out back, I think about that day, that snake, and Daddy Almon with that shotgun. It makes me smile and chuckle. It makes me proud to come from a long line of tough outdoorsmen, the kind of men for whom shooting at your own barn to kill a snake that scared your grand-kids was no big deal. And … it makes me want a new shotgun.