It happened mid-morning. I came out of my house carrying a birthday card with a stamp and an address up North. The March day was warm and spring-like, the Mississippi weather taking a rest from its usual commotion and indecision.
A gentle wind met me at City Park where Mike Scroggins stood considering the shaping of the bandstand’s crape myrtles. I introduced myself and told him about the tall straggle near my driveway and he suggested how to bring it back in line. He even offered some fresh cow manure to help get the garden at the old Boggs place blooming again.
A few blocks away, after I dropped my card at the post office, I met Billy Moorhead who knows a thing or two about growing figs. He told me how to give my trees a severe haircut and cover them with a net to outsmart the renegade birds.
Seven months as a Mississippi newcomer have provided me with an adjustable mind. I can easily go from mail to trees, even directly on to manure. Nevertheless, I did not adjust readily to the next news: someone said the snakes are waking up.
Like many people, I have an irrational terror of the slithering. Last summer, a few weeks after moving to Water Valley, I saw two snakes in the yard. I know, truly I do, the snake is likely more frightened of me than I am of it. And my landlord insists the snakes are beneficial, they eat the rats, you see.
And then to add to my distress, I heard a story about snakes following mice into the houses in Water Valley. I was already trapping mice. They shimmied in around the electrical box and were gnawing on my Rubbermaid spatulas in a kitchen drawer.
Now I diligently searched out and sealed off all likely mouse openings with steel wool. Wearing big gloves, I freed the dead mice from their death traps and left them in the garden as an appeasement to the snakes. My New York nerves were in quite a storm.
After the snake sightings and still on edge, I went shopping. Here on a low shelf I saw an unfamiliar product: snake repellent. It comes in either a spray bottle or a jug of granules. Unsure of the efficacy of such a promise, I approached a seasoned-looking Mississippian in boots and a cowboy hat conferring with a young salesclerk in a red shirt over something called couplings.
I interrupted them graciously (the way you do in the South) and identified myself as a Yankee who feared snakes and needed to know if this stuff would indeed discourage snakes from crossing my yard.
“Oh, ma’am, you need a hoe,” said the older man. “Keep it close to you when outside. A good whack will cut a snake right in two.”
“You should use a gun, ma’am,” suggested the more violent younger man. “Get a .22 or a sawed-off shotgun.Then just shoot its head off. That’s the way to go, ma’am.”
I thanked them (again graciously) but said I thought being new to Mississippi and all, I would try the repellent. As I turned to leave, the clerk asked if I knew the difference between a Yankee and a dang Yankee. I confessed that I did not.
“Well, ma’am, a Yankee comes to Mississippi, looks around, turns tail and heads for home. But, ma’am, a dang Yankee stays with us and learns to kill snakes.”
I am currently an in-between Yankee sprinkling repellent around my perimeter. Not ready to go back and not ready to kill snakes.