The snake pushed me over the edge.
Before the snake appeared, I was already teetering on the edge—the edge of what? I wasn’t sure, but recent events had conspired against me. I felt overwhelmed and emotionally fragile, which is probably why that snake made me laugh—a shrill, hysterical laugh—as I clutched my weapon.
It all began two days earlier—no, the week before, actually, when Micah, my three-month-old son, came down with bronchiolitus. In August. That was the same week Jenica started first grade at Lighthouse Christian School, a thirty-minute drive from our house. Maybe other mothers can adjust tidily to the school schedule, and maybe other first graders can fit into their new world seamlessly, but not us. It was exciting, and it was terrible.
But I had peaches to pick up at Valley View Fruit Farm, ordered in a pre-school, pre-bronchiolitus fervor, and as I heaved the fragrant baskets into our garage, I considered my ways and found them unwise. What was I thinking, to order so many? Now I had to can them—I picked up a peach and tested its firmness—soon.
So, two days before the snake, I assembled canning supplies and peaches in my small kitchen. I consulted Home Joys on how much stevia to use in the syrup. “2 tsp. per gallon,” I wrote on a scrap of paper as Tarica, my preschooler, leaned on me, coughing. She was underfoot every day without her big sister to entertain her.
I started peeling peaches. Micah cried, hungry, wheezy. Tarica complained, bored, wheezy. The day stretched, endless, napless for this mother.
I hustled the children off to bed after lunch and tackled the peaches with desperate vigor. But before long, Tarica’s spasmodic coughing turned into violent retching, followed by a howl. I leaped for the stairs. Tarica sat in her bed, vomit covering her, the bed, the pillow. I abandoned the peaches for laundry duty and childcare.
Perhaps it was sometime in there, between the demands of a sick daughter and a nursing baby, that I made my mistake. Not that I noticed my miscalculation—oh, no, not at all. I forged relentlessly on with my canning. Late that evening, I pulled the last of fifty quarts out of the canner and collapsed into bed, ignoring the horrific mess of my kitchen. I would deal with it tomorrow.
In the morning light, my kitchen still looked like an unslayable dragon, but my heart was light. I had done it, all by myself, despite illness and a baby, despite weariness, and only two jars had not sealed. This lightness remained with me until that evening, when I pulled one of the unsealed jars out of the fridge for our supper. As I placed it on the table and sat down, Jenica asked, “Are those the peaches you put in my lunch today? Because they were way, way too sweet.”
We joined hands as a family and bowed our heads for prayer—but I forgot to pray. I was transfixed by Jenica’s words, and suddenly, I knew. I knew the irrevocable truth about my hard-earned peaches.
Prayer finished, I clasped my head in my freed hands and moaned. My family looked at me, alarmed. “I made a terrible mistake,” I said. “I put too much sweetener in the peaches yesterday.”
“How much is too much?” my husband asked.
“I was supposed to use two teaspoons of stevia per gallon. I just realized I used two teaspoons per quart. Four times too much. I can’t believe this.”
* * *
I still couldn’t believe it the following morning. The peaches were nearly inedible, with a strong stevia aftertaste. What was I going to do—can unsweetened peaches and serve them with the sweet ones? More canning? It was unthinkable, but throwing fifty quarts of peaches away was equally unthinkable.
I felt sick and distracted over my mistake, which is probably why I didn’t notice the snake until I was halfway across the living room, about the same time it noticed me. We froze, the snake and I, heads up, unblinking, eyeing each other across the five feet of space between us.
A harmless black snake, I thought, oh, so carefully rational under my surging adrenalin. A dangerous human, the snake thought and turned to flee. I followed it, unsure of what to do but determined to track it. The only thing worse than seeing a snake is knowing there’s one around here somewhere. To my horror, the snake sought refuge in the sacred ground of my kitchen.
As I watched the snake disappear beneath my refrigerator, I fought the urge to laugh hysterically. I raced for my broom and nearly hyperventilated when my foot rolled over a long black snake on the laundry floor. It flopped and I yelled, only to sag against the wall. Just the iron cord, Stephanie. Breathe. Breathe.
Heart racing, I established guard a safe distance from the fridge, broom held at the ready. I couldn’t just walk away and let the snake wander all over the house. Once, the snake slipped its head out of its cave, but seeing me, it retreated. The laughter bubbled up from the wild place inside me. It was all so strangely funny, the snake and I caught in this ridiculous standoff.
I waited. And waited. No snake. Micah cried. “Okay, snake, you win,” I said and yielded my culinary territory to the reptile. “I’m not coming back until you’re good and gone.”
But I was forced to give way to necessity: We have to eat. I never saw the snake again, although I think it of now and again, especially when Micah crawls over and pats my ankle while I’m washing dishes.
As for the peaches, well, I have about 40-odd jars of super-sweet ones out in the garage. They might still be around when Micah is old enough to go snake hunting.