Thursday, June 17, 2010

For Goodness Snakes...

She was one of my favorite teachers at South Park High School in Beaumont back in the early 1950s. The strange thing about this is that I never took any classes from her.

Several have suggested that I write a column about her. Most recently I received a note from Julian Galiano, retired copy editor from the Beaumont Enterprise. Julian wrote, “Ethel Jo Simkins should be in the Biology Teachers’ Hall of Fame.”

Ms. Simkins taught biology at South Park for many, many years. I used to stop by her classroom after school to visit with her. At first I did this because I was fascinated with her snakes. She had two snakes in separate glass cases. Later, I began stopping by her room to visit with her because she was such a fascinating person.

The biology classroom was #101. When you entered the building from the north door ground floor, that room was the first one to your left. Incidentally, that room no longer is there. The reason for that is because five clowns working in a five-ring circus under a Thomas Tent demolished that entire historic building. But certainly I digress.

One afternoon I stopped by to visit with Ethel Jo. She said, “Winston, as you know in about two weeks school will turn out for the summer. I need someone to keep my snakes and watch after them till school reconvenes. Would you be interested in doing that for me?” Immediately I agreed.

When school turned out, I went to Ethel Jo’s room and picked up the two snakes in two separate cardboard boxes. I carried them to my house. The rear entrance to our house was the one we used as it was near our carport. This entrance was a small screened in area. You entered through a screen door and then entered the house through a regular wooden door. The screened entryway was about six feet by six feet square.

I spread pine straws and leaves over all the concrete floor of this entryway. Then I placed the two snakes into their new summer quarters. One of the snakes was a feisty water snake about two feet in length. He was not very friendly. Mainly he did a lot of hissing. The other snake was four feet in length and was known as a mud snake. His back was a shiny black and his underside was red. He had a boney, pointed tail. The old timers called this type a “stinging snake” because the tail looked like a stinger. But actually the tail was used simply to hang onto things such as tree limbs and suchlike.

Now then, during that summer, my parents and I used the rear entrance as usual. We just had to be careful not step on one of the snakes. But Ann, my big/older sister was another story altogether. She would walk from our carport all the way around our house to the front entrance.

One day I decided that if she was officially introduced to one of the snakes that she would act more cordial toward the creatures. I draped the mud snake over my shoulders around the back of my neck and went into the house. Ann was in her bedroom reading a book. I walked in. Ann looked up, saw the reptile hanging around my shoulders, screamed, threw her book to the floor, and ran out of the house. I was dumbfounded. You know, it seems like there always is a thing between big sisters and little brothers.

Anyway, when summer ended, the snakes and I slithered back to school. Ms. Simkins said, “Thank you.”

I hissed with gracious air, “You’re welcome.”

Winston Hamby


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