A Short History of Hoods & Hoes in the Ozarks

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A Harmless Eastern Hognose Snake along the Katy Trail Near Jefferson City, Mo.

I was on my way to breakfast at Hyvee the other morning when I ran into a friend selling peanuts to benefit the Lion’s Club.  She made a request of me.  It had nothing to do with peanut sales.

“Quit posting pictures of snakes on Facebook!” she said emphatically.

Actually, the picture that raised her ire was posted 4 years ago and then recently reposted as a “memory” at Facebook’s suggestion.

Snakes fall into that category of things that I was scared of or disliked when I was younger, but that I now like or at least appreciate the benefit they provide.  Spinach and asparagus and Donald Trump also fall into that group.

The picture to which she referred was of an Eastern Hognose snake I encountered along the Katy Trail. It looks like a cobra but is actually the Barney Fife of the snake world.  When it feels threatened, it rears its head and does its best impression of a cobra.  If the threat continues, it will fake a seizure, throw up, poop or play dead.  Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I would have done if it had struck at my leg while I was taking its picture.

While the Eastern Hognose (aka “Spreadhead”) snake is harmless, in 1953 my hometown of Springfield, Mo. made snake headlines nationwide when a more lethal snake suddenly started showing up on lawns and in vacant lots.  It started when a resident used a garden hoe to kill a hooded Indian cobra they discovered in their front yard.  Then five more hooded cobras were dispatched with garden hoes the weapon of choice.  One was shot 5 times  but had to be finished off with a hoe.

Nervous residents watched their step.  Snake posse’s were formed to search for more cobras.

Springfield Cobra Hunt 1
Picture of a “Springfield Snake Posse” that appeared in LIFE magazine on Sept. 28, 1953.  How would you like to be the guys assigned to inspect the drain pipe?

Eleven cobras were eventually killed or captured in Springfield.  One still resides in Springfield.  It is preserved in a jar at the Drury University Science Center.

Suspicion on how cobra’s ended up slithering around Springfield centered on a pet store owned by Reo Mowrer near where the cobra’s began turning up.  Mowrer went to his grave in 1970 denying involvement in the appearance of the cobra’s.

In 1988, another suspect came to public attention.  Springfield resident Carl Barnett confessed to columnist Mike O”Brien of the Springfield News-Leader “I’m the one that done it.”

At age 14, Carl explained, he had bought an exotic fish from Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop.  When the fish died within 24 hours, Carl received an unsatisfactory customer service experience when he complained to Mr. Mowrer about the lack of longevity of the fish he purchased..

Per Carl, Mr. Mowrer responded “That’s tough, kid!  Get lost!”

Since complaining on social media was still decades in the future, Mr. Barnett did the next best thing.  He secretly opened a crate of what he said he thought were harmless snakes he found behind Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop and set them free.  When he realized what he had done after cobras started showing up in the area, he said he lived in fear that someone would find out he was responsible for the next 35 years.  He finally confessed when he was sure the statute of limitations had expired for his foolish act.

I tried unsuccessfully to find out if Mr. Barnett is still alive.  If he was 14 in 1953, he would be around 80 today.  If you know Carl Barnett, let me know.  35 years of living in fear is a high price to pay for a dead fish.

The lessons to be learned from this story?

  1.  Don’t leave your box of venomous hooded Indian cobras where others can get to them.
  2.  JUST REPLACE THE DANG FISH!
  3.  In a skirmish between a dangerous snake and an Ozarker with a hoe, bet on the hoe.
  4. It is not possible to eliminate selfies, fake friend requests or snake pics from Facebook.   You may not like it, but as Reo would advise, “That’s tough. kid!  Get lost!”
Hooded Cobra
Hooded Indian Cobra – NOT harmless, and not typically found in the Ozarks
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Reo Mowrer as pictured in the September 28, 1953 issue of LIFE magazine

The front & back cover of the September 28, 1953 Life magazine featuring  the article “An Ozark Town Hunts Cobras”.  Life and Luckies had a good run, but are both now pretty much history in the United States.

That Great, Gettin’ Up Morning

In my humble opinion, the 1989 Civil War movie Glory contains one of the greatest movie scenes ever filmed.  The men of the 54th Regiment, an African-American regiment, are gathered around a campfire contemplating the next days battle.

One of the soldiers is portrayed by Morgan Freeman.  The gist of the speech he gave has stuck with me for the past 30 years.

“If tomorrow is our great gettin’ up mornin’, if tomorrow we have to meet the Judgement Day . . . let our folks know we went down standin’ up!”

Those words were in my mind the night before two neighbors and I planned to scale three tiers of scaffolding and re-attach a 50-lb chandelier to a 21-foot ceiling.  For good measure we planned to replace two 25-year-old ceiling fans and add a new beam at the same time.  Though that was pretty much routine for my neighbors, I was nervous enough for all three of us.

Thus my flashback to the inspirational scene from Glory and my own personal recreation of the campfire prayer meeting the night before our attempt.

If you have five minutes, sit back, watch this video clip, and reflect on the bravery of the men of the 54th Regiment.

My neighbors arrived at 8 am sharp.

 

 

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(l-r) Skilled Craftsmen Tom & Bill with their Apprentice – Me

:IMG_2847Here is proof I helped.  That me in the middle.  Though I am supposed to be holding up the beam so it can be firmly secured by Tom & Bill, I appear to be holding on instead.

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The moment of truth as the rewired chandelier is gently guided back to its original perch.  My wife, Val, is taking the pictures.

When the fixture was firmly in place, it was time for the moment of truth.

We held our breath as the switch was flipped to turn on the 24 twinkling lights.

Nothing happened.

“Turn the dimmer switch up” suggested my wife.

Voila!

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Let There Be Light!

12 hours shy of three weeks since the fixture fell, it was back in place.

Thank God & Tom & Bill!  It turned out to be the chandelier’s great gettin’ up morning (afternoon, actually, by then) instead of mine.

Though the large fixture is now, I guess you could say, “well hung”, the grandkids, who used to sit under the light doing homework or coloring, now make sure now to avoid what turned out to be ground zero when the light came crashing down.

 

 

 

 

Things That Go Bump in the Night

On January 1, 1972, I began keeping a journal.  That was the year I planned to graduate from college,  get married, start a career and finish my six year obligation in the Army National Guard.  On the cover of my journal I inscribed my favorite Scottish prayer.

Ghoulies & Ghosties
Front cover of my Journal from New Years Day, 1972

I accomplished all of my goals for 1972.  AND – I’ve been really fortunate in the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties area since then.

But at 4:30 am on March 5, 2019, I took a hit in the “things that go bump in the night” category.  That was when my wife woke me from a sound sleep with the words “The chandelier fell off the ceiling!”

To which I alertly responded “HUH?”

She had been awakened by a rather large “bump in the night”.  When she went to investigate, she discovered the large chandelier that had been suspended from the 21-foot ceiling in our great room for the past 25 years was now residing on the floor of our great room.

Scaffold on ground
A Pretty Big Thing That Went Bump in the Night

The chandelier in question had been hanging from the ceiling of our home for approximately 219,000 hours (3,140,000 minutes)  when it succumbed to the law of gravity.   That’s a long time.  Maybe I’m overly demanding, but I still expected better.

It’s not the first time this large lighting fixture has been a source of trouble.  When we bought our home in 1998, the original owners (who had designed and built the home) were in the midst of a divorce.

“My wife spent our entire lighting allowance on that chandelier” lamented the husband.

As often happens in life, our calamity was caused when something little went awry  resulting in a chain reaction with disastrous results.

In this case, an apparently “too small” or “too weak” piece of metal that had been supporting the weight all these years suddenly snapped in half.  That left only a hanging electrical cord with frayed ends and a large void where once had hung a 50 lb chandelier sporting 24 twinkling lights.

Pictured above are the hanger that broke and the frayed cord where our chandelier once hung

Though I don’t recommend this as a way to start your day, looking on the bright side there are two things I’m  thankful for in the aftermath of the chandelier that waited for spring to fall:

  1.  No one was injured (or worse).  Our grandkids often use the coffee table beneath that light to color and do crafts; and
  2. When something like this happens at 4:30 am, you are almost guaranteed that your day has to get better from there.

Now for the challenging part – reattaching the chandelier to the ceiling.   I have put together a crack construction team of three:  two guys who know what they are doing and me.  The combined age of my team is just shy of 210 years.

What could possibly go wrong?

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First Step:  Assemble the scaffold.                                                                   Second Step:  Assemble the courage to climb the scaffold

Though I get little nervous standing on top of a 16-foot-tall platform that sways under my feet, I am a proponent of the philosophy “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain!”

Tomorrow I will put that philosophy to the test.

Worst case scenario, I won’t have to be concerned about “ghosties” any more.

I’ll be one.

If there is a next blog, I intend to title it “That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”.

If no more blogs are forthcoming, contact my wife if you are interested in buying a used chandelier.  CHEAP!

 

“From Turn Three to Eternity” Revisited

Note:  I originally wrote this blog on May 27, 2012.  It has been floating around in cyberspace since then.  Earlier this week I got an email regarding the original blog with a very interesting development.  Here is the original blog.  I will continue this story with a fascinating update very soon.

First, the original blog:

Jimmy Reece pic
Jimmy Reece

Sunday, May 27, 2012 will be a big day for racing fans.  The Indy 500 kicks off at 11 AM in Indianapolis, followed by the Coca Cola 600 at 6 PM in Charlotte.  Though I have never been a huge racing fan, my wife uncovered some family history tied to the Indy 500.  One of my grandfather’s cousins was a race car driver back in the 1950’s.  Here is what she found:

“Jimmy Reece was a 6 time veteran of the Indianapolis 500, with Top Ten finishes in 1952, 1956 and 1958. While operating a home video camera, Reece captured 1955 Indianapolis 500 winner Bob Sweikert’s fatal accident at the Salem (IN) Speedway on June 17. 1956. During a multi-car accident in turn three on the first lap of the 1958 500-mile classic, Reece was struck by Bob Veith, causing his car to spin in front of popular Pat O’Connor, who catapulted over Reece, flipped and was killed. Jimmy Reece reportedly held himself responsible for O’Connor’s death due to his braking maneuver during the accident. This may have played a role in his death later that year during a championship car race at the Trenton (NJ) Speedway. Reece was dueling Johnny Thomson for second place on the last lap and got into an awkward position in a turn. Some feel that rather than braking and possibly putting Thomson at risk, Reece did not hit his brakes hard enough, if at all.  As a result, he plowed through a barrier and flew through the air to his death, landing over 50 feet from his badly damaged car.”

He was 29.

Based on the picture above, it’s not hard to see how a driver could die in an accident driving 145 mph in an “open wheel” car with virtually no safety devices.  In fact, of the 33 drivers in the 1955 Indy 500, 17 subsequently died behind the wheel of a race car.  Jimmy Reece was among that number.

I found it interesting that Jimmy Reece had a movie camera back in the 50’s.  And that he operated it behind the wheel of his race car.  I can only imagine what his race movies must be like, filming cars traveling 145 miles per hour from behind the wheel of a car going 145 mph.  As proficient as my wife is becoming at genealogical detective work, I expect to be seeing those movies before too long.

I wonder if Dramamine comes in Industrial strength?

TO BE CONTINUED:

Jimmy Reece gravesite
Jimmy Reece gravesite in Oklahoma City

SUN NIN FY LOK!!!

 

Lunar New Year 2019

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog, it means “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” in Cantonese.  February 5, 2019 is New Year’s Day on the Chinese calendar.  It is the year of the Pig.

I was born in the year of the Rat, as was my first grandson.  My wife was born in the year of the rabbit.  According to the Chinese, rats and rabbits are not compatible.  That, I’m certain, is why upon learning of my intention to marry her daughter, my future wife’s mother advised her “DO NOT MARRY THAT RAT!”

That’s why I didn’t take it personally.

Today my wife and I had carry-out Chinese food to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  I was instructed by my bride to “Get some long noodles!  They signify long life to the Chinese”.  To the Chinese at Stir Fry 88, they signify a $3.25 additional charge.  A small price to pay for long life, I suppose.

Our meal included fortune cookies.  Opening the fortune cookie is one of my favorite rituals of eating Chinese food.  Fortunes can range from optimistic (and boring) like my wife’s “You will be selected for a promotion because of your accomplishments”, to complimentary, like mine – “You are sociable and entertaining”.  My favorites are the funny and/or honest ones.

Here are a few of my favorites in that category:

If you have a difficult task, give it to a lazy person.  They will find an easy way to do it.

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you will have to catch up.

Whenever anyone says “theoretically”, they mean “not really”.

Anyone who uses the phrase “easy as taking candy from a baby” has never tried taking candy from a baby.

Nothing is impossible as long as you are not the one that has to do it.

Help!  I am being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery!!

Confucius says you suck!

Happiness and success rightly elude you.

Appearances can be deceiving, but you are not fooling anyone.

I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.

Bite me!

Only a fool would look to a cookie for words of wisdom.  And, finally,

That wasn’t chicken!

In closing, 我希望你有一个快乐和无压力的新年!(translation: I hope you have a happy and stress-free New Year!)

Funny Fortune cookie

Home of the Sunset* (*Sunset not Guaranteed – Your results may differ)

Promptly at 7:30 am yesterday my wife and I climbed aboard a 45-foot long tour bus.

Destination – Key West

We were greeted by Tour Guide Felipe and driver Ivy.  We took our assigned seats in Row 3 and headed south.  4+ hours later we climbed off the bus after having been given thorough instructions on things to do and the importance of returning to the bus no later than 7 pm.   I marked our location on Google maps – 813 Caroline St.

As we were getting our bearings, we were startled by a nearby rooster crowing.  Throughout the day, we shared the sidewalk with chickens, tourists & Key West residents of every size, shape & description.  According to the FloridaRambler.com, like Key West residents themselves, the chickens are “historic, colorful, sort of wild, a little noisy and occasionally annoying.”

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Key West chickens on patrol

First stop – Pepe’s Cafe.  The oldest of nearly 500 restaurants, Pepe’s opened in 1909.  A sign out front advertised “NOW OPEN UNDER OLD MANAGEMENT”.  The service was a little grumpy.

Me:  Could you repeat the specials?

Waitress:  All of them???!!!

Me:  How much is the scallop salad?

Waitress:  I don’t know.  Probably about $14  (Note:  On our bill it was $16.50)

On the bright side, the food was great.  And if I have to choose between good service or good food, I’ll take good food every time.

After lunch we walked Duval Street, advertised as the “longest street in the world.”  At 1.25 miles in length, it is not actually the longest street in the world, but it is the only street in the world that allows you to walk from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

Located in Key West’s historic “Old Town”, Duval Street has lots of ways to take your money.  My wife found a Key West Pandora charm for her bracelet at a nice store named Artisans.  The charm had Key West and a picture of a rooster on it.  Allysa, the lady that helped us was extremely nice.  My wife likes to buy a charm to add to her bracelet each time we travel.  Going on 47 years of marriage, the bracelet is getting heavy enough that her left arm that sports the bracelet is approximately twice the size of her right.  Note:  If she gets mad at you, watch out for her left hook!

Upon reaching the Atlantic Ocean, we stopped at the marker for the “Southernmost Point in the United States.”  At that point you are closer to Cuba than you are to a Walmart.

Circling back toward the Gulf of Mexico on Whitehead St., we passed the haunts of former Famous Key West celebrities Harry Truman and Ernest Hemmingway on our walk to Sunset Pier.

As we arrived at the pier and took a seat, a great band was playing the old Johnny Cash hit “One Piece at a Time.”

Though the day had been mostly overcast, when we arrived at Sunset Pier the sun was visible on the western horizon, framed by the sails of those who prefer to watch the sunset from the water.

key west sunset pier
An “Almost” Sunset from Sunset Pier.

After the sun disappeared,  I clicked on my iPhone GPS and we headed to where we were to board our bus back to Fort Lauderdale.

After a great day in Key West, tour guide Felipe did a headcount to make sure everyone in our group had made it back.  He then darkened the interior lights and our driver Ivy began our 4 1/2 hour trip north.

Key West residents sometimes refer to their home as “the smart end of Highway 1”.  With wintry blasts hitting the northeast and the temperature a balmy 75 degrees in Key West, I tend to agree.

Except when unwelcome visitors like Hurricane Irma come to town.

 

 

 

Just Me and the Man ‘o War on Shore

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I awoke this morning to the sound of the wind and the surf pounding the beach outside the sliding glass door to our  balcony.  Not unusual, but the sound is usually a lot more muted on the 17th floor.  Even though the temperature was 70 degrees at 7 am, the gale force winds made it seem chillier.

I don’t expect any sympathy from my friends & family back in Missouri.

When I made it down to the beach in the afternoon, the lifeguard stations were sporting TWO warning flags that tend to discourage beachgoers.  First was a red flag indicating a significant danger from the water itself – a strong current that might carry swimmers out to sea.

There was also a purple flag.  That one was new to me.  Not any more.  A purple flag indicates a clear and present danger from marine life.

Like sharks.

On our third day in Florida my wife and I and our friends from Osceola, Mo. attended a short seminar on how to LIVE LIKE A LOCAL.  Before it started, we were gazing into the clear blue waters along the shoreline from the meeting room on the roof of the hotel.  There was a single swimmer in the water.  Not far from the swimmer we saw a large, dark shadow moving purposefully toward the unsuspecting swimmer.  I thought we might witness a “How to get eaten like a local” moment.  As the swimmer spotted the shadow moving toward him, he began to move purposefully in the OTHER direction.  The shadow didn’t follow.  We suspect it was a harmless manatee, aka “Sea Cow”.

During my walk I discovered the reason for the purple flag.  Washed ashore by the heavy surf were dozens of Portuguese man-of-war.

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One of Many Portuguese Man-of-War I found washed ashore on Fort Lauderdale Beach

According to Wikipedia, ‘the long tentacles of the man-of-war can deliver a painful sting which is venomous and powerful enough to kill fish or, rarely, humans”.  The article said the sting is excruciatingly painful and that even a dead man-of-war on the beach can deliver a sting.

I enjoyed my barefoot walk along the beach despite the red & purple flags hoisted at the lifeguard stations.  The wind was greatly stirring the waves which made them even more beautiful and the Portugese intruders stranded on the beach were a lot easier to spot and avoid on land than in the water.

The only thing that has caused me bodily harm on this trip has been a rogue chihuahua.

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Just me and the Portuguese Man-of-Wars (and a lot of sea weed) on the beach