Many years ago, I went to the Rattlesnake Roundup in Whigham, Georgia. My father-in-law and I made the short trek from his Thomasville home, but I don’t remember why. Neither of us had a strong affinity for venomous snakes. My guess is that we were desperate to get out of the house.
The only thing I clearly recall from that outing is that we stood in a long line for southern fried rattlesnake. Mr. Horne had no interest in a snake snack but said he didn’t mind waiting with me. I was excited as I had heard that rattlesnake tastes a lot like chicken.
We inched forward for about ten minutes or so. The closer we got to the dinner table the more I realized my appetite was waning. I decided there was no compelling reason to eat something that reportedly tastes like chicken unless there was a shortage of the real thing. We exited the line, watched somebody milk a rattlesnake, then returned to Thomasville. A snuff-dipping lady that Mr. Horne knew at Maryland Fried Chicken sold us a box of wings that were exceptional.
My brother Jimmy and I hauled a few loads of scrap metal out of some woods in late March. It’s mostly bulky household items that hardly weigh enough to pay for the gas to take it to Vienna. The money is nominal, but we made a good dent in cleaning up a rather unsightly area. A feeling of leaving something better than you found it is sometimes reward enough.
We saw a rusty push lawnmower that had probably been there 50 or 60 years. The handle was gone so I grabbed the motor and managed to wrangle it away from the vines and leaves. Underneath that mower was a giant timber rattler. He was over six feet long when I saw him but shrank about 24 inches according to the tape measure. Right after that encounter I pulled up a nearby sheet of tin and found his twin brother or maybe sister. I don’t know how to determine the sex of a snake and it’s way down the list of things I want to learn.
Some of my friends, as well as many highly respected naturalists, say that the preferable thing to do is to leave such rattlesnakes alone. I appreciate their view and they’re probably right, but I don’t think they ever heard about Mrs. Elmer Cheekwood’s leg.
I didn’t know Grace Cheekwood or her husband Elmer. During my childhood they lived near Unadilla on what is now called Third District Road. Our family traveled that way often, so I knew where they lived even though I don’t recall ever seeing either of them.
Whenever we passed their house, Mama would tell us about Mrs. Cheekwood being bitten by a rattlesnake while she was picking blackberries. She’d say, “Mrs. Cheekwood’s leg almost rotted off. It turned black and blue and became as hard as wood. They thought for a while she might lose it.”
Jimmy and I helped Mama pick blackberries when we were young. She would strain the juice through cheesecloth to separate the tiny seeds then put up pints of jelly in Mason Jars. She’d also bake a few cobblers during the season. Her blackberry cobblers were filled with hand rolled dumplings, a recipe for which there is no equal. We’d take our tin buckets and pick wild berries from fence rows. Each time Mama would say, “Watch out for rattlesnakes. Mrs. Cheekwood got bitten when she was picking blackberries. Her leg turned black and blue and became as hard as wood.”
There was a part of me that secretly yearned to see Mrs. Cheekwood’s leg, but I never had the chance. Her story, however, influenced me to the point that I cannot embrace sparing a rattlesnake. It’s fine for others to do so but not for me. And so it was that on a sunny spring day in 2019, with the help of a little hoe that I wished had a trigger, two old timber rattlers came to the end of the line.
Those snakes reminded me of a story from a few years back about Hardy and Carolyn Gregory. One day when they were riding around their farm Hardy stopped for a rattlesnake that was in their path. Hardy is an advocate for leaving nature undisturbed. He intended to do no harm. Carolyn, however, said, “Hardy, half of this farm is mine and that snake is on my half. I want him killed.”
I share Carolyn’s philosophy, but I will admit to having a tinge of regret about leaving those two big rattlers in the woods. It bothered me for a little while. They say it tastes a lot like chicken.