About thirty-five years ago, my family lived on a modest farm in North Alabama, on the top of Wilhite Mountain.
Our little patch of land was only 28 acres, but it was surrounded by my Grandfathers land on three sides and our neighbor, Mr. Moore on the other side.
The only honest job my grandfather, Grampaw as we called him, ever had was being a blacksmith, he made horseshoes, ornamental iron, wagon wheels, and all manner of metal workings. He planted corn which was worked out into corn meal, and cough syrup, as well as grew sugarcane which was worked into molasses and rheumatism medicine.
In the Winter we slaughtered cattle and hogs, which were salted away or smoked in a smoke house.
In the Spring we did the planting and late Summer meant time to harvest, between those times there were horses to be shod, wheels to be made and barrels to be ringed.
One particular day, my brother and I were playing in our front yard, when we saw Grampaw ride up on his old mule, Lester.
“Boys, I saw a rattler snake this morning, while I was working some shoes, your uncle Paul is going to see if he can find it and was wanting you boys to help him.
My brother looked at me and shouted “NOT IT!”
As I started to run screaming to the house, Grampaw said ” Easy boys, you don’t bait rattle snakes, and they probably aint no more bears anywhere around here.”
After a little bit of grumbling and finally being offered a quarter apiece, we headed out. Grampaw on Lester and my brother and I on our trusty old bicycles.
When we got over to Grampaws shop, Uncle Paul was already there, holding a rake and a hoe (the kind you chop weeds with).
“You boys move that wood pile and tin and I’ll whack that snake when I see him.” Paul said.
After about three hours of moving a woodpile, we discovered there was no snake, so we started checking the shop, and the little sheds all around the shop.
I really feel I should describe my uncle Paul, he was a big man, standing almost six feet and seven inches tall and weighing over three hundred pounds.
Paul would pick a shed and we would start at one side and work our way all the way around it and back out the door, leaving no space unchecked.
Finally we came to the last shed, the one my brother and I anxiously looked forward to searching.
You see this particular shed was always locked, not because Grampaws still was in there, but because my cousin, who was an only child had all of his old toys in it.
You see his father did not want my brother and I to play with and possibly tear up any of his old toys, and he figured that it was a great way to torment us, because we knew there were all kinds of neat things in there, but we couldn’t get to them.
We went inside and immediately lost sight of our mission, a rattle snake was the last thing on our minds, as there were games, toys, hot wheel cars, G.I. Joes, and other things, more than I can remember.
One thing that really caught my eye was an old barbecue grill, my brother saw me looking at it and immediately leaped ahead of me grabbing up the long barbecue fork and warding off any forward momentum that I might have had in trying to reach that grill.
However I was soon distracted by a wind up pinball machine. It stood about two and half feet tall, and was probably three feet long, it was old and rusted even then, but to me it shone like a diamond, under a spotlight on a black cloth.
I immediately began playing with it, flipping the levers and shaking it to see what it would do.
“You have to wind it up.” My brother said, pointing to the winding key on the end of it.
“You boys leave that mess alone and help me hunt for that dang snake.” Paul said.
My brother layed the barbecue fork on top of the grill and I turned away from the pinball machine, then immediately turned back and tripped the mechanism that made it unwind.
The following events happened so fast it’s really hard to describe.
Uncle Paul, had raised a pile of toys and stuff up with the rake. The machine started rattling, causing Paul to jump backward toward the grill, and ram his backside into the points of the barbecue fork, making him think that his butt had just had a close encounter of the worst kind.
The resulting scream could be heard by human ears for over a mile, and made coondogs howl for over three miles.
Paul’s hat was hanging in the air, as he exploded forth through the partially closed-door of the shed, causing the door to leave its hinges and land thirty feet from the shed.
Grampaw and Lester had to go round Paul up, and my brother and I decided it might be best to ease on over to our house.
It would be six years before Paul would ever speak to my brother and I again, and that was only by mistake.
After he had mellowed for about twenty years or so, Paul finally got to where he could laugh about that incident, although my Aunt Janice, Paul’s wife, never hesitated to remind us that it took days of soaking to get the stains out of his overalls.
We never did find that snake.