I’ve written about our house in Sinking Valley before – how we had a brook, a cave, a baseball field, lots of land …
And lots of snakes.
Yep – lots of snakes.
We had water snakes in our brook. They could bite you, but they weren’t poisonous and if you left them alone, they left you alone.
We had black snakes – especially one bigger one who lived under my catalpa-tree swing. Black snakes were good – they ate pesky rodents and left humans alone. So my parents let him live there and he became our friend.
But then there were the rattlesnakes and copperheads. They were the two poisonous snakes and they were ones you didn’t want to meet in tall grass or under a rock. Dad taught me how to navigate the grass by kicking it before putting my foot down or how to avoid picking up logs or rocks without being sure nothing was under them.
Truthfully, the four years we owned the PA house, we never saw a rattlesnake or copperhead (although my mom got bit by a copperhead at camp and was in the hospital for a week.)
But we did see water snakes … and of course had our friendly blacksnake.
My friend however, had a different experience. Her family lived down the road from us and one morning my friend woke up to find a rattlesnake under her bed. Seriously. She did what any normal girl would do – she screamed. Her older brothers (fortunately she had lot of them) came running and quickly turned the hissing snake into rattlesnake meat.
But I was shook down to my country-girl barefeet. I did NOT want to find a rattlesnake under my bed.
So that night I ended my prayer with “And Lord, please don’t let me find a rattlesnake when I wake up in the morning.”
And I prayed it the night after that, too.
And the one after that.
“Lord, I pray for Dad and Mom and for my brother and please don’t let any rattlesnakes be under my bed in the morning.”
Ok. That’s easy to understand. What little kid wants to dream of snakes under her bed?
Then we moved … away from the Pennsylvania mountains to the Chicago suburbs. We lived on a main street, across from the church and down the block from the school. Not too far from O’Hare Field, we would hear the planes zoom overhead. Houses and people everywhere you looked and no tall grass or threatening rocks in sight.
No one told us to watch out for snakes.
But hey – I still prayed. “Lord, help all the missionaries all over the world and help me do well on my science test and please help there be no rattlesnakes under my bed when I wake up tomorrow.”
And on and on it went.
I don’t know how old I was when I stopped praying for rattlesnakes, but I’m guessing I was at least 13. Kind of embarrassing.
And that’s the vain repetition part. Empty words that mean nothing – they just take up air space.
I knew there weren’t rattlesnakes populating the suburbs or the runways, but I still felt a superstitious need to pray about them.