Eggs were very important in our large household. We needed every single one the hens could produce. Every evening someone collected the eggs laid that day by various yard hens (we always had at least a dozen hens) in several different nests. I remember well one of my experiences as the egg collector.
One late afternoon when Mamma called me to go bring the eggs in, I put her off. I was deep into a book (“Little Women” or “To Have and to Hold”) and I just had to read one more page. I lay on a bench by a western window unmindful of the fading light as Mamma called me again and again.
When I finally started out to do my job I realized it was almost dark. One hen laid her eggs in a cozy nest far back in the stable. I’d better go there first before it turned pitch black. But it was already dark when I entered the stable. The rhythmic munching of a cow finishing her hay comforted me only a little. I crept toward the back of the stable hoping not to step in anything slippery. As I reached down to pick up the egg I knew would be there my neck prickled. Something wasn’t right. Yes, it was dark. But, still, I should be able to see the egg’s white shape in the dark straw.
I drew in my breath and pulled my hand back. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that the nest was especially dark. It was black. There was a movement, a slithering movement. There was no doubt about it. A snake was coiled in the nest.
As I ran for the door I didn’t worry about stepping in a cow pile. I screamed as I dashed through the gate heading pell-mell for the house. I hadn’t even reached the top of the hill when I saw her coming. Mamma was armed with a hoe which she clicked against the rocky path like a shepherd’s staff. She had to have been on her way before she heard me screaming.
Mamma hated to kill anything. She even went to great pains to rescue spiders that rode in on a log and found themselves in the fire. But she picked that snake up on the crook of her hoe, hauled him out where there was still a little light, and chopped his head off.
Mamma was a lady of deep resolve. She expected her children to do the right thing but if we were disobedient she was always there for us anyway. And she didn’t hesitate to kill a snake who dared to swallow one of her precious eggs.