SUNNYVIEW TALES

The Snake in the Kitchen

In 1903 my grandfather, Joseph Hampton Gregory, was age 42, and after years of toil, he finally achieved enough success to purchase a bit of land. He bought a 165 acre Kentucky rock farm and built a beautiful, classic country home for his family. He named the farm Sunnyview. My father was six months old when the family moved to that farm, with his two older sisters, Irene, age 11, and Eva Lee, age 8. My father and his sisters grew up there. Their parents had previously given each of the girls a nearby farm of their own when they married, and my father inherited the original farm after their parents' deaths.

     In 1926, my father, then age 23, built a small country general store at Sunnyview, from which he sold packaged goods, soft drinks, prepared soups, and gasoline. That farm and the general store remained in the family for another forty years, and numerous family tales and legends grew up around it.

     There were two special characteristics of Sunnyview. The old house was said to be haunted, and the farm was thought to be snake heaven. These characteristics have generated many family ghost stories and humorous tales handed down from life at Sunnyview. Countless tales of ghosts in the night, odd noises, and snake encounters are the staple of family stories.

     My parents married in 1948, a second marriage for both. They lived at the family farm for several years thereafter. From a time before I was born my parents operated two businesses plus a farm. During the day my mother ran the small country store and gas station and my father ran the pool hall and lunch counter in town, eight miles away. On weekdays, the pool hall closed relatively early and my father returned to the farmhouse shortly after my mother had closed the store.

     But Saturdays were different.

     Saturday night was a high revenue night in the pool hall, and my father kept the doors open much later, usually at least eleven PM, sometimes midnight, sometimes even later. My mother would close the store about the regular time, then go to town to wait until the pool room closed, and then ride back to the farmhouse with my dad.

     One Saturday night my parents were returning home well after eleven to a cold and dark, deserted farmhouse. My mother was carrying their small child (me) and walking ahead of my father. She opened the kitchen door and was about to walk into the dark kitchen as she usually did, when something, perhaps a sixth sense, or maybe it was as simple as a smell, or a noise, warned her that something was wrong. Rather than just bluster into the dark room, she very carefully turned on the lights. She was very upset to see a very large and ugly black snake lazily stretched out in the kitchen floor.

     She screamed and ran back outside to my father, very upset. She always had a terrible, unreasoning fear of reptiles, and most farm people considered them vermin and would kill them on sight, even harmless, non-poisonous varieties.

     At her frantic insistence, father went in and killed the snake right there in the kitchen. Unfortunately, this was a tactical error. He did not anticipate the consequences, and the horrible stench unleashed by the death of the large snake was unbelievable. It was almost more than they could stand in the house.

     Lesson: Don’t kill big snakes inside the house.

     The story has an epilog: The following morning my father found an almost identical snake on the porch outside the kitchen door. Presumably this was the mate to the snake of the night before. Wary of the stench unleashed from the previous night’s encounter, and reluctant to use a gun in the early morning and scare the wife and child, my father used a broom to herd the snake out of doors and away from the house before killing it with an axe.