(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