Friday, May 20, 2016

Reverend and rattlesnakes invade the Treehouse


Southern Baptist minister Reverend Walter assures me he is not one of those Pentecostal preachers who handles rattlesnakes to prove God’s protection. He handles them for a different reason.

This week the Treehouse was honored with a visit from the pastor of a Baptist church in Georgia. Walter, as he asked me to call him, and his wife Wanna were taking their granddaughter Lily on an East Coast odyssey. Lily is home-schooled, and Walter thought they could enhance her learning with visits to the Shenandoah Valley, where many of the Civil War skirmishes took place, and Gettysburg, where Robert E. Lee was defeated in the conflict that took more lives than any other battle of the war.

Lily got to see a little of Boston, where the Yankees claim to have been America’s first settlers. We southerners know, of course, that Virginia’s Jamestown colony was established eleven years before the pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. But the Baptists’ GPS was set for farther north, and on Monday evening they arrived at Fern Forest.

Lily is ten, a quiet and polite girl with long, snowy-blonde hair. She didn’t seem to mind cozying into the tiny treehouse with grandparents. Walter and Wanna have nine grandkids, and Lily must have soaked up the rare opportunity for some one-on-two time with them.

When I was Lily’s age, my family attended a Southern Baptist church in Northern Virginia, and I’ve always regarded ministers with respectful reverence. At the breakfast table the morning after their first night’s stay, H and I joined hands with them as the reverend blessed the food and the Treehouse as well as H and me for hosting them. It was an impressive grace that made me believe the minister is in the right line of business.

But Walter wasn’t always a pastor. In the early years of their marriage, he and Wanna opened a country store in rural Georgia. One of their best-selling items was rattlesnake, which Walter says is a delicacy in the south.

“Tastes like chicken,” he said.

Walter sold them by the foot, having blown off their heads with a shotgun. In his preacher voice, he recounted some tall tales about dealing in snakes. In one case, he cut off the snake’s head before picking it up. When the headless stump struck his forearm as if lunging for a bite, he quickly learned that a headless snake can still be a live snake with snake-like instincts.

On another occasion a fellow brought in a limp rattler to sell to Walter, who would buy them cheap and sell them for a profit to someone else. He was busy that day and after paying the man, he quickly put the serpent in the chest freezer. Later, when a customer came in to purchase a snake for his supper, Walter lifted open the freezer lid to find the rattler stretched vertical, its ghastly head reaching up for Walter’s hand. He jerked back before he realized that the snake had only been stunned when the man had brought it in and had frozen solid as it tried to push open the freezer lid. 

Lily said she has never tasted rattlesnake. Neither have I. I wonder, however, if Southern Baptists say grace before digging into a tasty meal of fried rattler.

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