It was the summer of 1981 when Grammy slayed the Saxon Street Slitherer and became a legend in her own time. The following events I'm about to share are true, including the exaggerations.
The school year had ended, and since leaving a 7-year-old to her own devices in rural nowhere seemed ill advised, Mama asked Grammy if she wouldn't mind keeping me alive a few hours a week.
On that particular afternoon, Valerie -- a step-cousin three years my junior -- and I were exploring the far reaches of a hydrangea bush when something moved. We pulled back a branch to investigate, and that's when the beast appeared.
The cold-blooded monster was like nothing we'd encountered on prior safaris. Its body resembled a garden hose. One beady eye sat on either side of a flattened head. Two crooked legs sprawled from where one might expect a mouth to be. The creature slithered a few inches, then raised itself skyward with the crooked legs flailing toward us.
Valerie and I screamed like tea kettles as we circled the yard and threw open the back door to find Grammy. Once she was assured none of our limbs had been severed, Grammy listened intently as we relayed our story. With a nod, she grabbed a broom and told us to lead the way. We took her to the hydrangea bush and held our breaths as she pulled back the branch.
Looking back, it dawns on me that Grammy was about the age that summer that I am now. I wonder what I would have done in her shoes with two hysterical girls and a far-fetched story. Would I have had the presence of mind to stop the 15 "important" things I was doing to go on some harebrained adventure that would likely be of little consequence by day's end? Or did she know she was about to be immortalized as a hero in the eyes of those dear to her?
Grammy's eyes widened at the sight of a snake trying to swallow a live toad head first. It was just as we'd described to her -- the two hind legs of the toad trying to wiggle free from the mouth of the serpent. Broom in hand, Grammy whacked that snake with the bristles while chanting, "Drop it! Drop that frog! Drop it now, you hear me?!"
I'm not sure who was more surprised -- Grammy, the snake or the frog -- but the snake obeyed, spitting the frog on the ground and slithering away to find an easier meal. The frog seemed no worse for the wear. And Valerie and I jumped triumphantly, awed by the power that Grammy wielded.
Through the years, Val and I get Grammy frog gifts to commemorate the memory. As she turns 85 years young in a few days, I hope she knows our memory isn't of saving a helpless toad, but of stepping into our worlds and shaping our ideas of what it means to feel loved, valued and secure.
What could be more heroic than that?