Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Snakes of June


Ah, June. The season when the flowers bloom, the sun shines long, the birds chirp more than ever, and I don’t notice any of it because I am too busy looking around for snakes. Why? Because years ago, the first June we lived in this home, I was practically murdered on my own front porch by a deadly black snake poised to reach out, wrap itself around my innocent neck, and squeeze the life out of me before calmly slithering on to find its next victim.

Sure, common knowledge states that black snakes are “good” snakes, that they will not attack a human and certainly could not kill one even if they tried, that they are completely harmless at worst and helpful at best, willing to stalk and devour all those pesky mice and bugs but leave us people alone.

Whatever.

I’m telling you that black snake laid in wait for me. On my front porch. Hanging right at eye level, where it had wrapped itself securely in my pretty flowered wreath.

You shuddered, didn’t you? It was HANGING IN MY WREATH!

In hindsight, we suspect that the snake was climbing its way up to the swallow’s nest in the rafters of our front porch. I should point out that I was not in favor of letting the swallows build their nest there. (And this was before I knew they would attract the deadly devil snake.) My soft-hearted husband did not want to knock the nest down and risk killing any innocent, pre-born birdies. So he left the nest, which enticed the snake, which climbed my door, and attempted to attack me.

It is clear who is to blame for the entire traumatic incident.

Lucky for me a brave neighbor was home (because the spouse sworn to love and protect me was not of course) and came to my rescue. The snake was apprehended and given the death penalty. Once bludgeoned and sent on to snake heaven (just kidding…no such thing), my neighbor offered to dispose of the body. But I stopped him because I knew my family would never believe me when I told them the story. I asked him to coil up the dead snake right by the door. I’m a little bit sadistic when it comes to soft-hearted husbands and big-mouthed kids.

There were varying reactions to the snake. After the initial surprise, my husband was shocked that it really was more than five feet long. My littlest ones were both intrigued and horrified to have such an up-close viewing. The eldest was distraught that the snake had to die (even when I told her it was convicted of trespassing and attempted murder).

In the end I think the experience served as some good exposure therapy for me. I had to throw away the wreath (and to this day my door is bare), I avoided using the front entry for several weeks, and I had goose bumps every time I thought about it that entire summer. But eventually the horror lessened and by the next year, I was not nearly as upset when another black snake came to visit.

Possibly because I’d become less afraid. Possibly because that time the snake decided to crawl out from under the front stoop at exactly the moment my husband, who had found my front-porch experience so hilarious, bent down to tie his shoe. Both man and serpent were surprised enough by each other that I’m fairly sure I heard two shrieks, and I learned it’s much more difficult to be terrified when you’re laughing so hard.

I've worked up to hanging a wreath on the INSIDE
of my front door. If I ever find a snake there,
I'll just have to move. To Ireland.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Golden Anniversary

My parents celebrated 50 years of marriage on June 5. That’s a lot of day-to-day-ness—exactly 18,262 days of sharing a house, a bed, a table, a garage, a bank account, a family, a future.
You could call my parents’ long relationship a beautiful American love story. And you’d be right in a way. But real life is not exactly like the movies or the novels. Though romance and drama and emotional mountaintops are all delicious, any long-married couple will tell you that those things are not part of the winning formula that gets you to a Golden 50. Because odds are that the longer you’re married, the mortgage statements and insurance forms will stack up faster than the heartfelt love letters. The evenings of mowing the lawn or rocking the crying baby or repairing the leaky toilet will occur way more often than the candlelit dinners out on the town. The “Can you make it home in time for the game?” and “Did you put gas in the car?” conversations replace most of the love-longing, eye-gazing romantic proclamations of courtship.

June 5, 1964

Depressing? Not to me. Because here’s the thing. I imagine my mom was pretty easy to fall in love with. She was a stunning brunette, an ambitious student, and a flirty-fun girl always up for adventure. Think of Gidget, but on the Texas plains instead of the beach. My dad was a hunk in a baseball uniform, driven to succeed as he worked his way through college, and the kind of guy who figured out a way to buy his bride a brand new car just because he knew she’d love it. They were young and optimistic and fresh and easy to adore.

Fast forward several decades. They’ve both gone gray. Dad limps on a bad knee. Mom fusses about wanting the roof fixed but fusses more when he climbs up the two-story ladder on his own. They have three children, all married and who gave them a total of 11 grandkids. There is a constant stream of birthday parties, sporting events, graduations, and other projects for them to attend and assist. They have defined “retirement” as raising cattle, tending goats, tutoring local students weekly, extensively researching family genealogy, and building a new family home. That’s just a regular week for them. On any given day at their ranch they have wrestled flat tires, ornery calves, rattlesnakes, or a cranky water pump.

So while maybe they used to take long walks hand-in-hand and slow dance in the kitchen, now evenings together mean two glasses of iced tea and a Fox News Channel special. The normalcy of life has distilled their commitment to each other into a very simple formula. You + me = always. Life isn’t always pretty or easy or screen-worthy. But spending all the moments, both wonderful and horrible, side by side is what writes a beautiful story. Choosing to stick together when it might be easier to drift apart is what creates a love song worth singing.

I realize now that never having to worry about them letting go of each other was the biggest gift they gave me as a child. I’m still their kid and it’s still a gift.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I am forever grateful that you said, “I do.” And then you did.