Shortly after I moved out into the sticks in fourth grade, I came home and my dad had a surprise for me. I went into the backyard and peered into a big garbage can where my surprise waited. At the bottom of the can a small snake, probably barely longer than foot, lay passively coiled up. Having been a city kid my entire life up to that point, the sight of a wild animal thrilled me. I was excited to have a snake as a pet, but I was scared to touch it at first. I poked at it with a stick, and it flared its neck like a cobra and hissed.
I went inside and looked in a book about North American animals to figure out what kind of snake it was, and whether or not it was dangerous. I quickly learned that it was a hognose snake, which might strike if threatened, but would keep its mouth closed and not actually bite. Armed with this knowledge, I went back outside and picked it up without fear. I had a new friend.
A few weeks later I came home and my neighbor, a girl my age, told me that her dad had caught another snake. We went into my backyard with her sister, my sister, and my brother, and peered into the same garbage can. This snake was several times larger than the first, and far more aggressive, sliding up the plastic walls of the can in a desperate attempt to escape. We poked at it with a stick and it would attack, prompting us to jump back in fearful jubilance. After a few minutes of this, my dad came outside and my neighbor's mulleted dad walked over to our backyard. It was time for the spectacle to begin.
The children were told to step back, and my dad picked up the garbage can and dumped the snake out onto the ground. My neighbor's dad immediately struck at the snake with the sharp edge of a shovel. The first blow seemed to cripple the snake, bending it in the wrong direction. The second cut it cleanly in half. Both halves writhed around briefly before fully expiring.
For a year or so, I bought their rationale for killing the animal. They had said that they really had no choice, that it was under my neighbor's porch terrorizing their family and that it posed a serious threat. When it dawned on me how absurd their reasoning was, I was angry. The snake could have easily been let loose in any part of the large wooded area that surrounded our houses, and it would not have returned. What I was told was nothing more than some tough guy's excuse for killing something. I confronted my dad about it, and he maintained that it was something that had to be done. I've wondered if he really believed that, or if he was just trying to rationalize his role in it, as he had made other statements demonstrating his distaste for wantonly killing things.