by Lou Womack

Dad always had a mystique about him especially when he brought home the next pet  in a gunny sack that wiggled. He brought it home just for the evening so Mom and I could see a real live boa constrictor and he planned to take it back to its natural habitat, the jungle, the following morning. Now, of all things, a snake was in our midst ... living with us in our tiny apartment.

Mom and Dad went out for the evening and upon their return Dad checked the gunny sack by touching it  with his foot. Much to his amazement it was empty. On examining the sack more closely he found a hole in it. Apparently the boa found it before Dad did, so while they were out for the evening it nosed its way out of the sack and  got loose. They hunted in the apartment for it. Mom said they practically turned it upside down looking under the bed, under the stove, up on the shelves in the closet and even between the clothes hanging in the closet. No snake was to be found.

Finally in desperation Dad got a flashlight out and started to hunt outside on the patio. Still no snake, so  he decided to shine it into the neighboring patio and spotted it.   I guess its skin and curled up position was a dead giveaway.

So he went over to the apartment  and knocked on the door of the just so happened-to-be-newlyweds. When they opened the door he politely said, "Pardon me, can I get my snake?" Upon hearing these words from Dad's lips, the wife made a mad dash for the bed, jumped up on it and stood there quietly shaking while Dad walked through the apartment with the husband following carefully behind him out to  the patio.

Whenever Dad  picked up a snake he would use a broom handle and placed it across the back of the snake's neck, immobilizing its mouth for attack, then pick it up by the back of the neck.  As he carefully picked up the boa and  walked back through the apartment he turned to thank them profusely.  I'm not sure if these poor, stunned, newlyweds responded or not.   The snake was returned to the bag, covered with a box with a heavy object placed on top of the box to make it secure for the rest of the night. The next day, the snake was returned to the jungle. It was a very short-lived, one day, experience as an introduction to the snake world for Mom and me.

Dad was foreman of the Hyacinth Control which was across the Chagres from Gamboa. Most of our exotic animals were kept over there so consequently they were rarely caged unless it was absolutely necessary. The animals were always roaming for flying in this vicinity with as much freedom as they had experienced living in their natural habitat. The only difference being their domestication. Getting an exotic animal as a baby surely makes it a lot easier to domesticate them.

On one occasion a boa constrictor was found in the chicken house at the Hyacinth Control.   It apparently had crawled inside, consumed a chicken and was on its way out of the chickens entrance when it got stuck because of the bulge the consumed chicken made in its otherwise sleek form. Immediately a snake pit was constructed. I guess after the experience in the apartment and having to get rid of that snake was the reason for an instant construction. It really wasn't a pit, only a cage at ground level but with very sturdy wire, with holes so small that no snake could crawl through it.

Many years following I viewed the different non-venomous snakes that were caught and put into the snake pit. When they were molting, the old snake skin became too small for their growing body so they would shed it. Their eyes would appear a smokey gray in color. I wondered at the time if they could see because their nose became inflamed from hitting sides of the cage of the snake pit.

People were always taking pictures of Dad holding this particular nine foot boa that was caught in chicken house. On one occasion while Dad was holding it, the snake started to prove its name, "constrictor". The snake had wrapped itself around Dad's arm while he was holding a tight grip onto its neck. He commented to Mom, "This snake is getting tight on my arm." Suddenly he had no feeling in his arm and couldn't tell if he had a grip or not on the back of its neck.  He quickly signaled for Mom to come to his rescue and unwind the snake from the forceful grip it now had on Dad's numb arm.

My parents were quite a team when it came to raising animals. They just had a born instinct on how to do it. He would bring the animals home. Mom would clean the cages and then say, "Back to the jungle with it."  Jokingly at times he would say to her, "Me Tarzan, you Jane."

My brother and I received the fringe benefits of this because we always had a menagerie of animals around home as we were growing up. I never had a fear of snakes, how could I   with a dad like mine? He would bring home baby boas for me to play with. I'd wear them around my wrist for a bracelet and wind them around and put them on the top of my head and wear them as  a hat.  I'd even take them riding on my bicycle with me. They didn't hurt too much when they bit my fingers. It was no worse than a needle prick.

Boas, I think are the best kind of a non-venomous  snakes to have for a pet. They're docile and easy to hold. People sometimes think snakes are cold and slimmy but that is not true. Once they are wrapped around your arm they take on the temperature of your body and their skin feels smooth...not wet and slimmy.

I'm glad my Dad taught me about  the different kinds of snakes especially while living in Panama because there are poisonous ones there! While crossing the canal at Gamboa in a row boat I saw a water mocassin skimming across the top of the water. Now that's another poisonous one you don't want to be caught swimming with in the canal! Another time while visiting at the Summit Gardens, I was walking along a path and started to step down when a coral snake was where my foot would have landed. The human body is capable of extra strength in times of stress. Did you ever see someone jump backwards on one foot in mid-air?

I did!

February 5, 2000

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