Life’s Coloring Book A column by Suzi Walls for The Daily Herald

When the Lord made Walzie, I think he used Noah’s mold. No, Walzie can’t build a boat; but he does collect animals…live species or dead, doesn’t matter. Our entire thirty-some year relationship has been shared with hundreds of animals. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’ll take animals over any other addiction you can name.
Every couple of years, we travel to Texas to visit with our friends, James and Elizabeth Frazier. James and Walzie met in the Marine Corps in 1968. On this trip, we invited my nephew, Scottie who was 14. Our son, Jason, was 13. The boys were into animals then, too. Obviously, this was BG (before girls). The Fraziers have a son Scott, who was 15 and daughter, Staci, was 12 at the time.
So James loaded us all up in his pickup and we headed for the backcountry to look for critters. It was hot. If you’ve never been to Texas in July, you don’t even know HOT! Naturally, we adults claimed the air-conditioned truck cab, and we tossed the four kids in the open bed. As we jostled down cactus-lined, sandy roads, we all scouted for any sign of wildlife. I spotted the snake first, and James slammed on the brakes.
“That’s a big ol’ boy,” James drawled. “Ya’ll wanna git ‘em?”
The words were barely out of James mouth when Walzie jumped from the truck and popped that rattler on the head with a pellet gun. (It’s slightly more powerful than a BB gun.) The snake slithered into the brush and coiled. We could hear him rattling loudly.
“He’s a’talkin’ to us now,” James said. “Careful there, Walzie, rattlers run in pairs.”
Walzie disappeared into the brush and I held my breath. I figured our next step was to drag Walzie’s snakebit butt off to the hospital because nobody in his right mind would volunteer to suck out the poison. But shortly we heard another pop of the gun, and Walzie emerged with a fat, three-foot rattler in his hands. Then he laid it near the tailgate of the pickup, and we continued our scouting trip.
We didn’t travel but a hundred yards down the roadway when we heard a tremendous thud on the roof of the truck. James jumped on the brakes with both feet and four panicky kids tumbled onto the hood.
“It’s alive,” they screamed.
Walzie climbed into the bed and discovered that the rattler was not alive, but the jostling of the truck had bounced it toward the kids, scaring them to death. We found an empty six-pack carton lying along the road; Walzie stuffed the rattler into it and weighted it down with a rock. That satisfied the kids, so we were off again.
Ahead of us, the road looked as if it were moving. James slowed, and we realized that it was thousands of tarantula spiders. Scottie was excited; the boy loves spiders. (Brrrrr – go figure that one!) He found a coffee can and began to scoop up the big, creepy eight-legged, poison-filled arachnids. Quickly, he had twelve of them incarcerated.
“I’m taking them home,” he informed us.
I thought, “Boy, your mom is gonna love that.”
As we moved on, we could hear the pop of the remaining tarantulas under the tires.
Finally, someone shouted, “There goes an armadillo!”
The truck doors flew open and the chase was on. Walzie, James, and the three boys raced into the woods right on the tail of that poor armadillo. The frightened critter darted through the mesquite trees like a greased pig in a contest. Jason dove on it and it squirmed away. Walzie lunged and caught it by the tail. It kicked and scratched like a wildcat; he dropped it. Finally, Scottie tackled it and hung on. Had this been a Steeler’s game, Scottie would have gotten penalized for holding.
“We’re taking this bugger home alive,” Walzie shouted.
With the end of our Texas vacation here, we loaded up the car with twelve tarantulas, four scorpions, two horny toads, one white mouse, one black fighting rooster, one dead rattlesnake, one dead jack rabbit, and one very much alive armadillo. The Pennsylvania hillbillies were headed home.
Twenty-four hours later, it was nighttime and we found ourselves on I99 near Claysburg. Walzie and the boys were grabbing some z’s and I was the designated driver. I heard stirring in the backseat; Scottie sat up and whispered, “Aunt Suzi, you’d better pull over, I felt something crawling on my arm.”
I eased the car over and turned on the interior light. Creepy crawlers were everywhere. The doors exploded like a Chinese Fire Drill. There we stood along I99 with traffic whizzing by, staring into a car full of angry tarantulas. Brave “Spiderman” Scottie, gathered up the empty coffee can and scooped up all the spiders.
Only forty-five minutes to home, we ventured on. I drove less than a quarter of a mile when something tickled my leg. I screamed, slammed on the brakes, and something loudly clunked under the car.
“There’s a spider on my leg,” I shouted as I jumped from the car.
The guys searched; the only thing on the loose was my imagination. So we piled back into the car. When I put it gear, it wouldn’t move. Now Walzie was panicking. He checked under the car; the rear axel was in two pieces. It was going to be more than forty-five minutes to get home now.
All four of us jumped the guardrail and hiked to Newry and a phone booth. We called a friend who lives in Claysburg and he brought his van to our rescue. We transferred all our luggage and critters into his van and he took us home. We later sent a wrecker for our car.
Walzie built the armadillo a dirt floor kennel and he lived happily for about six months – until winter set in. His body went to the taxidermist and now graces our living room along with the freeze-dried rattler and the dead jackrabbit. The fighting rooster got eaten by a ‘coon, the white mouse got eaten by a cat, the tarantulas, scorpions, and horny toads ended up killing each other. They all got varnished and still look presentable in a glass terrarium.
I just know that when Walzie gets to heaven, he and Noah will have their heads together comparing notes. I’m pretty sure Noah’s story is much more exciting, but Walzie’s ain’t too far behind.

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