At some point in the life of a little boy, there’s comes a special moment. It’s a time when he first sees the greater world around him and begins to understand how the pieces fit together. In just an instant, all the joy and wonder of nature that most of us take for granted opens up before him and brightens his world.
I’m talking, of course, about the first time he comes across a dead critter.
When was as kid, I vividly remember finding dead things here and there. Trying to imagine how the car-squashed, funky, mummified body of toad could have once been alive, all pebbly-skinned and squirmy, could provide hours of summertime entertainment. For reasons that escape me now, obtaining a good stick and flipping that coaster-thin piece of toad jerky over was almost as imperative as Saturday morning cartoons.
As maturity gains a foothold, though, one tends to forget about the hours of critter investigation wasted during childhood summers.
I’d certainly forgotten all about them.
That’s when my second oldest son, Mini-Me, found a dead snake.
You’d have thought the circus was in town. The man on stilts, the high-wire act, those guys on the little motorcycle in the Steel Trap-Ball of Doom? All those things paled in comparison; they might has well have been a trip to the dentist. The boy came rushing into the house mid-morning, face flush with early heat and excitement, yelling enthusiastically to his siblings about his new-found treasure. It was like he’d captured a Leprechaun or the Tooth Fairy.
I’ve never seen kids exit a house so quickly as the other two did to witness the dramatic find with their own eyes. I could have offered them ice creams cones, trips to the pool, huge sticks of cotton candy, a never-ending supply of bubble gum, heck, probably even a puppy, and it wouldn’t have brought them running so fast. It’s like they felt the need to hurry before some miracle occurred and a flash of lightening restored the thing to it’s slithery life, disappearing in the process.
Luckily, it was still dead when they got back to it.
They spent the next part of the morning poking and prodding at it with the neighbor kids, picking it up on a stick and moving it from place to place. Why? Well, it wasn’t very well going to move around on its own, was it?
And yes, I fulfilled my parental duties and made sure they weren’t doing anything unsafe. I told them they could look at it, nothing more, and I’d come out shortly and dispose of it.
Before long, though, they decided that Mr. Snake had suffered enough. Without any prompting, one of the neighborhood kids brought out a shovel and everyone pitched in to bury the two-foot critter in a patch of dirt.
Of course, being worldly children, they knew you didn’t just bury something naked. Oh, no. That would obviously be barbaric. Mr. Snake needed a coffin, and they procured a small plastic tub for the task, just the right size for a 24-inch garden snake. And then, yes, he went to his eternal rest.
As it turns out, though, an eternal rest lasts about 24 hours. Monday morning, the kids visited the “plot”—to pay their respects, obviously”— and found that Mr. Snake had been the victim of a dastardly act of grave desecration. Someone had dug him up! Worse, the box had been opened.
I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that it wasn’t pretty. The kids probably summed it up best by saying he was covered with lots of tiny, wiggly, white “snakes”. Now, I don’t care who you are or what kind of Earth-friendly, mother-nature hugging point of view you’ve got, but seeing what happens to things, you know, naturally, is enough to make a 300-lb grizzled dock worker lose his cookies like a sorority girl with a six-pack of Zima and a few shots of Jagermeister.
Of course, they didn’t mention any of this until after they’d decided to take care of the issue themselves. The Puddinpop, the oldest and therefore most wise, successfully lobbied to throw the thing away. So using another stick—no doubt the longest one they could find—they quickly transferred the remains to my garbage cans.
Little white “snakes” and all, thank you very much.
Yes, of course, we were very glad to have our own biology experiment on site. I could barely contain my…um…joy at finding out what awaited me at home.
Luckily it was garbage day, which meant the cans had already been emptied by our friendly municipal trash collector and were still out on the street. That is to say, thank all things bright and holy that my children didn’t deposit an, um, occupied, half-rotten snake carcass in the trash cans in my garage for the duration of an afternoon dominated by 95-degree heat.
Luck or not, that’s how I found myself, gloved-up and grimacing, dealing with the aftermath of Mr. Snake and his unfortunate afterlife last night following dinner.
You haven’t lived until you’ve hosed a colony of baby flies out of a trash can just to make it safe enough to return to the garage.
Dead Critter Handler; Achievement unlocked!
Who says you can’t have fun on a Monday night?