By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 25, 2018
The big yellow bus clattered down a dirt road, hitting every pothole along the way. Inside was Mrs. Taylor’s fifth-grade class from the elementary school I attended in southwest Miami. The thick heat blanketed the air, and the backs of my legs stuck to the cracking vinyl seat.
In the days before air-conditioning, the windows were rolled down, which meant the dust and grime of the outdoors was sucked into the bus, adding to the general feeling of wretchedness.
Mrs. Taylor, a thin, nervous woman with gray hair, sat in the front, ignoring what was going on behind her.
This was a wise idea, since mayhem was breaking out among her little charges, with some boys in the very back sticking their heads so far out the windows, I was sure they were in danger of beng decapitated.
We were on a field trip to a place I’d never, ever have visited on my own—the Miami Serpentarium, which featured, among other horrors, a 20-foot python.
I’d begged my mother to write me a note, saying I had the flu, the measles—anything—just as long as I didn’t have to visit a pit filled with writhing reptiles.
“The snakes will be in cages, and you’ll be safe,” she replied.
Still, I’d spent my earlier years in Catholic school and was well versed on what the snake represented in the Bible.
I reminded my mother that in the Garden of Eden, Satan disguised himself as a serpent for a good reason.
“He could have pretended to be a chipmunk,” I said earnestly, “but they’re too darn cute.”
To bolster my case, I pointed to a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on my dresser, which depicted her trampling firmly upon a snake.
I even quoted a verse where God said in no uncertain terms to the snake: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman.”
My mother, however, couldn’t be persuaded, so I soon found myself on the creaky, hot bus wending its way toward Satan’s paradise.
As Mrs. Taylor herded us off the bus, some of the boys began spinning out tales about snakes that had killed people in gruesome ways.
I said a few silent prayers and counted the hours until I’d be safely home again.
As we wandered down the path toward what was billed as a “venom-extracting” demonstration, I looked upwards and saw, much to my dismay, snakes hanging out of various trees that overhung the path.
“They’re not venomous,” our guide assured us cheerfully.
But for the rest of the day, I kept one eye on the trees for fear that a snake might suddenly fling itself in my direction.
Watching the man milk the snake for venom was, depending upon your perspective, either an amazing scientific demonstration or something that would stalk you in nightmares for the rest of your life.
“Gross!” I whispered under my breath to my friend. “Ugh,” she replied.
Mrs. Taylor shot us a stern look, but I noticed she looked somewhat pale during the demonstration and kept checking her watch.
Soon it was time for lunch, which consisted of rubbery hot dogs smeared with bright yellow mustard and lukewarm orange soda.
We ate on picnic tables situated beneath overhanging tree limbs, which meant my friend and I took turns watching for snakes.
I managed to escape unharmed without any serpents touching my body and eagerly boarded the bus for the ride home. We were all expected to write a report about what had most impressed us.
When the class read the essays aloud, my friend wrote that she’d always hated snakes until the field trip, and now she thought they’d make fine pets. I shot her an astonished look, but she just shrugged her shoulders.
Since I wanted to be truthful, I wrote about my deep distrust of serpents, which had begun when I first learned about the snake’s role in the Garden of Eden.
Wanting to soften the blow a bit for Mrs. Taylor, who had, after all, arranged the trip, I said I’d never before seen a man extract venom from a snake—and would never forget that scene.
To conclude, I admitted that the most wonderful moment of the day was arriving home with my life intact.
Maybe my sincerity touched a chord with Mrs. Taylor because, much to my surprise, she gave me a big smile and said, “Amen!”
Artwork (oil painting, “Eve”) by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.