Brenda P. Dixey
The Barefoot Baby

 

The screaming was hauntingly loud. Not one a baby of 22 months can fake. It signaled agonizing pain and desperation. Rushing through the screen door, I saw Lucretia outside, bent over, grabbing her foot amid screams of terror. She was barefoot, as we all were during the summer on our forty-acre farm.

“What’s wrong? What happened? Are you hurt?” I yelled as I rapidly approached her. Heaving her up onto the hood of the car, I examined her, looking for scratches and cuts. I saw nothing, except two tiny punctures on her small, puffy foot. Looking down confirmed my worst fears. Lying on the ground at the bottom of the backdoor steps was a small, grayish snake—a  ground rattler, to be precise.  Not a big snake, maybe twelve to fifteen inches in length, but one whose bite could kill a child. I had no thought of my own safety, just that of Lucretia’s.

My mother rushed out the door. Her beautiful blue eyes turned gray with fury as she yelled at me, “Kill the snake!” I could not kill that snake. I don’t know why. I knew the snake had to be killed so that the doctor could verify the kind of snake that had bitten my sister.

“I can’t. I just can’t, Mama,” I sobbed.

“Well, if you can’t, then get out of the way. I can certainly kill it.” That’s when I realized I was standing on the snake and had been walking on and around it for the entire time.

Grabbing a large angled rock from the flower bed, Mama smashed the snake viciously. I was totally taken aback. My mouth gaped open as my body froze. Now mind you, I had seen her angry before. I had felt her wrath when I had done something wrong, and trust me, at thirteen I seemed to do everything wrong. But never had I seen this side of her.  Anger and fear collided, and an entirely different personality emerged.

Time slowed and rushed simultaneously. My father appeared from somewhere and put the snake in a container to take to the doctor.  Having lived on a farm and served as a medic in World War II, my father knew what to do—cut an X across the two puncture holes and suck out the venom.

“I know what to do but I can’t cut this baby,” Daddy said, and he shook his head, anguish written across his face. We all loaded up in the little black Renault and headed down the dirt road for a 35-mile ride to the nearest hospital in Port St. Joe.

As Daddy drove, honking the horn and flashing his lights, he saw the temperature gauge of the car move from normal to overheating. Still he drove as fast as the little car would take us. Lucretia quietly wept, I cried silently, and Mama prayed. She was a praying woman! As smoke escaped from under the hood, Daddy continued to drive. Finally, it stopped—the motor burned up. Here we sat with a baby whose discolored leg was swelling rapidly and no way to get her to the hospital. Hopelessness crept into our very souls as Daddy got out of the car, hoping to flag someone down to help us. Thank God for good people.

A car pulled in behind us. Our Good Samaritan had arrived. We loaded into this man’s car and continued, with grateful hearts, to the hospital. As we rushed in, the sleepy hospital in Port St. Joe came alive instantly.  Fifteen shots in twelve minutes before the leg became so hard a needle wouldn’t penetrate the skin. Would she live or not? No one knew. Only time would tell.

Thirty-eight years later the memory is seared in my brain, and I can remember it as if it were yesterday.  Life changed for me that day. I am terrified of snakes—live or dead—and so is Lucretia.