It was somewhere in the latter half of the 1800s. I was 16 or 17 years old, and my family had just finished selling our house, and for some reason, it was customary to invite all of the people from the neighboring community to see you off. The house itself was huge, and stood on a sprawling plot of land with rolling hills and there were groups of about 20 people at odd intervals clustered together. When I got closer to one of them, there were 15 people watching and 4 or 5 kneeling on the grass with trowels in their hands, digging up areas roughly the size of a shoebox.

One of the diggers looked up at me and grinned, "Looking for a birthday present." Like it was the most natural thing in the world. They would sift the dirt in their hands, picking out bits of rock and arrowheads, shards of pottery, stuff like that. One of them gave me a trowel and it seemed rude not to join them, so I started digging.

This is where it gets hazy. Half of the people digging had mud smeared all over their faces and necks. When I got ready to dig, the guy that handed me the trowel told me to "get palmed" meaning I was supposed to take a big handful of dirt and cover my face with it to avoid sunburn. I declined; I was wearing my best light-blue dress and didn't want to get it dirty.

And apparently, the plot of lawn that I'd chosen to excavate just happened to be a snake's nest. Since I found the snakes, I "got" to keep them. The guys informed me that the safest place to keep these baby snakes was in my stomach, so I'm swallowing these dirty baby snakes, most about as long as my finger.

I don't know what exactly it was that finally freaked me out, but I started to panic about something and one of the diggers went to get the guy with the most medical experience. Our town had no doctor. So when this man showed up, I was in the process of vomiting one or two snakes at a time, and he just looked at the digger and asked how many I'd had, because it was common knowledge (to everyone but me and the digger, anyway) that up to 20 was the accepted norm, but digger told him I'd had about 53.

So they're each on either side of me, holding an arm in one hand and gently pounding my back over my lungs to help me throw up the rest of the snakes. How percussion therapy on the lungs is supposed to assist vomiting, I have no idea.

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?


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