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Tinker’s and the
the Pine Snake
(from my autobiography)

Tinker, our adventurous little dog when I was a kid, accompanied us everywhere, always eager to share our adventures and guard us from danger. Being some type of hunting dog, she could find totally absorbing things to do no matter where we were.

While we lived in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in the early 1950s, we fished a lot in the Atlantic Ocean and inlets nearby. During that time, the landscape of the island was still rugged and wild, thick with grotesquely wind-twisted live oak thickets, whose branches were thick with long, gray bunches of Spanish moss tendrils that strung toward the ground like giant spider webs and vast, thick palmetto undergrowth that seemed impenetrable for miles on end along Old Route A1A.

Whenever we set out for fishing, Tinker eagerly anticipated her venture into the unknown of the sand dunes, where the thick palmettos and vines met the seashore in thirty foot drifts of soft sand or along the inlets near the old dock that has since been replaced by the Space Coast Launch Pad of Cape Kennedy.

Mom discovered that her favorite pan fish, the Sailor’s Choice and small Yellow Tailed Jacks that schooled around the pilings of an old dilapidated pier at the end of the island, loved to feed on raw liver. And at the time, it was about as cheep as dog’s bones: almost free! So, Mom bought a lot and froze several packets of the liver for our treks to the shore, keeping in mind that Tinker thought as much of this tasty morsels as Mom’s pan fish did! She had to have enough to pacify both the dog and the fish.

That meant that Mom had to use the “eyes in the back of her head,” the ones she spied on us kids with, to see that Tinker didn’t snitch all her bait. But Tinker always knew where she stashed it, and barked until she was hoarse to get Mom to give her “her fair share” of this treat!

Sandy, my older brother, and I, in the meantime, were taught to “gig” fish that came near the top of the water, piercing and securing them.

I understand gigging is illegal now, and it might have been then, too. I don’t know. But the family’s hunger took precedence over laws in books then, so I’m not sure it would have mattered anyway.

Sandy could throw it harder and usually got bigger fish than I did, but I held my own with the numbers I brought in. We always had fish chowder or at least things made from sea life.
To make the chowder Mom collected Whelks, which are shelled crustaceans, and Horse Conch’s, as well as edible seaweed, and live Coquina to cook.

Sometimes, if we came in the car, she’d bring several gallon jugs of fresh water, a can of stewed tomatoes, and some fresh vegetables to make dinner while we fished. She’d clean the seafood and throw it in one of our camping pots which never left the back of the car except to get washed! Then she added some water and the vegetables. Before we left for home, we ate a hardy meal in the evening sea mist! It was great!

On one occasion, we all heard Tinker barking, the same excited bark that she always barked when begging Mom for liver treats. I didn’t pay any attention to her and just kept on searching the water for a fish to gig. I think Sandy probably did the same. Dad was down the beach somewhere casting his line into the water.

He was too far away to hear Mom start screaming. I couldn’t actually make out what she was saying either, but I heard the tone of her voice, and that caught my attention fast. It was high and shrill, her panic siren! She was jumping around wildly in the distance when I turned to see what she was screaming about, and waving her hands for someone to come help her.

Sandy beat me there. Luckily, neither of us dropped our gigs, though both of us were never supposed to run with them!

Luckily for Tinker, Sandy knew exactly what to do right away, because she was in acute distress, her whole body tightly trussed by the coiled constrictions of a very large pine snake. Her tongue protruded. Her eyes bulged, and all she could do was pant a little. The snake had her so tight it was killing her. Her eyes begged us to help.

Then the snake rolled her onto the ground, wrapping itself around her head to finish its job by squeezing her mouth shut. By that time we couldn’t even see her under the snake.

“Grab the tail, Sis!” Sandy screamed an order. “Pull! Don’t let it squeeze her any more!”

The snake was so big, I couldn’t budge it’s tightened form. As Sandy turned his gig toward Tinker, I thought he was going to spear her and put her out of her misery, but instead, he used the sharpened point to carefully slice through the snakes’ body. Severed in half, it still didn’t loose it’s hold! So he cut it again, and again, and again and again! Snake guts were everywhere!

Finally, after about eight cuts, we heard Tinker gasping for air, and saw her beginning to wiggle toward her own freedom! It took several minutes before she was completely free, but when she could stand again, matted with the snakes blood and guts, she turned on it, grabbed a piece and shook it all over the dock, snarling wildly!

“Wow! You kids were great!” Mom said.

“Us kids?” Sandy snarled. “She didn’t do anything!”

“I held it’s tail!” I pouted loudly, not willing to relinquish my little part of the glory in the overall rescue effort!

“Both of you were great!” Mom repeated. “Everything except the running with the “gigs.” But I’ll let you get away with it this time! Now, pick up the rest of the snake. Sandy, you skin and clean it! Sissy, you cut the pieces in spoon-sized chunks. We’re having snake soup tonight!”

And we did! Mom fixed it up with a couple fish, and the usual tomatoes and vegetables, and it was delicious.

Funny thing, though. That’s the only time I remember Tinker eating tomato based soup, and I had the feeling she enjoyed it most because that snake was in it!


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by MaxiiJ

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