Special Interest Tyrone Daily Herald Archives

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

Her nametag read Melba. She smiled and set our pancake platters on the table. The bell on the swinging door tinkled and a bowlegged cowboy swaggered inside the Texas diner. He was tall, slim, and rugged looking. His jeans clung to his butt like a tick on a hound and were tucked inside tall weathered boots. The brim of his straw hat dipped so low in the front that we couldn’t see his eyes and day-old stubble made his craggy face look like a prickly pear.
“Now there’s a real cowboy,” I told Walzie. “I’ll bet he rides bulls and wrestles steers. His name is probably Festus.”
I guess my voice carried louder than I had intended because he stopped at our table, tipped his hat, and drawled, “Sorry, Mam, not Festus, the name’s Wes. Uh, bulls and steers ‘tain’t nothin’. I’m a snake handler. Ya’ll are comin’ to the rattlesnake roundup today, ain’tcha?”
“Well, we just might,” Walzie piped up. “Never been to one before.”
“Ya’ll ain’t from ‘round these parts, now ‘re ya’?”
“Uh, no, but our friends here are, they have a cattle ranch over in Cundiff.”
“You and yore missus are Yanks, ain’tcha?” The cowboy flashed a snaggle-toothed grin. “I can tell by the funny way ya’ll talk. Here’s a couple of roundup tickets. Ya’ll come on down to the fire hall at noon, yore in fur a real treat. I’ll be watchin’ fur ya’ll.”
As he walked away, we noticed the emblem embroidered on his vest. It read, “Texas Snake Handlers” around a picture of a rattler with a devil’s head. This guy looked like one tough cookie, but he made Melba giggle when he playfully slapped her jiggley bottom.
So the four of us came to a consensus. After touring nearby Fort Richardson, we’d go to the rattlesnake roundup. After all, we had free tickets and we wouldn’t want to disappoint Festus now, would we? That old hangin’ tree was just a short distance from the firehall.
High noon at the fire hall came with the thick smell of hot frying grease and peppers with onion. Above the hubbub of the crowd, a loud steady buzz sounding like a billion bees echoed off the metal walls. We made our way to a makeshift pit of plywood and looked inside. There lay our new friend Wes amid thousands of rattlesnakes. They slithered around his legs, across his chest, and one was even coiled on his forehead. He calmly smoked a cigarette. Two of his cronies arrived with a garbage can filled with snakes. They dumped the contents atop Wes.
Slowly, Wes got to his feet and carefully pushing the snakes aside, he shuffled to us. “Howdy, Yankees, glad to see ya’ll could make it. Do you want to hold one of these little beauties?”
Walzie shook his head no thanks.
Wes reached down and gently picked up a huge rattler and let it coil around his arm. He held it behind the head so that it couldn’t bite him, but it could still strike at those nearby. I shrunk back, but then Wes coaxed me to touch it. The snake felt smooth as velvet and not at all slimy or cold.
“You ever been bit?” I asked.
“Plenty,” he drawled, showing us his gnarled fingers. “So many times that I built up a tolerance to it. I’m more a’feard of that little copperhead over there. Watch her, ain’t she a pistol?”
Wes was right. The rattlers seemed to slither listlessly around the floor, only once in a while striking at a passing boot, but the copperhead struck at the rattlers and the handlers and even at the wall. Wes pulled a balloon from his pocket and blew it up. He put it in his mouth and leaned into the pile of snakes. The rattlers ignored it, but quickly the copperhead popped it.
“Well, Yank, which rattler do you want?”
“Uh, what the heck would I want a rattler for?” Walzie asked. “Don’t think the airline would let me take it home.”
“They’s mighty fine eaten.”
Just then a very weathered little old lady piped up, “I want that one, mister.”
Wes scooped up the big fat one she had pointed out and handed it to one of his cronies. They took it to the scales, weighed it, and then we watched the lady hand over a wad of dollar bills. Then the man took her snake to the kitchen, whacked its head off with a cleaver, and plopped it into a vat of sizzling grease. A short while later we saw her at a table with a paper plate full of golden brown snake meat. Flakes of snake peppered her chin all the way to her bosom and she smacked her lips loudly.
“Well, Walzie,” I swallowed hard. “Do you want to try it?”
“You’re nuts. No way. No snake is getting near my gullet.”
The lady looked up at us. She grinned with bits of meat stuck in her teeth (or maybe I should say stuck to her tooth). “Here, folks, try a bite. It’s mighty tasty.”
I took a piece from her plate and quickly popped it into my mouth. I thought Walzie was going to loose his pancakes. I chewed then swallowed it. It tasted rather good.
“Susan, I can’t believe you did that,” Walzie cringed. But I knew curiosity was eating him alive when he asked. “Well, what did it taste like?”
“Just like chicken, dear,” I said. “Just like chicken.”