My Dad, the Mushrooms, and the Snake

Twelve days ago was the eighth anniversary of the death of the most important man in my life.  My dad.  Which is probably why he’s been on my mind so much lately.  Not that he isn’t always on my mind, because there hasn’t been a single day since when I don’t miss him and wish for something I can’t have.  Him.

Sometimes my thoughts make me sad, like when I remember how sick he was at the end.  How scared he was when he was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him.  Sometimes I remember what a jerk he could be, even though I don’t ever really want to go there.  But he was human and as such, came complete with flaws, just like every other person on the planet.  So I can’t canonize him, much as I’d like to.

Mostly though, I just remember how talented he was, and how much fun he was to be with.  He made no bones about the fact that he loved life, or that he liked to enjoy it.  Dad was always laughing about something, and that laugh was contagious.  If you heard it, you couldn’t help but join in.

Especially when he was laughing at himself.  One of the things that could always get him going was his fear of snakes, a legacy passed down to, and embraced by, each and every one of his children.

My earliest memory of my father and snakes involved an activity my parents called, ‘mushroom-hunting.’  Never acquiring a taste for fungus, I didn’t really enjoy those excursions.  Though to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know that foods could fall into a category like that back then.  I just like to say the word now because it’s fun, and seems to be a fitting description.  Plus it makes my sister, a mushroom lover, the same as Dad, turn a little green when she’s biting into one and I ask how her fungus tastes.

Anyway, when we’d go on these trips, we split up into three pairs.  I am the oldest of four children, so I got to go with my oldest younger brother.  Mom took my baby brother, and my poor sister got stuck with Dad. (You’ll understand why I phrased it this way in a second)

I couldn’t have been more than eight at the time, which would have made her five years old.  After we got home she shared with me that while wandering around that day, Dad spotted a garter snake.  Even as young as I was, I knew this would be interesting.

After the initial split second of terror, my oh-so-brave father apparently decided it was every man for himself.  In his haste to get a good running start…he ‘pushed off’ my sister’s shoulder.  At least she’s fairly sure he didn’t push her toward the harmless little reptile.  You know, in that ‘you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the person you’re with’ kind of way.  Although with Dad and the whole Ophidiophobia thing, it’s possible that’s exactly what he did.

His feelings about snakes never changed, and he was man enough to admit it.  He never minded when someone would bring the story up, and it was inevitable that someone would at one family gathering or another.  But instead of being embarrassed, he’d laugh along with everyone else.  Because he knew the truth, same as we did…every single one of us would have reacted in much the same way had we been confronted with a snake hiding in the mushrooms.

It’s this memory that led to one of my favorite scenes in Reluctant Guardian.  While Adam isn’t the main hero in the story, he is a hero in his own right.  And like all heroes, they are far from perfect.  So I decided to bestow on him some of my father’s traits.  A determined, hard worker.  One who cares for, and protects his family.  And a man who is unashamedly scared of snakes.  Though I did, in all fairness, make this particular snake a little more threatening than the harmless one that sent my dad running!

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