Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Fears that Plagued Me at Age Twelve -- Chapter 9 in My Life Story

7th Grade Gretchen: new bangs and glasses
Thus far, in the telling of my life story, I have rarely touched on my fears, but let me assure you, I was like every other kid, scared of things like house fires, burglars and the child-catcher.  Yep, it's true that the movie "Chitty-chitty Bang Bang" rendered me petrified and sleepless for nights because of the scary long-nosed child-catcher who stole all the children (getting shivers now, just thinking about him!) and hid them away.  Let's face it, that was a pretty darn creepy thing to put in a kids' movie, so who can blame me?  

One unique thing that scared me was my sister's sleepwalking.  She had always been a bit of a sleepwalker and talker growing up, but not long after we moved to Montana, it rose to a new level.  Sometimes she would go to bed in her own room, and I'd wake up with her sitting at the end of my bed staring at me.  It freaked me out!!  I wasn't scared OF her, I was scared FOR her!  I had seen her have a night terror once when she was younger, and I was so afraid of her getting upset in her sleep.  I was also scared of her finding her way to the back door (which was right outside my bedroom door) and wandering outside to the pool while we were all asleep.  I felt like I needed to stay awake to keep her safe, but I didn't know what to do.  I'd ask her questions to try to show her that she was sleeping, but some how that clever tactic never really paid off.  I usually had to risk leaving her for a few minutes to go get my mom so she could make Anna go back to bed.  It probably didn't actually happen super often, but for a space of time I felt like it was always in my mind, nettling me.

Another thing that really frightened me were the rattlesnakes.  We could hear them in our "yard" (placed in quotes because little grass grew and we never played in it), so we rarely stepped a toe into it.  My brother once chopped up a snake with the riding lawn mower, and brought us a bit of flesh to prove it.  Since we had the decks, patio, and pool in the back and basketball hoop on the front driveway, we didn't miss not using our yard much.  People told tales about rattlesnakes being blind when they shed their skin, and I needed no more caution than that -- I would do everything in my power to avoid those creatures.

A much younger picture of me and Grandad
May 11th, 1991 was my sister Emily's second birthday.  My Grammy and Grandad were visiting from Ohio, and we went to visit Custer Battlefield, where the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn took place.  To summarize, all of the soldiers were killed, along with many of their horses.  Thus, the battlefield is a huge graveyard, with markers showing where the men fell.  This was not our first visit here, and I was less than thrilled about walking around looking at the white markers again.  There is this huge path that loops around the battlefield (miles long, possibly), and signs everywhere warning you "Stay on the paths -- YOU ARE IN RATTLESNAKE COUNTRY".  No chance was I getting off those paths!  Since I was pretty bored by the sites, I took it upon myself to entertain Emily, and we skipped along apart from everyone else in our group.  Nathan and Anna had gone on ahead (also probably bored), and my mom and grandparents were slowly making their way examining all the history along the path.  Emily and I were running backwards along the path, and then she said "I want to go first", and we turned around to walk forwards.  

There in the middle of the path -- right in front of us -- was a coiled up rattler!

I screamed as hard and long and loud as I could, which is saying a lot for a 12 year old girl, and ran a few steps backward, turned around, snatched up my baby sister and continued screaming for my life.  I hugged her chubby little guts out, crying, and wondering why the adults were not coming to our aid.  Sure enough, they walked on ever so slowly, even though we were in full view.  I screamed again, and then they came running.  I think at that moment, in my mind, if the middle of the path was not safe, then NO WHERE around me was safe, either.  There had to be so many rattlers in the tall grass, that they were spilling over onto the path.  I could neither go forward, nor backward, nor around the snake.  There must be snakes everywhere.

When my mom came, she told me she thought we were laughing.  I was in serious melt-down mode: "what are we going to DO??  How can we get back to the van??"  Getting out of there was at the top of my priority list.

My grandfather had the simple solution.  I shivered with fear as he walked up closer to the snake and bent down, picking up a handful of sandy dirt in his hand.  "Let's try this" he muttered to himself, and tossed the sand at the snake.

I was sure it would fly at him, snapping its poisonous fangs, but instead, the snake only tucked its head into its coiled middle.

"They don't have eyelids," Grandad explained. "They have to hide their heads to keep the sand out of their eyes."  He'd seen a desert rat get away from rattlesnake on a nature show.  He was always watching those nature shows.  "Now, Gretch, when I do this again, you run by him."

Toss. . . Gretchen skittered by.
Toss. . . Mom, Gram and Emily scurried past.

One more toss . . . and Grandad joined us all, the conquering hero.

In the van, I sat next to my grandmother so shaken and still very afraid.  She patted my shorts leg and said "It's all over now, don't be afraid," but I think it took me a good part of the ride home to really believe it.  
Emily turns two

Poor Emily -- little baby girl on her birthday met up with a scary snake.  I couldn't stop thinking of the "what ifs" of what happened, and she was so small and innocent.  I have this picture of that day, only telling of the celebration and nothing of our terror.  It's ok, I wouldn't want to look at a scary picture anyway!

This is chapter 9 in my life story and I'm linking up to Mommy's Piggy Tales.  


Ginny Marie said...

Thank goodness we don't have scary snakes where I live...I don't think I'd be able to set a foot outside! What a relief that your grandfather was such a smart guy!

Crystal said...

I hear you on the snakes!! I was petrified as an adult when my husband wanted to go visit his 'home' which is in the middle of the southern region. (I say midwest but he says no!). I was thinking only 2 things- tornadoes & rattlesnakes (among other poisonous snakes). Of course I didn't see any, we were in the 'city' most of the time. But I still would never choose to live in states like Texas- which actually is the only state all 4 of the most poisonous snakes in the US dwell- something I heard as a kid and stuck with me!
I had many irrational fears as a child!

Anonymous said...

oh Gretchen I laughed and laughed when you told about me sleepwalking! HAHA! HOW SCARY to wake up to someone staring at you! I'm still cracking up! Poor YOU! And...FOR SURE the single most scariest moment of my life was the rattlesnake incident as I watched from up the path. 2 reasons...I thought you two were dead meat for sure....and nate and I walked by the snake how did we not see it! I remember that night telling dad about it, and he was like, "we need to be careful". DUH! scar-y.
PS Grandad rocks. ;)


Dan and Donette said...

Good to know I wasn't the only child with irrational fears, although your fear of snakes is by no means irrational! I'm with you on that one, Gret! And of course that is what you would have remembered from your sister's birthday. How scary!

Emily Benzing said...

Um where did you get that picture??? I LOVE it! I think that was my cutest stage... haha. :D I remember that very vaguely, but I wasn't really that scared until I realized that everyone else was scared. I remember just being confused initially.

Its right there with my memories of sitting on the porch with mom watching the heavy rain in Montana. :)

Emily Benzing said...

PS--that's the dress with the reversible birthday collar! LOVE it!

Gretchen said...

Yep -- that dress is hanging in Susie's closet! She can sport it next year!!

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Oh I can so relate to the snakes...rattlers. I had one shot to death within inches of my foot, right before I stepped on dad shot it. Still to this day I can't go see the snake exhibit at the zoo.
There are just things like that stay with you forever.
My sister would sleep walk outside and swing on the swing set...we also shared a room at the time.

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

Yes I made that dress...the one I am wearing with the boy and flowers, and the strip pants suit at my has been fun to go back and see what I did sew...I haven't made clothes in years, but even in my diary I talked about sewing when I wanted to escape!!
Thanks for stopping by!

gianna said...

You are not alone in your fear of snakes. The only difference is that you actually encountered them and had reason to fear them. I would have been screaming WITH you (and as I was reading your story, I was shuddering so hard because I couldn't scream!)

Janna said...

I was so scare right along with you! I'm just impressed you actually walked past it. I think I would insist going home at that point.

I love how protective and thoughtful you were of your sisters. The B-day picture is fabulous! Love the hats.

Anonymous said...

What a great picture and the story only you and your mother could tell with such drama.....and true anxiety
Those were precious days and I miss them....DAD