This really happened. I’m not exaggerating and whatever quotes I make are exactly as I remember them.
A dry Arkansas summer hadn’t yet given up the ghost as my fifth-grade year of school headed into late September. My class and I, along with the two classes below us, were enjoying recess without enough testosterone in our bodies to make us think twice about the sweat that caused our tee shirts to stick to our skin.
My friend Matt and I were headed over toward one of the trees on the playground. I don’t remember what we were doing but it probably had something to do with a fort made of sticks and briers or hunting some sort of reptile. He and I had a reputation for not fearing the creepy crawlies so when we heard a girl’s scream followed by, “Snake!” we ran over to get a look.
Our principal, Mr. Cagley, had come outside to help the teachers on recess duty that day and he had positioned himself between the growing crowd of students and the suspect – a copper colored snake that had the accompanying swollen cheeks to give away it’s identity as an extremely venomous copper head.
Mr. Cagley looked around the group of students and then called out, “Matt, Lee are you here?” We stepped forward, chomping at the bit to have some involvement with the snake. It was at that moment that Mr. Cagley held his arms out and backed himself and the other students away from Matt and me before loudly saying, “The Bible says that men are supposed to protect women, so boys, go kill that snake!” By “boys” he was referring solely to Matt and me and we were the only “men” who went forward to protect anyone that day.
I slammed a big rock on the snake’s copper head and Matt jumped on top of it. We took turns jumping on the rock until we were sure the snake was dead and then presented our kill to Mr. Cagley. Once he determined that his prepubescent assassins had neutralized the threat, he allowed all students to return to the remaining minutes of recess.
The ants came during the night and picked the snake clean until only bones and fangs remained. It was wicked awesome! Something drug the skeleton away and most of the playground patrons soon lost memory of that fateful day. It was shortly thereafter that Mr. Cagley forced Matt and me to integrate our boys-only playground club. Seems like Jennifer was the first girl to join up since she thought reptile hunting was fun for a few days. She later became Miss. Arkansas. I’m pretty sure Lori was a quick joiner as well since she road horses growing up and liked the outdoors. Do you two remember this?
And what of Mr. Cagley? Well if the event I described had happened in the present day, he would have probably been fired. The papers would have had a field day with making up titles to paint him as crazy and unfit for principal duties. And parents would have gossip material stockpiled for weeks as they repeated phrases like, “I can’t imagine,” and “those poor boys.” But that’s not what happened. I told my parents that Matt and I had killed a copper head at school at the direction of Mr. Cagley. Seems like that didn’t get much of a reaction beyond a pushed out lower lip and head nodding. Maybe they thought I was “using my imagination.” Or maybe the world of that day figured two ten-year old boys were quicker and more flexible than a principal in his fifties and therefore, more qualified to protect the playground. Whatever they thought, it just wasn’t that big of a deal.
I remember (and have forgotten) many times at age eight riding my bike miles from my house on the air force base where we lived and taking my five-year old brother with me. Even my mother, who was overprotective as best I could tell, seemed cool with that. And we didn’t even think about wearing helmets! We would have laughed at any kid who dared put one of those goofy looking things on his head (though I’m convinced that I might have avoided a couple of emergency room visits for stitches and ice if I had worn one).
Contrast that with my two sons who I hardly even let go out in our yard without being under a watchful eye. That makes me feel kind of sorry for them because I had a lot of great adventures as a boy. Even though I wouldn’t think of sending my son to kill a copper head at that age, I’m glad Mr. Cagley sent Matt and me into battle against that poisonous pest. He was a great principal who I know cared deeply about the students. And if he hadn’t sent me to slay that serpent I might not be the manly beast that I am today.
Plus I have this really cool story to blog about on my way to south Alabama. Thanks Mr. Cagley!