Fern Ridge Review
Sweet Lorane Community News
June 11, 2020
By Pat Edwards
Life has been so serious lately and my columns have reflected that, but I’ve been saving a fun little story to tell you when the time is right. I’m thinkin’ that now is a good time.
For several years now, on Memorial Day, Jim and I have followed the lead of our son, Rob, who makes the rounds of six cemeteries to decorate the graves of our family members around Lane County—several of whom are veterans. One, Jim’s nephew, Donny Stewart, died while on a training mission with the U.S. Army in Europe in 1986. He lies at the foot of the flag in the military memorial area of the Springfield Memorial Gardens.
This year, Jim and I headed out a day early to clean up the graves of my mother and my great-grandfather, James Bolin Smith Jr., and the memorial plaque commemorating my father that are in place in McCulloch’s Cemetery on Briggs Hill Road. It’s a beautiful little rural cemetery sitting on a hill, overlooking beautiful vineyards on all sides. Mama chose it as her final resting place when she lived with us during her last year—her 96th year—of life.
The cemetery is kept mowed, but we try to dig out the weeds around her headstone, sweep it off and leave flowers that are blooming in our yard on special occasions. This year, we picked some of the pink rhododendrons that were in bloom to put on their headstones.
A lot of mown weeds had grown up right next to the cement headstone holding her bronze memorial plaque, so while Jim watched, I began digging them out, leaving a clean border. I hadn’t even gotten one side done, however, when all of a sudden, Jim said, “Look!”
There, on the portion of the headstone opposite of where I was working, curled up and hissing, was a very angry baby gopher snake. Now, let me explain… I am no fan of snakes. I don’t kill them, because our local varieties are beneficial in helping to keep voles and gopher populations down and I have never been one to indiscriminately kill anything. But they have always scared me when they appear suddenly. This little guy, though, was only about as big around as a pencil, but I didn’t want him coming any closer to me. Jim used the tip of his cane to try to get him to move along, but he was not about to move. I watched him as he sat curled on top of Mama’s headstone—and he watched me closely, as I continued to work on my side of it while he apparently guarded it.
Eventually, my little friend slowly crawled off the side of the stone and disappeared into the lawn. I took a break to get my cell phone out of the car to take a picture of the headstone when I had finished while Jim found a bench in the shade to sit on. I then continued digging out weeds, finishing up the side I had been doing and working my way around the bottom until I reached the opposite side from where I had started. As I inserted my trowel, suddenly there was a quick movement and our little friend emerged from under the headstone and repositioned himself once again on top of it, glaring at me for all he was worth. I could tell he was not going anywhere at the moment, so I took a few pictures of him as he continued to “pose,” and then moved to the other side to work across the last edge—the top edge of the cement. He stayed there watching me for several minutes before he slowly uncurled and began to make his way off of the plaque. I gingerly finished, expecting to see my little friend reappear, but he never did.
Jim and I both felt a kinship to the little guy. It was as though he had set himself up as Mama’s guardian angel and he was there to protect her grave.
I had a good laugh as we headed home, wondering what Mama would have thought if she knew her guardian angel would be a snake. She didn’t like snakes any more than I do, but in this case, I think that she’d have gotten a good laugh about it, too.
I just hope that our little friend has gone on to protect someone else’s grave as he grows to adulthood, though. I’m not sure I would think it was so funny if, the next time I go, I’m greeted by a full grown version of him.