stories in Texas are hardly rare. One story, however,
deserves recounting. |
A caller to the shelter said she had seen a "huuuge"
snake go under their house. With its large front porch, it was the only home remaining
on a corner intersection that had yielded its other residences to two filling
stations and a quick-mart store. The animal control officer investigated and decided
because the snake couldn't be found, even after somewhat exhaustive searching,
that it likely posed no danger. Snakes, after all, avoid people whenever possible.
The story should have ended there. It didn't. The dispatch call had been
sent on the police radio band, and local media who monitor the frequency picked
up the "news." Witnesses and residents were interviewed and the town newspaper
and local radio station reported details.
Yes.....it must have been a
very "slow news" day.
The "huge snake" was acquiring great importance.
Someone suggested asking a herpetologist at the college to confer. He could surely
decide what sort of snake it was. After checking out the situation, the herpetologist
deduced it was likely a large rat snake. He was asked if it could possibly be
a large boa constrictor or python. Well...yes...since no one could exactly describe
the snake, it could, indeed, be ANY sort of snake.
I note at this point
that if such a large snake were exotic, it would be worth a lot of money which,
unfortunately, the expert also mentioned.
So residents, as well as their
friends and neighbors, began digging under the house to find this valuable snake.
(It didn't seem to occur to the diggers that their digging could possibly result
in a face-to-face encounter with a giant snake.) The digging went on all afternoon.
Rubberneckers came and set up folding chairs across the street to watch the action.
I wasn't aware of these developments until going home from the shelter that evening.
As I passed the parking lot of the quick-mart, there were beach umbrellas and
people with coolers next to their aluminum folding chairs. Men were standing around
in gimme caps animatedly discussing the situation. All were watching the excavating
across the street. There were large piles of black dirt and busy diggers were
chest deep in their trenches.
Spying a familiar face among the spectators,
I turned in at the quick-mart, got out and asked, in an innocent tone, what they
were watching. The woman I knew and several others around her started talking
excitedly about a snake the size of a man's upper arm. Or...maybe the size of
a telephone pole.
"Really?" I said. "I don't think I'd want to be anywhere
around if a snake that big were in the vicinity."
"Why do you think we're
watching from over here?"
Okay. I backed out and went home...shaking my
When I passed the intersection the next morning, some of the spectators
were still there watching from the quick-mart parking lot.
The snake was,
of course, never found, although the old house had to have the porch supports
and front sidewalk replaced after they sagged into the excavations.
snake story slowly faded from town memory. Some years later, however, I was reminded
of that snake when another town crisis developed.
I was having lunch with
shelter employees when a local woman, who had a reputation for being somewhat
on the “out there” side, approached me with a wad of papers in her hand.
you heard about the rendering plant coming to town?"
"No, I haven't. I
don't even know what a rendering plant is."
Her eyes widened behind her
large glasses and she leaned forward, rapidly telling me how a rendering plant
was a factory where people drove unwanted horses to be cruelly killed and "rendered"
into...whatever. Yikes. I don't know if I was more repelled by the story or by
the woman. She pushed the papers at me and asked if I would sign her petition
to oppose the plant coming. Partly to escape from her, I signed.
later, my husband came home and told me he had been hired to represent a man whose
business was rendering plants. (Uh oh, I thought guiltily.) He continued, telling
me the man had signed an agreement with our city government, purchased many acres
of land south of town and spent a great deal of money on the project already.
Then he told me his job for the man was to mitigate local criticism that had arisen
to the project. I admitted I had signed a petition and why. I told him what the
woman said about the horses. He told me that it was just a wild rumor and the
actual business of the rendering plant would be to process used frying grease
from restaurants. They would create many products out of the old grease and would
employ over 30 local people full time with benefits. It was a good deal for our
Well, that was certainly a different story than that woman told me.
personal experience, I've learned that when a person reaches a conclusion in an
illogical way, they cannot be reasoned with. This woman was on the unreasonable
side anyway and I began to see "Letters to the Editor" on the subject in the local
paper and opposition to the rendering plant began to gather speed. Suddenly, this
previously unimportant woman had people listening to her. She had a "cause." And
she beat her drum ceaselessly.
I spoke to people I knew about the truth
of the rendering plant, but we were clearly in the minority on the subject. So,
I decided to write my own "Letter to the Editor." Naively, I thought that surely,
if the truth was clearly explained, people would understand their mistake. In
my letter, I compared the overblown rumors about the rendering plant to the rumors
about the "huge" snake that was never found and that kept getting bigger and bigger
as time and the story went on.
(Note to self: people don't like being told,
however gently, that they are mistaken.)
I did not expect the barrage
of criticism unleashed by my letter. Suddenly, the "Letters" page was expanded
and angry letters were published saying my snake metaphor was “perfect” and accurate...because...the
rendering plant, like the "Biblical" snake, was "evil." Good grief! I was also
getting attacks at the shelter and at home. The truth had shrunk to an unimportant
My husband and the City arranged a public meeting at
the high school auditorium to "explain" to people their mistaken ideas about the
plant. I stood at the back of the large auditorium while people yelled at the
owner of the plant, my husband, the Mayor and the City Manager.
fairly brave person but I was becoming worried about my family.
of the story is that the town elders bowed to the angry unreasonable element of
our town, the people yelling, and paid off the owner of the rendering plant, losing
in the process both jobs and future revenue for the city and county. Additionally,
people from her district even elected to the city council the woman who started
the whole thing. (Of course, in a very short time, those same people came to regret
their choice. ...we all did.)
My mother used to quote: "A man convinced
against his will is of the same opinion still." As with small town giant snakes
and demonized rendering plants, it seems people will believe what they want to
believe whether in religion, in politics or in fairy tales.
Shoe Horse, Don't They?" June
2 , 2013 Column
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