(This is part of the Growing Up In Utah's Dixie series, by LaVarr B. Webb)


One of my friends from school in Virgin was Ralph

Pretherow. We called him Ralphy. He was a tall, skinny,

gangling kid. He looked rather disjointed, because his bones

seemed to stick out at all angles from his long, slim body.

He had a long, thin face, and freckles. His freckles were

almost red; his hair, brown, and his ears stuck out from the

side of his head like the broken leaves of a lettuce head. He

was taller than I and a year older, but he was a good bird

hunter, and an excellent shot with his flipper.


Now, lest some reader get the idea that I sanction the

killing of song birds, let me explain that I do not. I was a

killer of birds, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, any things that

crawled, hopped, flew, or walked, because I hadn't been

taught otherwise, and because we were generally hungry

for meat, and what we killed usually ended up on the din-

ner or supper table. Yet, I was a senseless killer until I

gained experience and started to think. For many years I

have refused to kill any animal or bird if I didn't need the

meat. Now that I don't need it, I don't kill.


Ralph and I were bird hunting along a ditch bank, un-

der giant cottonwood and black willow trees, just to the

south side of a rocky plateau we called the Stone Quarry.


Ralph, with his long legs, walked ahead of me, his eyes

scanning the trees. I walked more carefully, watching the

ground, looking up into the trees, down to the ground,

then back up to the trees.


Even so, I wasn't as careful as I should have been,

because once, when I looked down, I saw a big rattlesnake

coiled up right at my feet, its head weaving back and forth,

almost a foot off the ground, its black tongue darting in

and out of its mouth as it tasted my scent. Before it could

strike, I bounded over it, turned, and just stood there, pet-

rified in place.


I stared at the snake; just one step away from my

legs. I couldn't move. It remained coiled, and its slit eyes

stared back at me, again, with its black tongue flicking in

and out. I called, "Ralph!"


His answer was, "What?"


I yelled, "Rattlesnake!"


He came back, saw the snake, picked up a large rock,

and bounced it off its back. The snake uncoiled and crawled

into some underbrush at the side of the ditch bank. Ralph,

then, jumped over the underbrush and headed for home,

running as fast as his long legs would carry him. Me, I

stood there, frozen to the spot, staring at the brush where

the snake had disappeared.


I was a city boy. I didn't know what to do. I had heard

that rattlesnakes had the ability to charm their victims. I

didn't feel charmed or hypnotized; I just felt powerless,

like I couldn't get my muscles to work. Finally, I felt life

flowing into my spineless back, and I realized I couldn't just

stand there, so I forced myself to take a flying leap over

the brush, and I, too, ran home. I didn't stop running until

I reached our front yard, and I didn't slow down much, even

then, until I found my mother, and puffed out my

frightening story.