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Over Here: 99 - Snake Bit

Ron Pataky tells of the day a rattlesnake tried to bite him.

It was on one of our very early trips back to visit Mom's parents in Danville, Illinois, when one of my four or five thousand cousins took me for the bicycle ride. I was about three, maybe four at the time, and not yet altogether into bicycles myself. In some way I'll never understand (no one understood it then, either), I got my left foot tangled in the spinning bicycle spokes. Call it tangle or mangle or whatever - I was messed up.

The painful experience left me with a jagged, two-inch scar on my left foot, stretching from the bone that protrudes from the outside of the ankle, back and down to the heel. It managed to heal fairly quickly for a nasty tear, and that pretty much was that. Until, that is, the day the rattlesnake tried to bite me.

It was about five or six years later, and I was on the farm. I was fiddling in and around some brush, back near the boundary line between our place and the fictional ranch owned by my fictional friend, Buck McSpoon. (You know, "Yonder at Buck McSpoon's spread..." and all that). Grandpa was standing only a few yards away, so I imagine I was doing something legal, and possibly even moral. Anyway, that's when it happened.

As I took a step forward, I felt a thud against my ankle. I thought for a second that I'd stepped on a Lilliputian rake or something. Looking down, though, I saw instead a small rattlesnake ... hanging there as I began to seriously hop the jiggling landscape!

Apparently, the little guy'd had the sheer audacity to attempt to actually BITE ME! What he'd hit, though, rather than the fleshy stuff he'd clearly hoped for, was the same ankle bone I'd banged up in the Danville bike accident! Whether his tiny, adolescent fang had somehow stuck into the bone, or had gotten caught up in some sort of muscle or gristle thereabouts (or whether he just liked what he tasted there), I'll never know. But there he was, clearly pissed at being hung-up in what must have been a thoroughly awkward and embarrassing moment for a young snake. I wasn't too thrilled, either.

It took a mere fraction of a second for Grandpa to process the scene; and since he was the one holding the implement at that moment, he rushed over and summarily gave that reptile a body blow that would've been instantly fatal to a small tyrannosaurus. After examining the dead snake for what seemed like several full minutes, he finally turned and asked if I was okay.

Okay? Was I OKAY?? I'd just been SNAKE-BIT, for shit sake!

(As we'd momentarily watched the snake before Grandpa's retaliatory strike, still hanging there and no doubt agreeable at that point to skipping rattler protocol altogether and calling the whole thing a draw, we couldn't help but laugh out loud. Only then did Grandpa end the snake's obvious mortification with the aforementioned, almost perfunctory, whack).

I was a bit miffed when I realized that a "bite" scar, for which I could have charged good money merely for a look, eventually would disappear completely against the larger, stupid bicycle scar! In other words, I wasn't going to have any rattlesnake scar at all! Ask any kid which he would prefer! It was a moment of bitter revelation, and I came close to shedding real tears over my unhappy misfortune.

I didn't actually tramp back through the brush on the outside possibility of obtaining a second shot, mind you ... but I thought about it! I could almost instantly see, however, that the tiny holes from the rattler's juvenile bite were smack dab in the middle of the much larger scar. Only a severe infection to follow could conceivably have left anything more than nothing at all, and while I did take a moment to rub some dirt in it, I had little hope of anything as lucky as a really bad infection. Anyway, no such luck, and to this day, when I go to a doctor's office and fill out a form asking if I've ever been injured in an accident of any kind, I proudly note, "Snake-Pricked: 1944."

(I did have some luck as a youngster with my diagonal sickle scar, which still runs the complete width of my finger and down each side edge. With even a little imagination, a kid could see that I must have been severely wounded in that loser-take-all confrontation with the sharply-honed metal of man! Guys need these kinds of things if they're going to impress other guys; and I made sure that all kinds of embellishment accompanied these episodes! Guys who dealt with me always got their money's worth!).


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