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The Poisonous Ones Strike Back: A Visit To A Snake Handling Church
Merely another thin veiled attempt to bypass the rules as you are probably aware of if you've been keeping up with the band of POs.
Nothing really new around the Hub these days as the staff continues to ignore queries about the unethical Related Search ads which grace every one of our pages even during our share of time. They are used to drag our visitors away from our articles and make HP money by horning in on what once was our share of viewers.
I am indeed disappointed in HP as they apparently disregard complaints they know are justified. They can run up an alley and holler fish as far as I'm concerned. There, I've said it and I'm not taking it back. Strong words for strong feelings I suppose. Anyway, here's the tale:
At the age of 14, I had the opportunity to visit a snake handlin’ church over in the next county. I being Jason Carmichael, son of Robert and Sarah Carmichael, long time residents of Clear Springs Georgia. Four years ago Interstate 75 brought the outside world right through our one-traffic-light town. All of a sudden, people with strange accents wearing funny clothes were walking the streets. Yep, the dreaded Yankees I’d heard so much about from my grandparents, had returned with a vengeance.
I-75 also brought a measure of economic prosperity to a few dirt farmers as their land was needed for the highway and exits. The counties the highway went through also gained much from the taxes that new motels and gas stations along with a myriad of other businesses which sprang up along the route.
However, the further one traveled east or west of the 4 lane highway the less educated the population seemed to be. Clear Springs was introduced to new culture in the form of a heavily trafficked viaduct heading for the Florida sunshine.
I’ve always a very curious youngster--my father said so anyway--and I jumped at the chance to attend a homecoming dinner at afabled house of worship in the area. I’d wangled a personal invitation to the dinner on the grounds at a genuine snake handling church. It came in the form of an invite from one of my grandfather’s former sharecroppers.
His name was Lucas McCall, a confirmed bachelor of indeterminate age--I’d guess either 50 to 60 years old at the time--who also performed odd jobs for the aforementioned church and would never miss out on a free meal if he could help it. Old Luke knew I’d been hankering to see the snakes and the folks who held them so he asked me to attend with him.
As I had never been of a religious nature myself, my father looked suspicious when I asked permission to go with Luke, but I suppose he figured I’d be just as well off in one church as another. He finally gave it the okay much to my surprise and delight.
Curious As A Cat.....
The next Sunday Luke picked me up early to help him feed his array of animals--both chickens and wild pets--before we prepared to head over to the church located in the next county over. His cages contained a possum, a raccoon, as well as a skunk, which was allowed to run free around the grounds. There were always half a dozen cats running around with all of them having only 3 legs to do the running with. I had questioned Luke on a former occasion as to what had happened to the cats to allow them to possess only 3 legs.
“A cat is a curious animal,” Luke answered. “They jest cain’t abide not knowin’ what’s a-goin’ on anywheres close by. When a new cat shows up, it sees ole Rufus the coon in his cage and--being naturally nosey--strolls on over to get a closer look. As the cat gets closer, ole Rufus reaches through the cage and grabs whichever cat leg is nearest to ‘im, and pulls it inside. Rufus then chews off the leg before the cat goes away a bit wiser and not so curious anymore.”
I pictured in my mind a new cat arriving and asking the other members of his species what happened to their legs. I suppose they told the new guy to ask the strange looking creature in the cage and then sat back and watched as a new member of the club was born. I’ve never had much use for cats since then. I asked Luke why he didn’t just let the coon go. “I think Ole Rufus would eat the rest of the cats if I did that,” Luke said. “I believe he has a taste for kitty cat now that he’s used to it.” Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Dressing For the Day
We wore our best jeans and a white shirt in honor of the occasion. This was a novel idea to me as back then wearing blue jeans or any other non-dress clothes would get one seriously frowned upon in any of Clear Springs‘ local houses of worship.
Luke had picked me up early in his old panel truck in which he kept his tools and such other job related items. He’d tried to wash some of the dust off of the old vehicle, but it only made it appear older than it was. It was the thought that counted I suppose. Respect comes in many forms I’d learn at an early age.
We arrived at the First Holiness Baptist Church of God In Heaven before most of the attendees got there, parking Luke’s old truck behind the church under a big live oak tree. “I allus parks here when I come on certain Sundays,“ Luke said. The building itself was everything one would expect of a church which allows the handling of serpents.
Among other things, Luke had brought some blocks of ice for the sweet tea used to wash down the chicken n’ dumplings, barbecued pork and chicken, and various other dishes soon to appear along with the crowd.
Walkin' The Walk and Talkin' The Talk
Having finished with our duties, Luke and I headed inside where there was already a loud sermon in progress. Like the parishioners themselves, the inside of the old building was bare of any decorations. The unpainted walls and pews giving evidence that bright colors and gaudy possessions were not favored by their lord.
The owner of some very flexible vocal cords--presently in the midst of admonishing the attendees--was the pastor of the church and according to Luke, “He’ll git all het up ‘fore the days over, he allus does, specially on Homecoming Day.” I didn’t know what ‘all het up’ entailed, but it did sound very interesting at the time.
There were several other visiting preachers from around south Georgia who took turns preaching during the day, especially after everyone got their fill of food during mealtime. I kept waiting for a preacher to call for the snakes and finally, he did. “Oh Gaw-ud,” he pleaded towards the ceiling “watch with joy-uh why your servants-uh prove their faith-uh in thee-uh.”
Raising his arms toward the heavens, the preacher then reached down under the old wooden pulpit and pulled two enormous rattlesnakes from beneath it. He let them squirm, their rattles making the sound one never forgets once they hear it for the first time.
After talking gibberish for a few minutes--apparently the much vaunted unknown tongues I‘d also heard tell of--he passed the snakes along to the parishioners to also prove their faith in kind. No, not everyone wanted to hold the snakes, and they weren’t forced to, but they were stared at disapprovingly by the 'real believers' if they didn‘t at least touch one of the creatures on some part of its body.
The Right Place At The Right Time...
It was only a matter of time before someone got bit by one of the snakes. These creatures could only stand so much being grabbed and shook before one of them got pissed off enough to strike someone. As luck would have it, that person was me.
As the biggest of the snakes was being passed to the person sitting next to me, it suddenly struck me on the wrist leaving two red marks where the fangs broke the skin. I sat there for a moment--it seemed longer some said--while the congregation had gone almost silent as word got around about my apparent faithlessness.
Luke was sitting beside me and later on the way home he described the scene for me as if I wasn’t there to know about it myself. “I seen you wuz a-goin’ down so I grabbed your head to keep it from bonkin’ on the ole pine pew so hard. Your eyes wuz a-starin’ at nuthin’ an’ finally rolled back in your head. Everyone thought you wuz a goner.
That preacher though, he just went to prayin’ and hollering’ for the lord to have mercy on an obvious sinner, to help this child see the light. In about 5 minutes you set up and said you felt better as the other folks started singing and patting you on the back. The preacher never seemed so happy as he wuz today.”
Not So Different After All..
“So,” I asked, “How much did the preacher pay us after all that acting, Luke?” He smiled and said, “one hunnert dollars in cash, honey chile.” Yes, if you hadn’t guessed it yet, the snakes belonged to Luke. Of course, he had not only milked the venom from the snakes early that morning, but had pulled their fangs out just in case. Rattlesnakes have several sets of fangs and would grow more in the future.
He also knew how to make them strike when he wanted to and did so at the proper moment by squeezing the snake in a certain spot during the time he passed it by me. A couple of prearranged fang marks made by a sharp hat pin finished the desired effect if they weren’t closely examined. And Luke made sure they hadn't by wrapping my wrist with his handkerchief.
“I know of two other churches where they handle snakes and the preachers there will want a piece of the action if you can get away again.” I thought about those three legged cats again and how people weren’t a whole lot different after all. “Heck yeah Luke,” I replied, “I still got two good legs and one good arm left anyway.” The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways…
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© 2014 Randy Godwin