Dear Jack: You Made a Real Cobra Head Necklace and Wore It to School… So Yeah, That’s Pretty Awesome.

7 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

Unlike Indiana Jones, you are clearly not afraid of snakes.

Last week, you found an old key chain I brought back as a souvenir from Thailand, when I was in college. I had bought it from this man who professionally hunted and skinned snakes. He used the leftover heads for key chains.

Realizing you could disconnect the crystal arrowhead necklace that you got at Ruby Falls during Spring Break, you then replaced the arrowhead with the snake head.

In your own initiative, you had created a cobra head necklace and decided to wear it to school.

As you were leaving that morning for school, I assured you that you’d be the only boy in America to wear a real cobra head necklace to school.

No, this story doesn’t end with me saying that your teacher told you not to wear it to school anymore. You totally got away with wearing the head of a poisonous snake to school.

You came home and bragged to me, “Daddy, on two people thought my cobra snake wasn’t real!”

Coincidentally, just a few days later on Sunday, I had put your sister down for her afternoon nap and decided to take you to play in the creek at Brenthaven in Franklin.

As we were walking across the bridge over the creek, you and I both noticed something we assumed was a rope that had surfaced on a rock, in the middle of the stream.

But as we made our way closer, I announced to you with both caution and joy, “Jack, that’s a real snake!”

I tossed a few pieces of mulch at it- but it never budged. Then I tossed some rocks at it- it still never budged.

Finally, I found a stick long enough to pick it up with. It was obvious the snake was not only dead, but it had been dead there overnight.

You pointed out to me that its tail looked like it had been chewed up. My theory is that a neighborhood dog found the snake and broke its neck by slinging it like a whip, then the snake crawled onto the rock to die.

Turns out, it was either a venomous Cottonmouth or a harmless Brown Watersnake.

But since it was definitely dead, I let you throw rocks at it. I’m pretty sure you’ll remember that day as a highlight of your boyhood.

So yeah, you’re not afraid of snakes.

Love,

Daddy

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Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

5 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack,

This past Saturday you and Papa and I had a genuinely great time at my Cousin Jessica’s wedding. It was a once in a lifetime experience you will never forget- I’m sure of it.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Back a couple of months ago when our family was driving back from Atlanta on our first family of road trip as a family of 4, we took a minor detour to go visit my grandparents on Papa’s side. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last time we saw PawPaw Shell on this Earth.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Just a few weeks later, he passed away. You and I attended his funeral as part of our father and son road trip; while Mommy and baby Holly were visiting family in California.

To honor his life, my cousin Jessica had her wedding at PawPaw Shell’s farm in Sale Creek, Tennessee.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

I had never once in my life seen PawPaw wearing anything other than a flannel shirt and a pair of overalls. Never pants, never jeans, never shorts- just overalls. He was even buried in his overalls.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Undeniably, PawPaw Shell was one of the most Southern men I ever knew.

Therefore, for my Cousin Jessica to have a wedding that also honored our grandfather… it had to be unapologetically country. So it was.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

For the music, Jessica’s step-dad pulled up his truck to the barn and rolled down the windows, so everyone could hear the music.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

After the wedding, everyone lined up for the meal, which consisted of potluck. As for Papa and me, we brought the vegan pasta salad that Nonna made. There was also some vegan chili there as well.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

I found a cinder block for you to sit on to eat the mac-and-cheese Nonna packed for you. Had we realized though, mac-and-cheese was actually already a menu item on the barn buffet.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

A popular place to sit during the meal was in the bed of one of the many pick-up trucks there.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

You enjoyed your wedding favor, which was a children’s duck call.

After the meal, we walked down to the pond to go fishing. You had never actually been “real fishing” before, so this was a really big deal for you.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

No one brought bait, so it was a matter of digging for worms and catching grasshoppers…

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

My Cousin Jessica’s son Breyan was able to catch 3 fish right in a row! That was especially amazing, since he explained to me it was his first time fishing.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Unfortunately, you didn’t have such luck. You didn’t catch your first fish, but we will surely try again.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake! w18

As we made our way back to the barn to get you a piece of wedding cake, we saw my Cousin Angie’s son with a ball python around his snake.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake! w20

He explained it was his pet that he’s had for a year and a half. I decided to hold the snake, as I don’t necessarily remember holding one before at any point in my life.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

You decided to pass on the opportunity, which surprised me, since we go to the Repticon reptile show every year.

After we left the wedding, Papa drove us by the famous Spaceship House on Signal Mountain. PawPaw Shell helped build it, back in 1973.

Dear Jack: It’s the Barn Wedding Where You Can Catch a Fish and Hold a Snake!

Though it all may seem like a dream to you now, I promise, it was all real. That all really happened! From the fishing to the snake to the UFO house!

Love,

Daddy

https://familyfriendlydaddyblog.com/2016-lexus-es-300h-father-son-road-trip/

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show (Repticon)

5 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Dear Jack,

A year and a half ago your Pre-K teacher at the time, Ms. Aimee, got you interested in live reptiles, as she had them as pets in her classroom. She also informed you of Repticon, the Reptile and Exotic Animal Show that comes to Nashville every year.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

So not only did we take you last year when you got Snakey, your giant red snake, but we also took this year as well. Actually, it was this past weekend.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

It was a family affair; even Baby Holly came along… even though she slept through the entire event.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

While you definitely loved seeing all the live animals, your main incentive to go is knowing that Mommy and I are going to buy you a stuffed animal souvenir. As a family, we went there knowing that was the main agenda.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Though you had been planning on buying a spider and naming her Charlotte, you ended up getting swept away by a giant poison dart frog who you named, of course, Froggy.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Next, as any stereotypical vegan/vegetarian family would do, we had lunch at Whole Foods. Needless to say, Froggy accompanied you.

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Fortunately, there happened to be a special on the sorbet (vegan) and gelato (vegetarian)…

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

The afternoon, you and I went to the movies for “boy time” as Mommy puts it. We decided to dress up in our matching tuxedo t-shirts.

Obviously, you took Froggy with us to the movies. After the show, as we were walking out of the room where our movie was show, a lady approached me:

“Excuse me, my granddaughters are dying to know where your son got that frog. Would you mind telling me where you found that?”

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Imagine that. You aren’t the only kid who that it would be cool to get a giant poison dart frog.

That night, you found a clear Tupperware container big enough to hold Froggy in, as you had seen the frogs at Repticon, and then attempted to place the whole thing in the bed with you.

But by the time I came to check on you later that night, you decided she was cozier to sleep with outside of her container.

I guess real poison dart frogs prefer a clear container, but the stuffed animal version prefers a soft bed and a young child.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Your Giant Poison Dart Frog from the Nashville Reptile Show

Dear Jack: Snakey Goes To Church/Proposal To Get A Pet Vulture

4 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack: Snakey Goes To Church/Proposal To Get A Pet Vulture

Dear Jack,

I would like to believe that at our church, everyone is welcome. That definitely was the case last Sunday when you brought Snakey to church.

You kept him in a blue bag you had received from having your 4th birthday party at Bricks 4 Kidz. Mommy carried you… and you carried Snakey.

I caught several people cracking smiles as they saw you in the hall with Snakey. It’s just not what most people were expecting at 8:00 AM on Sunday morning.

Dear Jack: Snakey Goes To Church/Proposal To Get A Pet Vulture

Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see your new reptile friend, as snakes typically don’t make an appearance at our church.

What made it great was how proud you were to introduce Snakey to everyone as we made our way through our shopping mall-sized church.

Dear Jack: Snakey Goes To Church/Proposal To Get A Pet Vulture

Of course, Snakey had to stay up on the shelf during the School School lesson, during which you made a craft about a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

As much as you love Snakey, you told Mommy in the car ride home from church that you wouldn’t want a real snake for a pet.

However, you offered up a reasonable alternative…

Dear Jack: Snakey Goes To Church/Proposal To Get A Pet Vulture

“Mommy, I could get a pet vulture. But we would have to let him out of the house during the day so he could fly around to find his own food.”

Ultimately, the only concern with keeping a vulture for a pet is apparently feeding it. But you also stated you wouldn’t want to keep your pet vulture in your room.

This might be a bit problematic if we are to consider getting you a pet vulture.

I think Snakey is a better pet though. You already explained to us that Snakey is a vegetarian snake. That makes him a lot easier to feed and a lot less trouble than a vulture you have to let out every day.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

4 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

Dear Jack,

Thanks to your teacher Ms. Aimee, you have a new found appreciation for reptiles and amphibians. She mentioned that the Repticon (a reptile convention) was coming to the Nashville area, so Mommy bought us tickets on Groupon.

So that’s where we were last Saturday morning. There were obviously all kinds of creepy crawlers to see there. You even got to pet an albino python!

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

Thanks to all 4 of your class pets at school, you weren’t afraid of any of the animals there… even if maybe you should have been!

But without a doubt, your favorite part of the Repticon was getting to buy your new friend, Snakey.

I had made you a deal earlier in the week that if you agreed to let me cut your hair that I would give you a $5 credit towards a toy at Repticon; as it would have cost nearly $15 for someone else to cut your hair.

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

You agreed. You matched that credit with $5 that already had and the rest is history.

By now, you have a pretty eclectic collection of stuffed animals. Snakey, the red snake, is definitely on the more bizarre end of the line-up; right up there with your anteater you got for Christmas.

Since last weekend, you have been asking Snakey questions throughout the day, waiting for Mommy to answer you (as Snakey) in a falsetto voice.

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

Snakey gets to sleep in your bed with you every night and is one of the few animals you have taken to school, back to back days.

I realize that one day you’ll grow out of this stage where your stuffed animals are your favorite toys and your best friends.

But for now, it’s actually a lot of fun for our family to live in the moment together… with Snakey and all his friends.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

Dear Jack: Our Visit To Repticon 2015 in Franklin, TN

A Storytelling of Snake Charmers (or Escapists)

Sometimes there’s no way to get around or over a problem; the only way to get past it is to just go through it.

This past Saturday my friend Tommy and I embarked on our second annual canoe trip on The Harpeth River in Nashville.  The same river that just a month ago flooded much of the western part of the city.  I would love to paint myself as this avid outdoorsman, compensating for the fact (as I’ve established before) that I’m no athlete.  But really, it’s just that I can’t turn down an activity with a friend that allows me to spend several hours breathing fresh air, getting sunburned (just my knees, very badly), and getting to see wildlife.

Especially one that I deem as a lazy adventure (Manspeak, Volume 8: Relaxation).  With the water being as high as it was, very little power was needed on our part to get the canoe moving.  Just basic steering away from rocks and into the best currents.  Like most male oriented social activities, canoeing  kept us from awkwardly facing each other the whole time (Manspeak, Volume 4: Stance).  And gave us something to do when there was nothing to say (which never really happened, because of our mutual love for Super Mario Bros. 2, McGee and Me, and fatherhood).

Two hours into our journey, after relatively no stress whatsoever, I had to do it.  I had to, in typical 1980’s sitcom fashion, speak a line of ironic foreshadowing: “This has been a really laid back trip.  No problems at all.”

Instantly, we look up and ahead.  Two trees had fallen from the flood; one from both sides of the river, blocking the entire length of passage, doubly.  But even in that moment, we didn’t realize that this puzzle ahead was more complicated than just getting past two fallen trees.

We decided the right side of the river promised the easiest and quickest clearance.  I had learned from our last trip that where there was thick, abundant, yellowish foam, it meant there was a decaying animal trapped alongside the river.  As we got closer to the foam, both of us smelled the corpse before we saw it.  A large dead fish, head and tail missing.  Still the size of the pillow you sleep on every night.  Meaning that passing through would ineviditably mean we would have to step in the water to lift the canoe over the fallen tree, we opted to check out the left side of the river blockage as to not get funky fish foam on our sunburning legs.

We steered to the canoe to the other side, seeing right way that the depth of blockage was even greater.  In our strategy forming minds, we both came up with our own idea of how to get through.  Tommy wanted us to stick to our original plan; to step in the water and lift the canoe over our heads and over the trees, then place it back in the water and hop back in the canoe.

I, however, saw a different means of escape.  Shaking the tree and its submerged limbs further in and out of the water, I came to the conclusion that if I crouched down low in the boat, Tommy could stand on the tree, pushing the canoe through the limbs as I helped keep them pushed down to make way for our path.

Tommy is an easy-going guy.  Or maybe it was my natural older brother demeanor, but I convinced him to do it my way.

And right as he said, “alright, let’s do this”, I replied with “Oh, there’s a snake right there!”

I picked my oar up, placing it on my shoulder like a rifle.  “Look five feet away from the end of my oar.  There’s a black snake wrapped around that branch.  He blends in almost perfectly.  His head is up, and he’s looking at us right now.”

It’s not that he didn’t believe me, it’s just that my head was in the way for a few minutes before he could finally see the thing.  And when he did, he jumped in to “crisis mode” with me.

Of course, a man in Crisis Mode is not a man who gets nervous or noticeably excited.  He is a man who speaks lower and slower as he attempts to play the situation in slo-mo, in order to figure out the best practical solution for the potentially dangerous and deadly problem.

After another five minutes (which seemed like 20) of deliberation, after realizing our wishes of killing the snake with a flame thrower were not part of reality (thanks a lot Contra), that we had to meet this problem head on, we went in to Action Mode, while of course, simultaneously remaining in Crisis Mode.

Keeping our eyes constantly scanning the weather, the bank (filled with a good amount of visible snake holes), and the canopy of tree branches over us for more snakes, we carefully lifted the canoe out of the water and over the fallen tree, sliding in the mud (he was wearing flip flops, I was wearing my ten-year old New Balance cross country running shoes), only to realize that once we set the canoe back into the water, another 12 feet ahead was another (this being the third) fallen tree blocking the entire width of the river.

The snake, now behind us, had slithered off of his resting (preying) place on the branch.  Was he in the water now?  Were his friends waiting up ahead of us?  We tried not to think about it.

We hoisted the canoe over the final tree.  The only way into our vehicular escape module was to hop down a few feet from the tree we were standing on at that point, which meant possibly tipping the boat over.  Thank God, we both landed it and got out of there as fast as we could.

The final hour of the trip involved a lot of head turning at every threat of another lethal animal.  We did end up seeing a doe that froze once it saw us.  I was convinced I would see a great beast out there, like a mountain lion or a blank panther.  Never happened though.

The thing is, I’m typically the last person to ever spot any kind of creature in wildlife.  And despite me being so close to the snake, I’m still amazed I spotted it.  We talked about the possible ending this story would have had if I wouldn’t have miraculously seen the snake.  I would have remained in the canoe as Tommy pushed us through, the snake would have been inches away from my nose- either biting my face and falling into the canoe with us.

When I bought my mountain bike back in April, the girl who sold it to me told me that when her brother was working at Bonnaroo last year, he got bit by a water moccasin.  He had to be airlifted to the hospital and given a $40,000 antidote.  Now he was to pay off that debt on a $30,000 a year salary.

But in that moment encountering the snake on the river, what else could we do?  We couldn’t go over or around the problem, we just had to man up and go through the problem.

Myself and Tommy back in 2008

Food Fast Companies Use Red And Yellow In Their Logos

Sometimes as an elementary school kid I would just simply luck out. An announcement would come over the brown loudspeaker in class to announce that in the afternoon in the auditorium we would be having a Snake Show. Maybe this is just a northern Alabama thing, I don’t know. But what I do know is the entire school got to skip Social Studies once a year to see The Snake Man share his crazy collection of snakes onstage.

Cobras, water moccasins, racers, and even a giant anaconda which he let a group of volunteers hold in a group effort. Every once in a while, he would purposely (“accidently”) let a snake slither off the display table onto the stage of the floor. And whenever that happened, a piercing scream filled the non air conditioned room as many of the girls (and boys) yelled in terror at the top of their lungs.

The Snake Man defined what it meant to have a backwoods country Southern accent, like the kind State Troopers have in Virginia. He had these old fashioned jokes that he thought were hilarious. And by the 4th grade, I had memorized his routine. When he pulled out the albino rattlesnake, he would always say: “The reason this snake is white is because of lack of pigment in his genes. Now I don’t mean blue jeans…” At the end of the show, he gave us all some tips on how to know which snakes were poisonous and which were not. And I will never forget this:

“Red and black, you can pet his back. Red and yella, will kill a fella.”

After the days of Snake Shows were done, I was part of DECA, a Marketing class and club in high school. I loved it. I was actually good at it. We had competitions and got to travel. In the class I learned some neat behind-the-scenes stuff about advertising. One of the things was this: Fast food restaurants usually only use two colors for their signs: Red and yellow.

A quick Wikipedia search of some of the meanings of these colors is interesting. Red: exit, energy, passion, love. Yellow: Slow, fun, happiness, friendship, hope. A person is driving along, sees the red and yellow sign, and subconsciously thinks, “I need to SLOW down and EXIT here, because I have a PASSIONATE LOVE for that food. It brings me HAPPINESS and HOPE, not to mention ENERGY. And Ronald McDonald is my FRIEND.”

It’s hard to find an exception to the red and yellow fast food sign rule. McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardees (Carl’s Jr.), Krystal, Sonic, In-N-Out Burger, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Wendy’s, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Bojangle’s. A Google image search will cease any doubts.

Red and yella will kill a fella. Applies to snakes and food.