“I’ve been bit!”

Posted by | March 14, 2011

Please welcome guest author Edd Fuller. Fuller runs the Photography in Place blog. About the blog’s name, he says “I live in a rural area of central Virginia, not too far from Charlottesville. I photograph places close to home. The camera helps me see and appreciate where I live. The camera helps me develop a sense of place and allows me to put down visual roots.” This piece ran on the Photography in Place blog March 10, 2011.

One summer when I was about ten years old, I spent a couple of weeks practicing with my Daisy air rifle in preparation for a visit to my grandparents. My intention was to hunt snakes, and I dreamed of coming home with a beautiful and frightening diamondback rattlesnake skin. When my mother heard about my plans, she said I would do no such thing. The BB gun stayed home.

The author's maternal grandparents, Isaac and Mattie Johnson, at Buchanan, VA, circa 1942.

At my grandparent’s house, the grown-ups were constantly yelling after me “don’t slam the screen door” and “watch out for snakes.” I watched for snakes behind the high sill of the out buildings before stepping in and I made sure no snakes lurked in the rafters. The thought of being in the out-house with a snake still gives me the creeps.

I never saw a snake around my grandparent’s house, but there were snakes in the mountains, copperheads and rattlesnakes, and hunters would occasionally stop by to show off a large snake stretched out on a board. On the kitchen porch, my grandfather kept a tobacco tin with rattlesnake rattles in it. They felt alive and dangerous in my palm. One Monday morning, just a few yards from that porch, my grandmother was bitten by a copperhead while doing the wash.

The water for washing clothes was heated outdoors on a large stone fireplace. A copperhead, driven out of the rocks by the heat, bit my grandmother near the ankle. “I’ve been bit!” she said. Luckily my uncle was close by. He quickly cut open the wound and extracted as much of the poison as possible. He saved her life, but she was bedridden for months, and nearly lost her leg.

All that happened years before I was born, but the family was still vigilant and instilled in me the habit of being careful. I was glad that my BB gun had been left at home so I had an excuse to not hunt snakes. I took my elders advice to watch out for snakes, and secretly hoped that slamming the screen door would frighten them away.

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