Across the highway from my hometown Rock Island, Washington, just upriver a ways from the old silicon smelter, was a little hill that wasn’t much in the summertime, but in winter, when we had a couple of feet of snow on the ground, it became the neighborhood sledding hill. More so in our teens than when we were younger, as we tended to sled closer to home then.

We would have sledding parties, although the preferred means of descent were inner tubes of various sizes, some big truck tubes, some smaller car tubes. Each had their own advantage. The big tube won out if girls were involved. It allowed more bodies to be packed more closely. Even some kids from East Wenatchee would come down. In fact, although I knew my soon future wife from as far back as junior high school, it was at one of these sledding parties that we first actually interacted. On a big tube no doubt.

These parties usually started in the late afternoon after school, on a Friday night, or on weekend nights, and lasted until well after dark. The first few runs were tame, just getting the route established and packing the snow. Tubes did a great job at this. In fact, we may have cast a sneer or two at the few traditional sledders for shredding our well-groomed run.

It was cold during the day, but when the sun went down it got even colder, to a point where frostbite was a legitimate concern. So we would build a bonfire at the bottom of the hill, off to the side of the run. All that was required were a few old tires and a half gallon or so of gasoline, the good stuff, before they started removing the lead. It was a lot easier to scrounge up a few tires than firewood, and they would burn for hours. Our bonfires were a thing of beauty, visible from far away.

One night, the Sheriff came by. We called anyone in the County Sheriff’s Department The Sheriff, so it may not have been the actual Man himself. But no matter. He drove up as far as he could, then walked the rest of the way. He stood around for a while, almost like he wished he could take a run or two. I would have been more than happy to hold his gun and hat. But, he just said “You guys be careful”, and left. There are positives and negatives growing up in a small town where everyone knows the Sheriff and he knows you. For me, it was a bit of both.

Jake and The Pirates’ Gold

“Cap’n Bilgewater! Cap’n Bilgewater! There be a frigate from The Queen’s Navy off’n our starboard bow, it looks like they be fixin’ to board!” “Aarrghhh Matey, if’n it’s a fight they’re lookin’ for, they come to the right place! Bring me me red shoes.” “Cap’n! Cap’n!  They be anuther frigate off’n our port side, closin’ fast!” “Yar! Bring me me red shirt, Matey.” “Two more spotted Cap’n, fore and aft!” “Bring me me red pants Matey!” “Sar, it looks like we be surrounded by the whole Queen’s Navy!” “Aye Mate, belay that last order. Better fetch me brown pants I instead…..”

Announcer: “Stay tuned for another exciting episode of Pirates Aplenty!”

It was well past his bedtime, but there was no way Jake would have missed the end of the movie. He loved pirate movies. With a huge yawn, he turned off the light, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep…..

The afternoon sun beat down on the little snake perched high in the crow’s nest of The Incontinence, a swift if somewhat leaky pirate ship feared far and wide by all vessels that plied the seas, with the possible exception of the Queen’s Enforcers. This was Jake’s first voyage on the scourge of the waters.  Not being a fighter (swordplay was off the table for the little snake) he was stationed in the crow’s nest, as a lookout. But The Incontinence was not fighting today, they had already claimed their booty and were headed for shore to bury it.

Jake, along with everyone else on board, had yet to view the contents of the huge locked chest, but the yellow gleam that escaped from beneath the lid had failed to evade his notice. How he ached to run his fingers through the treasure that lay within, and would do just that if only he had fingers. Or arms. He was a snake for goodness sake!

 The battle with the merchant vessel had been swift and merciless, the pirates only taking the time to hoist the treasure chest over to The Incontinence before hurrying away. Flee now, party later, that’s what Jake heard Cap’n Dipenz say to his First Mate Stumpy, and fleeing was exactly what they were doing.

“Land Ho!” shouted Jake, “Three points off the starboard bow!”

“Bring ‘er around Stumpy” said Cap’n Dipenz, in his gravelly voice.

“Stow the jabber! Hoist the main sail! Tie those sheets off! Jab the jib! Shiver me timbers! Full speed ahead!” Cap’n Dipenz certainly knew how to motivate his crew.

And before you could say Durn Tootin’, the pirate ship Incontinence was dropping anchor in a small lagoon on a tree covered deserted island. Dying to see what treasure the chest held, Jake found a seat aboard the dory that was transporting the captain, the crew, and most importantly, the ill-gotten booty to shore.

“Here we are boys, haul that chest over to yonder tree. Dig a hole, and dig it deep, the treasure there will surely keep.” And that’s exactly what they did. But before burying the chest, the captain, the crew, and the little snake too, gathered around to cast their eyes upon their filched riches. Stumpy, pulling off his carbon composite leg, smashed it against the lock, shattering it, causing it to fall away in pieces. Throwing back the lid, the pirates, with in-drawn breaths and avarice in their eyes, gasped in delight as they beheld the priceless, yellow treasure. “Lemons! We got lemons, boys!” said the captain, barely able to contain his excitement. “Lemonade fer all tonight! And mebbe, if there be a lime or two, a Margarita as well!” And with that, the whole crew except Jake jumped for joy, while Stumpy annoyingly danced in circles.

Jake awoke from his dream to warm sunlight through the window, and a gentle shaking by Brother BudPie, his attractive, charming, confident but humble roomie.

“Wakey wakey little Jakey, come and get your hot pancakey.”

“What kind of pancakes are we having, Brother BudPie?”

“Why, lemon of course” said Brother BudPie with a twinkle in his eye. Yarrr…”

Blank, The Girl Who Stole My Heart

My life in grade school, where I spent the entire day in one classroom with one teacher took an abrupt turn upon reaching junior high. Suddenly, and without notice, I was thrust into a maelstrom of bodies, unfamiliar faces, strange new places. Now, I had five or six teachers in a day, and as many classrooms. Navigating the hallways, dodging bodies, not getting lost, transitioning from a big fish in a small pond to a guppy, all were new and daunting experiences for me.

Among the positives, making new friends, experiencing a variety of subjects, vastly improved hot lunches that actually offered variety and flavor! On the other side, homework, competition, insecurity. How does one deal with being seated alongside large, imposing ninth graders when trying to eat one’s mashed potatoes with turkey gravy? I had yet to be able to impress with my baseball skills, leaving only one option: try to make them laugh. Sometimes that worked, other times not so much.

Not far into that seventh-grade year was the tragedy that would change our lives. I couldn’t begin to guess, among adults, who were supporters or non-supporters of JFK, but I doubt you would find a junior high or high schooler anywhere that didn’t adore him. When we lost him, we felt like overnight, the world had changed forever, and maybe it did, for us. The light dimmed, and never seemed to brighten much after that.

My fondness for redheads didn’t share the same fate as that of Gloria, who, through no fault of her own, was relegated to a dusty corner of my memory. This fondness followed me, nipping at my heels, waiting for me to let my guard down. 

But, despite all that, I made it through the seventh grade, and was poised on the brink of meeting the next potential heartbreak of my life, who, unlike Gloria, cannot be named in this narrative. While no one but me even remembers Gloria, in this case, even a first initial might screw the pooch. Can I say that? Well of course I can, it’s my story.

Another redhead, and she knew I existed! In fact, she made inquiries of my younger brother, a year behind me, seeking knowledge of the tall, blond, handsome eighth grader. And then, not finding out much about him, she asked about me. Not long after that, I was approached by one of her friends, I don’t remember who. In those days, boyfriend/girlfriend hookups were negotiated by an intermediary. No names, but you can imagine it going like this:

“Do you know who Blank is, with the red hair?” “Uhhhhh….” “She thinks you’re cute.” “Hmmm….” “Do you think she’s cute?” “Um yeah I guess so.” “She likes you.” “Uhhhhh….” “Do you like her?” “Um yeah I guess so.”

Courtship was no easy thing for young teens back then, at least until you moved beyond the kickoff and got settled into the first quarter. It wasn’t as simple as clubbing her over the head and dragging her by the hair to your cave.

In the end, I vanquished my shyness, and being the take-charge kind of girl she was, she became my girlfriend. I was smitten. And why not, she was as sweet as a honey dew melon in August, had beautiful red hair, freckles in most of the same places Gloria did, and her very own intermediary.

But, like most young romances, destined to fail, it too ended, over something so silly as a phone joke. At that age, at that time, the opportunity to talk with your girlfriend outside of school hours seldom occurred on a face to face basis. This was complicated by the fact that she lived in East Wenatchee, and I of course, lived eight miles away, in Rock Island. It wasn’t as though I could just walk down the street and knock on her door. Cell phones, along with lots of other things, had yet to be invented, so landline phone calls were the order of the day. It was during one of these calls that it happened.

 I called, her dad answered, he always answered, without fail. I asked to speak with Blank. He grunted, and put the phone down, at which point she picked it up and started talking. Really nice. Not like someone who had their very own intermediary. And there was giggling in the background, and then the voice on the phone was replaced by the real Blank. And they were laughing. As it turns out, her older sister sounded just like her. I said “Not very funny having your dumb sister pretend to be you.” She said “Don’t call my sister dumb.” Click. Click.

And just like that, what could have been a romance for the ages, red hair, freckles and all, vanished from my life. We never spoke again. Sure, we passed in the halls, we looked out of the side of our eyes at each other, but neither was willing to budge, not one inch. Not even a personal intermediary could put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And Blank, should you ever read this, and if you remember me, and those days so long ago, I would like to say that I am sorry. If it were mine to do over, I would not have called your sister dumb. She had a very nice voice. And, if memory serves me well, she also had red hair.

On Words

Words. Individually they may carry a message, but only when combined in such a manner so as to convey more complex thoughts, do they have the power to truly change the world. If we had to rely on single word communication, we most likely would not have advanced beyond the stone age. For the peoples of that time, survival was paramount. Any form of verbal communication longer than a single word would likely culminate in the utterer’s untimely demise. “Pardon me Dug, but I believe that’s a saber tooth tiger creeping up behind you” would be a polite way of warning a friend of danger, but “Run!!” would get the job done much more efficiently.

Inarguably, the discovery of fire and invention of the wheel were milestones in our evolution, but both would have fallen by the wayside were it not for the ability to effectively pass that knowledge from generation to generation. Language. Necessary, but at times confusing. And the most baffling of all is the English language. Words spelled alike, with multiple meanings, words with the same sound, spelled differently, context, dialect, body language, all combine to create a mixed up messed up way of communicating. Why is it that way? I don’t know, but if I had to guess, it would be that English is made up of several different languages, bits and pieces of each, grabbing words from even more languages, balling it all up into what must be a nightmare for anyone not born to it. But surely if we speak slowly enough and enunciate well, anyone should be able to understand us.

Even the way we see words and phrases can totally change their meaning. If a van pulled up next to you while stopped at a light, with printing on the side that proclaimed “Bob’s Blind Cleaning” would it not be logical to think “How good of a job could he possibly do? And why is he out driving around anyway?” If the sign above the front door of the store you just passed were to say “M&M Repair, Mike & Mike”, should you not jot down the phone number for when you get to the bottom of the bag?  Surely there will be some broken ones down there, and either Mike should be able to help you.

 The worst offender, in my opinion, is the news media, particularly when it comes to headlines. In an effort to cram as much meaning into as few words as possible, and put it before the public ahead their competition, they throw common sense to the wind, leaving us to ponder their intent. Some prime examples might be: “Republicans Grill IRS Chief Over Lost Emails” Ouch! I had no idea that emails were even flammable! Or: “Girl Hit by Car In Hospital” Ouch again! It must have made a mess of the waiting room. And last, but certainly not least: “Uranus ‘Opens & Closes’, Scientists Say Planet Releases Solar Wind Every Day” Just about anyone could have a field day with that gem!

Ambiguous, confusing, frustrating, constantly evolving, it’s a wonder that it works at all, but work it does. And unless and until, something else comes along as an alternative, it’s what we have. I for one, intend to use it to full advantage. Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve reached the bottom of the bag, and find myself in need of a repairman. Either Mike should do. 😊

Jake and The Sage of Lost Lake

Jake was hot, tired, and very, very hungry. It was late afternoon and he’d been crawling through these woods for the last two days. His quest to find Lost Lake and the Ancient Sage that lived there had so far been in vain. “Maybe I’ll stop for a bit, have a snack and catch my breath” he thought as he slipped out of his specially modified backpack. Pulling back the flap and reaching in, he encountered something sticky. “Great, my lemon jellied spiders have spilled and made a huge mess! Aw man, it’s all over everything! My whistle’s stuck to my water bottle, my shovel is all gunked up, even my toilet paper is covered. I guess I might as well get back on the trail.” And with that, he closed his pack, threw it over his…back, and away he went.

Jake had been planning this trip for months, and with the help of Brother BudPie, his clever, capable, wise-in-the-ways-of-the-woods roomie, was pretty sure he had everything he would need to get him through the next couple of days. Except maps. There were no maps of Lost Lake. There was no point in recording its location, since it moved around, from place to place, popping up here, showing up there, never in the same place twice. “Maybe I’ll find some sign along the trail” he thought, as he slithered under a log, his backpack scraping on the way through. And it wasn’t long before one such sign appeared, nailed to a tree, a few feet off the ground. Looking up, squinting, he could barely make out the faded words: “LOST LAKE AHEAD. SOMEWHERE. MAYBE.”

“At least I’m on the right track” he thought, as he continued on. And soon enough, he came upon a stump in the middle of the trail, and perched atop the stump, both eyes closed, was an owl. “Sir Owl” said Jake, “can you tell me how to get to lost lake?” Opening one eye, peering down at Jake, the owl said “Who?” “Not who” said Jake, “what.” “Lost Lake. I’m looking for Lost Lake and the Ancient Sage that lives there.” “Who?” said the owl again. By this time Jake’s patience was wearing thin. “Lost Lake. Looking for Lost Lake.” “Who?” “Arghh! Sage. Lost Lake.” “Oh! Why didn’t you say so?” said the owl, shaking out his feathers and opening his other eye. “You can’t find Lost Lake by looking for it. You have to be lost. It will find you.”

“Then things are looking up” thought Jake to himself, as he bid the owl farewell and continued on his journey. “I don’t see how I could be any more lost than I am.” Jake was determined to see this quest through to the end. Lost in thought, he was brought up short when he stumbled into a warm, brown, furry body. Before him stood a weasel, with crossed arms, tapping his toe on the ground. “Going somewhere boy?” asked the weasel. “Mr. Weasel, I’m trying to find Lost Lake and the Sage who lives there. I’m seeking sage advice.” The weasel, smiling a broad smile, revealing a mouth full of shiny, white, pointed teeth, replied “You can’t get there from here, boy, but I would be more than happy to show you where you have to be to get there. I’m sure you won’t mind if we stop by my den on the way, for a bite of lunch. Hmm?” Suddenly quite afraid, Jake darted around the weasel and down the trail as fast as he could. He could hear the weasel laughing, “You’ll be back boy, then we’ll have lunch. Hey! You have toilet paper stuck to your tail!”

“I could swear I passed by this very rock twice already” he thought, “and this is the same valley I was in an hour ago. I hope I haven’t been crawling in circles all day.” But as he descended into the valley, for what he thought might be the third time, a fog began to roll in, and soon he was totally immersed in a dense, heavy mist. Not wanting to wander aimlessly and risk possible injury, he curled up at the base of a tree. Soon, his eyes grew heavy and he slept.

Jake awakened to bright sunshine and the sound of birds singing. And down in the valley was a lake. The lake was small, and blue and sparkled in the sunlight. Around the lake, on the far shore, was a small hut, made of stone. Jake hurried down, afraid it might vanish before his eyes. And crawling up to the hut, at journey’s end, he came upon an old man, sitting with crossed legs, his fingers intertwined in his lap, his eyes closed.

“Ancient Sage, my name is Jake, and I have traveled far, seeking you out in the hopes that you might impart some of your wisdom.” Opening his eyes, the Sage beckoned, “Come young one, come sit before me, that you may hear what I have to say.” Jake leaned close, that he might miss not a single word. This is why he had come. This was the culmination of months spent planning and preparing. “Young one” said the old man, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” Jake leaned closer, for he sensed there was more. “But three lefts do.” And with that, the old man closed his eyes once more. “But wait!” said Jake. “How do I get home?” Opening one eye, The Sage of Lost Lake replied, “Follow the trail from the back of the hut for approximately one hundred yards. There you will find a bench. Sit on the bench. The bus runs every half hour.”  

Jake and the Scary Movie

It had been raining all week, and a very bored Jake was stuck inside. With Brother BudPie, his tall, lean, muscular but not totally ripped roomie, down in the tropics, selling a load of space heaters, Jake found himself all alone.  Going outside to play was not an option. Everyone knows that no matter how bored, little snakes do not like to get wet. Even getting Jake to take a bath was a daunting task, and the repercussions of his less than perfect hygiene were starting to show. “I could have some friends over, I suppose” he thought, but he couldn’t get very excited about that. It’s no fun having people over when constantly, under their breath, they made comments like “What’s that smell?” or “Who died?” or “Are you burning dirty socks?”

“Maybe a little TV” thought Jake, but as he flipped through the channels, there didn’t seem to be much of anything on. Sure, he could watch the Lemon Cake Bakeoffs, or The Citrus Squeezers Semi-Finals, or even an infomercial, but with Billy Mays gone, even that couldn’t hold his interest for long. “I need something exciting” he thought to himself. “Maybe I’ll watch a movie”

“Let’s see what we have…..The Little Snake That Could….Babycakes and Little Snakes….Boa Bob Gets a Charlie Horse…”. “This isn’t going to cut it” thought Jake. “Maybe a thriller, something scary, would get my heart rate up….hmmm…..Dracula and the Tooth Fairy….Sister Sue and the Headless Python….The Lemon Juice Nightmare….The Mongoose Who Came to Dinner….”.

“Ahhh! Here we go. The Haunted Hotel.” In his favorite spot, with a big bowl of lemon jellied spiders on what would be his lap if he had a one, and a glass of lemon fizz close at hand, Jake the bored little snake settled in to watch the movie.

(Fade to movie…)

A piercing scream split the night, startling the young, P.I. and Super Sleuth Extraordinaire, nearly causing him to drop his magnifying glass. He would have jumped right out of his skin if he hadn’t already shed it, just last week. “Pumpkin warts!” he thought to himself, “I was not expecting that! That’s enough to cause a guy to molt.” He was making his way up the stairs, looking for clues, anything that might shed some light on what was really going on in the Citrus Hotel. Reports of spooky specters, ghoulish ghosts, annoying apparitions, were in his opinion, tales concocted by the only other hotel in town, in an attempt to scare more business their way.

Of the two hotels in Lemon Land, the Citrus was by far the older, with creaking stairs, musty hallways, and dark, cobweb filled corners. Across the street, the Chateau de Marmalade, spanky, sparkly, newly built, beckoned, with a flashing sign that announced “Vacancy! Free WiFi! No Ghosts!”

As more and more business drifted away, across the street, the manager at the Citrus knew there was only one person he could call. The best detective in town, Catcher of Crooks, Master of Mystery, Banisher of Banshees, Jake the Snake.

Jake loved being a detective, from the trench coat and fedora tilted at a rakish angle, to the gum on his shoe. “All I need are sunglasses, a mustache and a big nose and I’d look just like Leon Redbone” And, with a few gigs under his belt, and a steady stream of clients, he liked knowing that he was pulling his own weight.

His pal and roomie, Brother BudPie, a strong, well-muscled, great looking hunk of humanity was a highly successful salesman specializing in refrigerators and space heaters, and was more than capable of providing for himself and a little snake. But Jake liked the idea of being a contributing member of the small family, and getting the handle on this ghost situation was a step in the right direction.

As his thoughts drifted away from his personal life and back to the matter at hand, his attention was captured by what sounded like faint, indistinct but distressed sobbing. “That sounds like faint, indistinct but distressed sobbing” he thought as he slithered up to a closed door halfway down the hall. Pressing his ear to the door, he heard a voice, soft and afraid, “No, no, please don’t!” Pressing closer to the door, wishing he could peek through the keyhole, and knowing that without a ladder it was not an option, heard a cold, creepy, ethereally eerie voice say “Caaaaaakkkkke, muuusssstttt haaaaavvve caaaaaaakkke…..”

(Fade back to reality…)

“That’s right folks, for just three easy payments of $25.00, or one single payment of $100.00, plus shipping and handling, you get the Automatic Cake Slicer, four paper plates, and Frosting Buddy! But wait! Order now and we’ll double your order. Just pay shipping and handling for the additional……”

Not paying attention to the commercial (they weren’t the same without Billy), Jake reached for his glass of lemon fizz, and when startled by a noise, would have dropped it in what would have been his lap if he’d had one. Was that a scratching at the window, or the scrape of a windblown branch? Did he hear a tap-tap-tap at the front door or was it his imagination? He was certain that he had locked all the windows and doors before settling in to his movie, and while afraid to know, but more afraid not to know, he raced over to the door, and straining to listen, heard nothing. Crawling to the window, he pressed his face against the glass, and peered into the darkness. “Can’t see anything out there” thought Jake, crawling back down from the window, only to hear a scraping at the back door! The combination of the movie and being home alone had the little snake on edge. Frantic, he raced around the room, turning off lights and the TV, hoping to make himself less visible to whomever, whatever, lurked about in the darkness. “Good thinking Jakey Boy, keep your wits about you” he muttered to himself.

Willing his heartbeat to slow down, catching his breath and pondering his next move, he was startled by a bumping sound in the hallway. “It’s inside! How did it get inside?!” thought the terrified little snake, wishing he’d gone to Ecuador with Brother BudPie, his brave, clever, extremely attractive roomie. Not knowing if it would be of any use, he began casting about for anything with which he might defend himself. In the bravest, if somewhat squeaky, voice he could muster, he said “Who’s there? Come out, show your face, prepare to meet your doom.” “Jake, is that you? It’s me, Prissscila. I came over to watch a movie, but you wouldn’t answer the door. I had to come in through the kitchen drain. Ewwww…what’s that smell? Are you burning dirty socks?”    

Jake’s Vacation

One time, not so long ago, and pretty far from here, there was a little snake named Jake. And today, Jake was an excited snake indeed. He was going to visit his very best friend Lemon Lady. Brother BudPie, Jake’s ruggedly handsome human, was going to be gone all summer, on a business trip. Brother Budpie was a refrigerator salesman, and a darn good one. He was going to Alaska, and north, toward the Arctic Circle. He was excited to take advantage of an untapped market, and had no doubt he would sell oodles of refrigerators. And Jake was going on vacation! For the whole summer!

“Are you packed and ready to go, Jakey Boy?” said Brother BudPie, with a twinkle in his eye and a roguish smile, for which he was well known. “I’m ready! I’m ready!” said Jake, fairly bursting with excitement, wishing he could jump up and down. But we all know that little snakes cannot jump up and down.

So off they went, to the airport, Brother BudPie, a confident, conscientious driver, and all-around charismatic individual, with his bag of refrigerator brochures, and Jake, who liked to travel light, wearing his tiny Seahawks hat, and sweater that said ‘Go Hawks!’. For Jake did indeed love football, and dreamed of one day becoming a tight end for his favorite team. But that was for another time. Today he was going to Lemon Lady’s house!

“Okay Jake” said Brother BudPie, in his firm but loving voice, as they stood on Lemon Lady’s front porch, “No monkey business this summer (Jake had no idea what monkey business was, but was sure it wouldn’t be a problem), promise me you’ll be a good little snake.” And bending down, way , way down, (for Brother BudPie’s broad shoulders, narrow waist, and exceedingly well toned legs were only surpassed by his near-perfect height) gave Jake a kiss on the nose and was on his way.

“I’m so glad you’re here Jakey. It will be just like old times. What great fun we will have!” Lemon Lady’s voice flowed over Jake like warm honey down the back of a mongoose. “But now, we need to get you ready for bed. You’ve had a long day, and I’m sure you will be up early tomorrow, eager to start having fun. So off you go, brush both your teeth, polish your scales, and get into your Bob’s Burgers jammies.” And with a wink, Lemon Lady said “Be careful not to ‘accidently’ fall down the sink drain. I know how you love to play Down the Drain and Back Up Through the Toilet, and the toilet lid is closed. You might get trapped! Then, come give me hug and a goodnight kiss. Actually, maybe I’d better give you the hug.” And with that, Lemon Lady was off to the kitchen, to preheat the oven for the delightfully delectable double-delicious lemon cake she was going to bake. If there was one thing she knew how to do, it was baking lemon cakes.

The next morning bright and early, Jake was in the kitchen, just finishing his second bowl of Spider Puffs, when Lemon Lady, a twinkle in her eye and piece of lemon zest hanging from the end of her nose (“I hope it’s lemon zest” thought Jake), cleared her throat and said “You’re on your own today Baby Jakes, I have friends from The Lemon Lovers League coming over for a lemon popover bake-off. After that we’re going to play bingo.” (Lemon Lady loved bingo, and had developed a strategy that had paid off handsomely over the years.)

Jake was excited! The last time he visited Lemon Lady, he was too young to play outside by himself. “This is looking to be an awesome day” thought Jake, grabbing his Seahawks hat on his way out the door. “Today I’m going to make some friends.”

Lemon Lady’s back yard was a magical place, with lots of grass, bushes and trees, nooks and crannies. Jake wasn’t too familiar with nooks, and even less so with crannies. “I’ll learn as I go” thought Jake, as he slithered down the back steps, past the rock garden, where rocks of all colors and sizes grew in abundance.

Making his way through the grass, Jake stumbled upon a group of frogs, small and green, all lined up and jumping over each other. “What are you doing?” asked Jake in his most friendly voice. “It’s pretty obvious kid, if you were a frog you would know” croaked the biggest, meanest looking frog of the bunch. “Can I play?” asked Jake, with hope in is voice and a smile on his face. Evidently, the frogs found this to be extremely funny, hilarious even. “Oh that’s brilliant!” croaked the biggest meanest looking frog of the bunch. “He wants to play leapfrog! Come back when you got arms and legs kid. Now scram!” 

With head hanging low, his tail tucked between his…..his tail tucked, a dejected Jake swallowed his humiliation and slithered away through the tall grass. For even though Lemon Lady’s lawn was meticulously manicured, all grass seemed tall to a little snake.

It wasn’t too long before the little snake heard laughter and singing from somewhere up ahead. “Maybe it’s someone that will play with me” thought Jake, as he burst upon the scene. And what he saw did indeed look like fun. There before him was a small flock of birds, performing aerial acrobatics the likes of which he had never before seen. Swerving and diving, singing and laughing! Jake waited for the flock to take a worm break, perched side by side on a branch low to the ground, before he dared approach. “Hi! My name is Jake, I’m from out of town, visiting my friend Lemon Lady. Can I play? “Yeah you can play” chirped the biggest bird of the bunch. “You can play ‘get lost’. Come back when you got wings.”

Needless to say, this was devastating to the little snake. No one wanted to play with him. Jake had always known he was different, but it had never occurred to him that others would shun him because of it. It didn’t seem fair. Brother BudPie, his compassionate, wise, easy on the eyes, mentor had taught him that diversity made things better, not worse.

So Jake found himself, sad, miserable and alone, curled up beside an especially colorful rock. With tears in his eyes and his chin on the ground, albeit the distance between his chin and the ground wasn’t that great to begin with, he almost missed the slight rustling of the grass. “Go away” said Jake, in a trembling voice. “Go back and play with your friends. Did they send you to taunt me”?

“I don’t have any friends” said a silky voice. “I was hoping you would be my friend. I saw you talking to the unfriendly frogs, and the belligerent birds. They wouldn’t play with me either.”

Jake’s chin came up so fast he was momentarily airborne. He whipped his head around, looking over what would have been his shoulder, if he had shoulders, and this is what he saw: The most beautiful, the most perfect, the most snakiest girl he had ever seen. Popping his neck back into joint, wiping the tears from his eyes and the sheepleg from his little nose, in a warbly voice, cracking on the high notes, he managed to utter “Ummm, hullo. My name’s Jake. What’s yours?” “Prissscilla” whispered the young lady snake, in a warm voice that flowed like melted butter down a duck’s back. “Her eyes” thought Jake, “Are like diamonds, her scales shine like the sun itself.” Willing his heart to slow down to below the recommended maximum heart rate for a little snake, Jake gathered his courage, rounded up his wits, winked, and said “Prissscilla, do you like lemon jellied spiders?”

And that’s how Jake, a little snake, began what turned out to be the best vacation he ever had.

As a footnote, Brother Budpie sold all of his refrigerators in the first two weeks in the Arctic. With the handsome profit from that venture, he purchased a container load of space heaters, and was on his way to Ecuador.