I began writing “I’m Not Afraid of Snakes” on a steamy July afternoon in Baltimore – not unlike a typical scorching summer day in south Florida. I raced from the car across hot blacktop, that seemed to cook me from below, and into the copy shop to pick up posters and signs for my agency’s summer camp. Once inside, the chill of the air conditioner revived me like greens in cold water. The copy guy told me that there had been a problem and that I’d have to wait for them to reprint everything. Really? And wait in this lovely cool room? Fine.
Sitting there, I pulled out my notebook and started writing. Without a specific goal, I asked myself – “What is a story of your life that you want to tell?”
Out of that question flowed two-thirds of the book. I wrote it in the voice of a little girl, of who I might have been, and how I might have seen things. But of course my adult mind rationalized some things, as we grown-ups do. I realized as I wrote that I didn’t have to tell my story of being afraid of snakes – it’s not a new idea – but I did need to tell the story of our brave dog, Happy, and my dad’s love for him, and, I realized as I wrote, for me.
My father is a very smart, strong, man. As a schoolteacher, and later administrator, he was admired by his students and respected by his staff. When I was a little girl, he was my buddy – I remember him letting me play “shaving” with an emery board and too much shaving cream, and showing me how to pick
berries, eating half along the way. His laugh was, and still is, infectious – a loud, quick laugh that sounds like it comes from the soles of his feet.
At the same time, he was my protector – keeping me safe from the dangers of life – from thunderstorms and quicksand, strangers and alligators. I knew I could count on him, and that he loved me. In the book, I share the story of one time when he saved me, when I was nearly bit by a rattlesnake. And as I wrote, “that’s what Daddies do.”
As we get older, life gets complicated. My grumpy adolescent self was much more concerned about my curfew than rattlesnakes, and my Dad probably spent more energy holding back, and letting me make my own mistakes. Now, living hundreds of miles away, I have to watch out for the dangers myself, and when I talk with Dad on the weekends we mostly talk about when we will see each other again, be it two weeks or six months from now.
While I wrote “I’m Not Afraid of Snakes” in a moment of inspiration at that copy shop, I had 27 years of experience behind me. I wanted to thank my father for all he has done for me, and let him know that he did everything he could, as well as anyone could. The rest was, and still is, up to me.
“I’m Not Afraid of Snakes” is written as a children’s book – but really, it’s a father’s book. If you have a dad or father figure in your life that you want to thank – give him a copy, and a hug.