Monday, March 28, 2011

Hoop-de-Loop Reptiles...

Last year I wrote a column about the Drop Bear. This had to do with the legend of a special type of Koala Bear in Australia. The bear would drop onto it prey from the top of a tree. That column included the statement, “Someday I want to write about other legends such as Big Foot, UFOs, Hoop Snakes, the Loch Ness Monster, Crop Circles, the Saratoga Lights, the Jefferson Theater Ghost(s) and such like. Most of these are legends but not all…”

The dictionary defines “legend” as “…a popular story handed down from earlier times whose truth has not been ascertained.” April Fools’ Day is looming so perhaps another article about one of the aforementioned legends is timely.

This essay has to do with the hoop snake, so called because of the snake’s uncanny ability to move about in a most unusual fashion. This reptile gets about by biting its tail with its mouth thus forming a circle or hoop. The snake then uprights itself and rolls along like a wheel.

Hoop snakes are extremely venomous and this may be why the creature is relatively rare. Since they bite into their tails to form a hoop, their own venom often kills them. The hoop snake has an anti-venom gland with which it can inject itself thus neutralizing its own poison. If, however, the anti-venom injection is too late, the snake may die from snakebite.

The hoop snake is a legendary creature of the United States although sightings have been reported from all over the world at one time or another. The snake is mentioned in a letter from 1784 (published in Tour in the U. S. A., Vol. 1, London), which reads:

“As other serpents crawl upon their bellies, so can this; but he has another method of moving peculiar to his own species, which he always adopts when he is in eager pursuit of his prey; he throws himself into a circle, running rapidly around, advancing like a hoop, with his tail arising pointed forward in the circle, by which he is always in the ready position of striking...”

As mentioned, this slithering, rolling reptile only rolls when attacking prey. He rolls toward his prey at great speed, usually from the prey’s blindside. At the last second, the snake’s mouth lets go of his tail and strikes the victim with the tail. Actually the tip of the tail is a stinger which injects the fatal venom.

Unlike his less venomous cousin, the pogo snake, which coils and bounces along like a old car spring, the hoop snake will attack humans. Be advised that should you become aware you are being attacked by a hoop snake, start running. At that last second when the snake straightens out to pierce you with his stinger tail, jump behind a tree. The stinger will hit the tree instead of you. Of course the tree will die immediately and crumple to the ground usually crushing the bewildered serpent. But look at it this way. “Better the tree and the snake than you.”

And remember that a hoop snake can roll downhill faster than he can roll uphill. So if you have the option when you come under attack, run uphill. Of course other problems may arise when you realize that you cannot run as fast uphill as you can downhill. It’s all relative.

Sometimes the snake may disguise himself as a hula hoop. Never disturb an unattended hula hoop. You may unknowingly pick up your demise.

Check out “hoop snakes” on your favorite computer search engine. You may be amazed to find more than 4,000,000 hits telling of this creature and its outlandish episodes.

It’s unbelievable what hoop snakes can do.

Winston Hamby

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...Who Is The Most Famous Of All...?

I met Luther Nallie back in the early 1950s. He played saxophone in the South Park High School Greenie Band. I played trombone. After his graduation I did not see him until one night he showed up playing guitar with a small group on Channel 4 out of Port Arthur. Later I discovered that he had become a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, the band backing up Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. He has been with that group for more than forty years. Currently Luther, along with the Pioneers, has a show at Branson Missouri. We still communicate on occasion via Face Book.

I met Roy Rogers at the Houston Livestock Show back in the early 1950s. He shook my hand and said, “How ya’ doing partner?” I replied, “Fine.” Then he introduced me to Trigger and I got to pet the Palomino’s nose…it was wet.

Later in the 1950s I played trombone in the Abilene Christian University Wildcat Band. One day my director, Douglas Fry, asked me if I wanted to go over to Rose Field House at Hardin-Simmons University and sit in with a concert that was scheduled for that night.

A singer and his backup group were the featured event. One of the trombonists with their travelling group had fallen ill. I went over to the dress rehearsal. A young man came out for rehearsal. He was great. I leaned over to the professional trombonist beside me and asked, “Who is this guy. He sounds like Bing Crosby?” The man replied, “His name is Pat Boone. You definitely will be hearing more about him in the coming years.”

Then there was Peter Duchin, son of famous bandleader Eddy Duchin. Peter and I played in several bands during the late 1950s/early 1960s. We were together with the 79th U.S. Army Band. He played percussion and I played Baritone horn. Also he was our “piano man” in the Pan American Jazz Band. I played bone (jazz jargon for trombone) . We played gigs all over Central and South America. Peter went on to lead his own high-society band mainly for White House functions. His girl friend was Kim Novak. And me? Upon discharge from the army, I returned to Beaumont.

I worked for First Security National Bank in Beaumont from 1963 to 1968. One day two men came in and wanted to cash a check. The check was sizeable. I asked for their identification. They gave me California drivers’ licenses. One read Alan Hale and the other, Bob Denver. I looked up and was staring into the faces of Skipper and Gilligan, the stars in Gilligan’s Island.

One day in 1976, President Gerald Ford shook my index finger at the Big Spring, TX Municipal airport. His plane landed briefly for him to give a press conference while standing on the airport’s tarmac. Then he came down the fence line to shake hands with everyone. There were so many people crowding the area that I could get only my hand up to the fence. He never saw me in the throng but he shook my right index finger. Sometimes I talk to my index finger and say, “President Gerald Ford actually held you for nearly one second.” My finger still is proud and so am I.

You as well can meet those special well-known people. Just be sure to always be somewhere and it will happen. I know because I have been there and done that.

Winston Hamby

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hometown Memories Are Made Of This...

What makes a hometown a hometown? Would it not be memories? Of course a hometown is neither what it is today nor what it will be tomorrow. A hometown is what it was nearly a lifetime ago. Yes a hometown is made up of those pleasant scenes that drift into your mind when you slow down enough to reflect. Such is Beaumont, my hometown. Following are a few of my hometown memories from the 1940s.

  • Growing up on Pipkin Street in the South Park area of Beaumont.
  • Playing in the vacant lots with the Pipkin Street Gang (PSG), a group of kids who lived in the 1300 block of Pipkin.
  • Walking with the PSG eight blocks to the Lamar Theater on Saturday afternoons. You had to have a quarter to pay the nine cents for a ticket, five cents for a bag of popcorn, and with the eleven cents left over, buy candy and bubble gum.
  • Playing sandlot football on the rear campus of Giles Elementary School.
  • Mud fights, usually pitting the girls against the boys. Those crawfish chimneys provided the perfect ammo.
  • Some of us boys climbing on the roof of our house and jumping to the ground. We were practicing to become paratroopers so that someday we could join the army and fight in WW II.
  • Climbing the tallow trees behind the Collier’s house. Those trees bordered the backyards between the Collier’s and the Ray Asbury home.
  • Flying paper airplanes. Jackie Garretson and I designed and produced some of the finest paper aircraft known to man.
  • Attending Giles Elementary from the first through the sixth grades.
  • Building clubhouses out of mowed weeds in the vacant lots. One time, we set one of the clubhouses on fire from the inside so we could practice getting out of a burning building. Unceremoniously, the fire spread to the vacant lot. My mother and Mrs. Burch from next door doused the flames with their garden hoses.
  • Learned to love that petroleum aroma from Spindletop Oilfield and listen to those oilfield pumps that said, “Pom-Pom-Pom” in the night.
  • The Victory Gardens that my sister and I cultivated during WW II. She grew flowers and I grew one stalk of cotton and two stalks of corn.
  • Having Sunday lunch with my sister and parents at The Golden Arrow Café or at Shelton’s. On occasion, we drove into downtown to splurge at the Toddle House on Pearl Street.
  • The best local toy suppliers were the Kress Store and Morgan & Lindsey’s.
  • Going to the movies and attending the Saturday morning Kiddie Organ Club at the Jefferson Theater.
  • Going swimming with the PSG in that humongous Alice Keith Park Swimming Pool.
  • Fishing at Twin Lakes. There were plenty of fish and more than enough water moccasins to keep your day lively.
  • Some of the PSG would go around our neighborhood knocking down wasp nests with sticks. I used a baseball bat. Our approaches to these situations were to “hit and run.” No one in the group ever got stung.
  • Riding bicycles all around South Park.
  • Sliding down those fire escape slides at South Park High School.
  • David Bean and I buried a secret treasure (monopoly money in a larger match box) on the rear campus of Giles Elementary School. The spot was three paces east of the third oak tree from that bus barn located next to the caretaker’s house. Problem: They removed the bus barn, caretaker’s house, oak trees, and demolished the school building. Most likely, David and I never will find our treasure. And there were some $500 bills in the mix.

Yes, hometowns are made up of those sweet, sweet memories…memories we never shall forget.

Winston Hamby