My youngest grandchild, Patrick, turns ten years old  today!

I admired ultrasound pictures of him before he came into this world and I was there, with his Mom, the day he was born. I snuggled and cuddled him when he was just tiny. I talked to him and sang to him and waited for his smile. He had a great smile, even then.

Patrick is the only one of my grandchildren to have been bitten by a snake!

I have a lot of snakes here, on this bit of low woodland I live on. Garter snakes, mostly, but I occasionally see other varieties. None of them are poisonous. I have always picked them up, to show visiting children. They like to feel their scales (not slimy!) and see – close up – the way snakes move and learn about their surroundings by their darting tongue. It’s important, I think, for children to understand snakes, and not be afraid of them.

When Patrick was three, he visited me here on Beaver Island. His Mom went to town one day, and Patrick and I went to check on the growing things in the garden. It was a warm day, so several garter snakes were out sunning themselves on top of the compost bin. Patrick was thrilled to see them, and answered “Yes!” he’d like to touch one and later “Please!” could he hold it, too.

I had done this before.

No problem.

First the chance to touch the snake, to feel his muscles tense and wiggle, so there are no surprises. Then, see how I hold the snake, just behind his head, firmly but not too tight. With your other hand, support his twisting body.


The transfer is the only tricky part. I move my fingers back just a little, so the child can get their fingers just behind the head, then help them get a feel for the right amount of grip, then watch their eyes get big and face break out in smile at the wonderment of the strength and movement contained in that small animal…and then we gently release the snake, and watch him move away.

I’d done it dozens of times.

Nothing to worry about.

Patrick did everything perfectly.

A born snake handler!

Then, for just a second, he relaxed his grip.

In the blink of an eye, that snake turned and bit him on the hand!

Two fangs actually punctured his tender three-year-old skin!

Released, the snaked wiggled away into the tall grass.

I was surprised.

Patrick was even more surprised.

And insulted!

He let out a yell.

I grabbed him up and brought him into the house. We examined his wound, and cleaned it good with soap and water. I made several calls…to the Medical Center, the veterinarian and the nurse-line at the hospital on the mainland… to reassure myself that I had done everything I should, and that I didn’t have to worry about salmonella or anything like that.

We related the story to Patrick’s mom, when she got back.

Later, it was told again, to Patrick’s Dad (who is afraid of snakes!).

Then, we all stored it in our minds as an important legend in the history of Grandma Cindy’s house on Beaver Island, the grand-children’s visits there, and Patrick’s childhood.

We bring out this story on special occasions…like today, on his ten-year-old birthday.

Happy Birthday, Patrick!

13 responses »

  1. Cindy, you’re a snake handler, too? You never cease to amaze me! What a great story — I especially like the happy ending. Family legends are wonderful to pass along and share. We have them, too, but none involve someone willingly holding snakes!

    • Oh, Kate, I appreciate the happy ending, too! It crossed my mind, when this happened, that it could be the worst thing I could have done as a grandmother! I’m so glad he wasn’t badly hurt, made ill or poisoned, that he didn’t develop a lasting fear of snakes, his grandmother, Beaver Island or the outdoors, that neither of his parents saw it as a huge failing on my part, and that – in the end – the entire incident made him feel pretty proud of himself. Whew! Thanks for reading!

  2. Hi Cindy, Boy, did this bring back some memories – LOL – but not so funny at the time…
    When I was a kid our collapsed barn roof was a Mecca for sunbathing garter snakes. Picking them up to stroke their sun-warmed scales was SO cool and they never seemed to mind (matter of fact, they seemed to enjoy languidly wrapping themselves around our forearms). But one day, while walking down by the creek, I came across a garter and, of course thought I’d say “Hello!” To my great surprise, it turned and struck at my outstretched hand! I think the injury to my pride was ‘way worse than the scratch its rough jaw left on my finger.
    Afterwards, trying to figure out why (imagine, me, the Great Snake Whisperer, being so abruptly rejected!) it eventually dawned that perhaps (especially from a snake’s eye point of view) being pursued by some gargantuan being and then grabbed by the tail might just be construed as an act of aggression and protecting one’s self might just be a very normal reaction…
    These days, I still love being around all sorts of creatures but certainly have a lot more respect for their sensibilities and spend more time learning why they do what they do (and not just assuming they all want to be my friend; )
    Cheers, Deb

  3. I am most definitely not a snake holding Nana, however, I appreciate reading about one. I have done rats, gerbils, rabbits, cats, dogs, geikos, birds, and even an iguana, but I draw the line at snakes. It’s just Nana’s rule. Great story. Don’t they grow up quickly? I always threaten to put them in the duck press.

    • They grow up too quickly, yes! I have never had an aversion to snakes, but I’ve always known I’m in the minority there. Sounds like you’ve done plenty of animal-handling, though…many of which I would shy away from. Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

    • You know, I understand that fear…I’m just thankful I don’t have it. I don’t know why, other than a childhood spent catching wild things. I’m sure you have other areas where you are brave beyond measure. Thanks for reading, Tammy, and for your comments!

  4. I am so proud of you, Cindy. As proud of you for handling snakes, as I am dismayed that the little creature bit Patrick! I wonder why? Supposing he was just being a snake. I love that you highlight your family members here and fuel the family legends with stories.

    • I love the fact that I’m not afraid of snakes, simply because it seems like such a rarity. I’ve picked them up since I was a child. I’m very pleased that Patrick did not develop a fear of snakes after his “unfortunate encounter”. Thanks for reading, and for your – always valued – comments!

    • Me too! I’ve had to remind my daughters that the anecdotes I’ve saved from their “growing up years” are mine, and I can tell them, even if they’d sometimes rather I didn’t. My grandchildren – one generation removed – don’t seem to suffer the embarrassment that my children do. Thanks for reading!

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