I was born not in Missouri, but in a southern state that I won’t name, lets just say it ends with ippi. While I am somewhat the black sheep of my family, I do still have southern/redneck views and tendencies. For example; I drink sweet tea religiously and I still sometimes refer to soda as coke. In the south, when you walk into a restaurant, they ask what kind of coke you would like, which my preference is sprite. Coke = soda, coca-cola = coca-cola. I also whole heartily believe that if duct tape cannot fix it, it is beyond repair. Which is cleverly hidden by the fact that I am also a geek and geek culture holds the same belief. I was also raised to believe that The War of Northern Oppression is incorrectly called the Civil War. Don’t worry, I don’t believe that, I got all edumacated like. And no, I don’t like NASCAR.
I was visiting my grandparents for the summer. It was hot, which hot in Missouri means lukewarm bath water and hot in the ippi states means people die of heat stroke because they walked from their front door to the car, so my grandfather decided we needed to go fishing. This meant we wake up at 5 a.m. and drive two hours to Lake Washington, just a little south of Greenville, pull out the john boat and blaze out to the murky depths at a blistering .5 mph (can’t scare the fish).
From there we jump out of the boat (the deepest part of the lake where we where is about 6 feet) and walk around until you bump into a large artifact. Then you fumble around until you find the opening, and with very skilful grace, dexterity, finesse, and monkey-like curiosity you stick your hand in. The goal is to find a catfish nested inside. You can’t see what you are doing, just feeling it out. If you find one, it is tradition to murmur several whoops and hollers but a solemn ‘sumbitch’ works too, you stick your hand in its mouth or grab it by the gills and pull it out. In the south it is simple referred to as hand-grabbing, because why label things outside of an explanation in the title?, whereas here in Missouri/North it is called noodling. Which is the dumbest name in the world.
Catfish have teeth, tiny teeth, and sometimes you can get cut on them. It doesn’t really hurt at all, you are just wading in brown muddy water with your hand inside an old washing machine/tire in a very personal manner, it plays a psychological and instinctual game of ‘WHATTHEFUCKWASTHAT’ knee-jerk reactions in your head – which is normal until you get used to it.
I’m out in the water with my grandfather, brother, uncle, and two cousins. We are off a little ways from the main channel in a little cove, moving around trying to find some artifact so tactfully and artfully thrown into the water as to lure catfish to their eventual breading and frying. My uncle is trying to find a catfish home with his feet when a bump, curse, ‘got one’ flutters into the air. We can’t exactly see what is going on, so as a customary for lookers-on, we watch his face to gauge the size and difficulty of his find. A few seconds go by when he yells and pulls his hand out.
Now, what do you guess has happened? Did he cut himself on something metal? Is there a snapping turtle playing peek-a-boo? Is there a murlock stabbing him with a spear?
No, he pulls out the biggest god damn cottonmouth I have ever seen out of the water. It is attached to the inside of his hand, right about his thumb joint. You can see it moving its jaws around, needling fangs back and forth. My uncle has huge, banana finger shaped hands, so either this thing didn’t want to let go or couldn’t, I don’t know.
What would you do in this situation? Remember, we are a clan of rednecks, screaming like a little girl doesn’t fit into the lifestyle. My uncle did something that is more manlier than eating chili on your ice cream. He bent down, bit the snake behind its head, grabbed the body, and ripped the head off. Yes, you read that right, my uncle bit a poisonous snake’s head off.
He looked at us, we stared at him in ‘WHATTHEFUCKWASTHAT’ mode, his hand oozed blood, and we continued hand-grabbing for a bit. Never to hurt his masculinity, we didn’t ask if he needed to go to the hospital. Luckily after a while when he started to lose control of his hand (it was going paralyzed) he said, “Welp, best get to the hospital and get this looked at.” We boated back to the dock at a mind shattering 5 mph, packed up, and went to the hospital. He was fine after treatment.