16 April 2002


I was walking the dog earlier, and I walked by a house where someone had cut some sassafrass recently. It smelled good. I stood out in front of this house for a minute, smelling the strong, clean wood.

When I was a kid my mom and dad and I lived in a giant old rambling house my parents referred to as The Pink Elephant. I loved that name. When my dad first bought the house he didn't get a key with it. The old man who'd lived there - a stone deaf artist and legendary neighborhood recluse - had died, I think, and not been too worried about who might move in after him. So the first few times we went to the house my mom and dad would boost me through a window and I would run around to the door to let them in.

There were piles of crap in that house, but the only things I really remember were the National Geographics from the thirties and forties (and no, I wasn't interested in the naked Africans - I was a bit young for that. But I could look at the pictures of whales and other exotic deep-sea creatures for hours) and a big hunk of sassafrass wood that stayed around the house a long time after we moved in. Every once in a while I'd pick it up and smell it and it was always just as strong and clean as the first time. If I could have eaten it I would.

A funny story from The Pink Elephant: one day my mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch. A big old water mocassin came oozing out from behind the refrigerator, sliding to the middle of the kitchen floor like the room was his territory. My mom screamed. I hopped up on a chair. Then my mom grabbed a broom and smashed the end of the broomstick into the back of the snake's head.

"Go get the neighbors! Go get the neighbors!" my mom yelled.

I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. The neighbors had a big house situated in the middle of a lot that seemed bigger than a football field to me. It felt like it took me hours to get to their house, all the while afraid that the snake (which had looked pretty big to me, too) was going to eat my mom.

I burst into their kitchen. Yes, I was the kind of kid who went running into the neighbor's house. They didn't mind.

"A snake a snake a snake!" I gibbered.

I guess they got the story out of me, because Mr. Neighbor picked me up and headed for my house, stopping only in his shed to get a machete. We found my mom with the snake still pinned to the floor, and Mr. Neighbor cut the snake's head off with one swing, leaving a deep gash in our linoleum where the blade sank into the floor.