October 18, 2013 § Leave a comment


My mother performed many death-defying acts, but the ones in my lifetime were usually for small crowds, maybe even just for her own amusement or for our humiliation. There were legends, though, of her brief career as a high school Majorette, twirling a fire baton. This is hard to imagine, since she was 5 feet 2 on her own, but maybe 5 feet 5 with her teased and sprayed high school hairdo. I’ve seen pictures: It’s a wonder she never set herself aflame.  She also had the boots, white leather with a little heel. Tassel in the center at the top, so it would shake when she walked.  Her hips would too. She had that going on. Years of dance classes had set that up. Dance classes and a drum beat. That stuff gets inherited, so I know about it. Like the old blues song says about the boy and the boogie woogie, “It’s in him, and it’s got to come out.”  She had it in her.

She said  that they practiced without the fire. The fire was for special occasions when crowds would be watching. I imagine the whole band spread in a yellow jacket formation across the football field at half time, and my mom, short and curvy, in the middle of the stinger, other girls with more cautious parents to her sides, but my mom in the center all lit up and twirling. My grandmother, no doubt would have been front row in the bleachers, making sure my mom’s hair stayed in place and she didn’t smudge the bright red lipstick, because, after all, my grandmother’s reputation as a beautician would have been on the line. It wouldn’t have done for her daughter to catch fire. This is passed down too.

I wonder what she thought about after she winged the baton up in the air and the crowd oohed and ahhed. In those seconds before she caught it, was she counting the circles she made in the same spot, or was she praying she wouldn’t get hit on the head and go out in some unintended blaze of glory? I never saw this, like I said, it was legend, but I did see the baton. I know it existed, and so that part of my mom does too, death defying.


Snakes and Ladders

October 12, 2013 § 4 Comments

imagesThere is a snake up in the wall between my room and my son’s room. She escaped into a slot where there was no shoe molding: a bookcase was pushed up against the wall, and when Jack Henry neglected to latch the cage, she slithered out. Who can blame her? A few days before, we had tried to feed her a live baby rat. It ran away from her, and she didn’t know what to do. She went toward it and bonked it with her head. It ran again. Finally, they hid in opposite corners of the terrarium. It was harrowing for all involved. This snake, Terra, we call her, was used to processed, already killed and frozen rats. Free range threw her for a loop. The whole thing has thrown me for a loop, and part of me would be content to leave her in the wall and let the circle of life spin,  but then Jack Henry says,” Please, Mama! She’ll die!” I can’t let her die. I couldn’t even resist him earlier when he said, “Touch her. She’s nice and soft. She likes you!” Of course I touched her. She’s not at all slimy, she is soft, and at least she likes my skin’s warmth.

Each night now, we shine a light on the wall from inside Jack Henry’s room. The nights are getting cold and snakes will go towards warmth, Jeff says. He wanted to be a herpetologist as a kid; I didn’t know what a herpetologist was until I met him.

For our second date, Jeff and I rode to Mardi Gras in a van full of his friends. We went to the Lafitte swamp, which is a state park where little wooden pathways weave through the cypress and tupelo trees.  This was the first time I ever saw Jeff catch a snake. I didn’t even know enough then to be petrified that it was a cottonmouth. According to my mother, everything was dangerous, especially if it happened outside, so I knew it was dangerous, just not how much. Anything my mom didn’t like was either weird or nasty—snakes, to her, were both. I think Jeff’s fearlessness had something to do with why we had a third date, and a fourth, and so on until I ended up in a child’s room actively trying to get a snake to come towards me.

Unfortunately, Jeff the parselmouth has been out of town since the snake escaped. She hasn’t eaten, unless there are mice in the walls too— and I don’t want to know if there are. Jack Henry has left her a bowl of water, and once or twice, he has tried to lure her out with a frozen dead mouse on a flat rock, like some sort of Aztec offering. She is not into rodents, live or dead. I have no idea what she wants, except maybe a room of her own?

After two weeks, I thought it was time to give up, turn off the light, and tell Jack Henry to face reality. When I went to switch off the light, though, there she was, sneaking toward the water bowl! Once, Jack Henry got his hand around her neck, but he was afraid to pull. A live snake up in the wall is better than a dead one, half in and half out.

It’s like the game snakes and ladders, which Hasbro made into chutes and ladders in my childhood because, you know, Eden.  Turns out, the original game comes from India and the original squares are either virtue or vice. According to the all knowing Internet, “The squares of virtue are: Faith (12), Reliability (51), Generosity (57), Knowledge (76), and Asceticism (78). The squares of vice or evil are: Disobedience (41), Vanity (44), Vulgarity (49), Theft (52), Lying (58), Drunkenness (62), Debt (69), Rage (84), Greed (92), Pride (95), Murder (73), and Lust (99).”

It is an “absorbing Markov chain, which is a mathematical state that, once entered, cannot be left. From any square, the odds of moving to any other square are fixed and independent of any previous game history.” At this point, I have no idea who will win; I hope Terra lands on one of the virtuous squares.


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