We pulled across the decrepit railroad tracks and spied the place.
A long, low factory-type building was snugged into the side of a slope, allowing for a basement level. It's crumbling foundation, overgrown surrounds and abandoned air put me on alert. Snakey, my mind said, ever on the watch for my (mostly-phantom) fear.
"Snakey, for sure." I informed Rick, in case he had missed the beginning of an enhanced beat to my pulse.
We introduced ourselves and the builder rumbled up the large metal door and we stepped into the old shop. We perused doors and sidelights, and selected styles we liked. The builder chatted, and we kept an eye out for our kids running around in the field nearby. The girls ran in, shouting about Cole, and how he was scaring them with the idea of snakes. Smart kid, I thought. He noticed too. But I stepped to the door and called out "Stop scaring the kids, any snakes around here are asleep for the winter." There. Nicely adult and good job squelching the fear.
The builder's head spun toward me at the mention of snakes. He smiled and said he had been selling doors out of the place for 15 years or so, and that in times past the building was a tannery. The railroad tracks, ten steps from the door, serviced the trains bringing in cowhides from Texas.
"Yeah, back in those days, with the cowhides around, there was a serious rat problem. So, the owner of the mansion just up the hill started breeding king snakes, to take care of the rats."
I started eyeing the worn floor boards, and hidden, dusty corners around me. He must have seen some concern on my face, because he reassured me that the snakes would indeed be hibernating. My inner dialogue kicked into overdrive. It's the first cold snap, really. It's been in the fifties, and never below freezing at night, until this week. What about a late bloomer? A snake that didn't think quite right? Oh crap. I really don't like this.
The builder began to speak again:
"I've caught about 15 king snakes in this building (crapcrapcrapCRAP! I knew it!), and I just take them up to my farm in the mountains. Haven't seen a rat up there in 16 years."
I smiled knowingly, and told him about my Mom and her resident king snake. Surely I implied what a seen-it-all country chick I was, and how the mere idea of a 5 foot snake couldn't throw me off balance. Surely.
We took pictures of the doors we liked best, and made our way outside. I watched the kids pull an old tire out of the brush, and begin to roll it down the hill. "Can we take this home?!" Jadyn called out, "It's so cool!" I chuckled and shook my head. The builder grinned and said he had eight kids at home. (Eight kids and willingly migrated 15 snakes? What kind of man ARE you? Moreover, what sort of person is your wife?)
We talked amiably, said our farewells and pulled out of the drive. Rumbling over old cobblestones, I caught sight of the nearby mansion, on the corner of Tannery St and Wilson St. and shivered at the thought of a place riddled with rats AND snakes. We drove slowly down the old main street, and I watched the classic ranches and bungalows roll by. Snake-land, forever more.
We'll be choosing our front door well before spring comes, that I can promise.