I won’t say that I suffer from ophidiophobia, but I will say that I have a healthy fear of snakes.
Ophidiophobia is an extreme fear of snakes that causes anxiety, a nervous disorder.
When I was a child playing in my parents’ yard in McDowell, Ky., an unincorporated settlement located in coal mining country in the Cumberland foothills, a copperhead crawled between where my mother was standing and me.
Before she could grab a hoe to kill the snake, Ring, my father’s dog, grabbed the snake and killed it.
A “big fuss” ensued, and that was the beginning of my fear of snakes.
My grandfather lived nearby and owned a farm. While playing as a 12-year-old, I killed a blacksnake in his barn, and when I noticed a bulge in its belly, I sliced it open and found the snake had swallowed a wooden egg.
My grandfather scolded me for killing the snake and told me to leave blacksnakes alone because they serve the good purpose of killing rodents.
Fast forward to my teenage years. A childhood playmate who became a teammate on the McDowell High School Daredevils’ baseball team was a year ahead of me in school, and he caught water snakes, often chasing me away from the creek bank with one coiled around his arm while he held it behind its head with his thumb and index finger so it was unable to bite him.
We roomed together my freshman year at Morehead State University where I started the last 13 games of the baseball season as an Eagle. He did not try out for the team.
One day after class, I returned to our dormitory room and opened my chest of drawers to put away my book. There was a live blacksnake coiled up inside, one he had caught and left as a prank. We did not room together my sophomore year.
That was in 1960 when he played that hidden blacksnake trick on me, and during the summer, I was hired as a worker for the Kentucky West Virginia Gas Company, LLC. My job along with five other young men was to clear the pipeline right-of-way through the Ky. hills in Floyd Co. and Knott Co.
The crew of six was comprised of an ax boy, a water boy, and four cutters who used scythes to cut a swath about 12 feet wide, six feet on each side of the pipeline.
My first day on the job was a memorable one because halfway up the hill where we were cutting, I swung my scythe and yelled like a banshee when I saw a coiled copperhead in the weeds two feet in front of me.
I threw my scythe over the bank and sprinted downhill. The ax boy, who had been on the job for weeks, did his work after one of the cutting crew clamped his scythe onto the coiled copperhead, pinning it to the ground as the ax boy chopped off its head.
Another day that summer, our crew was assigned to clear a four-acre site high on a hill in Knott Co. where the company’s radio tower was located.
Many stumps at that location provided dens for copperheads, and by the end of our work day, we had 28 headless copperheads piled inside a brown paper bag.
As we drove away from the site, it was as if Medusa’s head was riding with us in the bed of our pickup truck.
Leaving Knott Co. behind, we returned to Floyd Co., stopping in Wayland at the downtown fountain corner. When we told our friends there at the hangout that we had killed 28 copperheads that day, not one of them believed us until they looked inside the paper bag.
I have had nightmares for decades of snakes threatening me in sundry ways.
The most terrifying was the one in which I was sitting on a limb high up in a tree when a snake appeared in the branch above me and began to uncoil toward me.
I pulled my pistol and aimed, but the entire tree above me was full of snakes that were uncoiling. That’s when I decided to climb down instead of shooting.
However, when I looked at the ground below, it was covered with snakes. Thankfully, I awakened.
Where is Sigmund Freud when you need him?