I grew up on the corner of two roads in Santa Rosa, CA, just north of San Francisco. One road, Wallace, was a paved, treacherous route north where, according to my father, the speed limit was, “Faster than a bat out of hell.” The other, Ranchette, was gravel and a dead end. Kids were everywhere. It was back when doors were unlocked, bikes and toys were left in driveways, Mom’s bellowed out of their front doors, “It’s time for dinner!” Except for mine who rang a cow bell on the back porch. I think Pavlov may have been interested in a cow bell/child conditioned response study. This sound didn’t result in instant salivation though…cooking, was not Mom’s innate skill. But still, we’d all run home, inhale a Swanson’s Frozen Dinner, probably Salisbury Steak, and then right back outside for Tag, Hide and Seek, and Sardines.
It was heaven, except for Billy Branham, the red haired, freckled, semi-rotund boy who had the audacity to live directly across the gravel road and whose sole purpose to exist was to chase me. Often with snakes. I hated everything about Billy Branham. And snakes.
Once, during Sardines, the Hide and Seek game where everyone sneaks around the seeker and piles on top of each other in the same, minuscule, space. One night, Billy Branham, tried to kiss me in the Sardine pile, but I “jumped” away, meaning I moved about an eighth of an inch and he grazed my ear instead of where he was heading. All hell broke loose, game ended, tempers flared, parents came out yelling, we all had to go home. Poor Billy. I regret my actions…
For my 8th birthday, I got a glimmering, dark cherry red Schwinn bicycle with a white wicker basket outlined in flowers. It was beautiful. And extravagant at that time. I cherished it immediately.
That night I left it in our driveway. The next morning when I ran out to check on it, a dead snake hung across the handlebars. I screamed, “DAAAAAADDD!!!” I didn’t know it was dead, but I knew who was behind it, Billy, who was now, black-magically, standing near me holding a live snake by the side of its open mouth, aimed at my head.
I owe my ability to climb any tree in less than three-seconds flat to this asshole.
Billy Branham, by simply being a little kid taught me how to escape my perception of monsters. This came in handy later.
I googled Billy Branham (not his real name). He’s a very successful plastic surgeon and doesn’t seem to be chasing girls with snakes anymore. Honestly, running from Billy gave me serious skills in the art of escape. This saved my life in 1979.