They'll thank you later
With us, it was snakes. Every hollow, every nook, every gopher-hole in the earthen banks of the irrigation canal was most assuredly the hiding place of snakes. Dangerous, sharp-toothed, venomous snakes who were as willing to bite you on land as in the water. So don't even stand on the banks, let alone go wading in the water. Because the snakes will get you!
I'm pleased to report that the snakes never got me, or any of my sibs. Nor did I or any of my sibs drown in the big ditch, unlike some other children I could tell you about. Strange to say, though, it still gives me a frisson whenever I walk the banks of the irrigation canal running through the family dairy farm and spot a hole in the side of the bank.
No. No snakes. Not then, not now, not ever. No snakes.
But I believed in them with a powerful faith that long outlasted Santa Claus. And I kept away from the irrigation canal till I was practically a teenager and it became necessary to drive tractors down the embankment road to run errands.
My niece Becky lives on the family dairy farm, but on a parcel conveniently distant from the canal. One less thing to worry about. She has a different problem.
There's a sump hole a mere hundred yards from her house. As far as her brood of little boys is concerned, that's practically next door. (The intervening space is all open field and dirt road.) It's fair-sized, too. I know. I've paced it off. My stride is almost a yard in length and it took more than 120 paces for me to walk its perimeter.
The boys have seen the sump hole, a fetid pool where water emerges from the drainage system and collects. And all of them know the story that goes with it.
Does the sump hole have snakes? Goodness, no. Nothing so tame as that.
It has a cow-eating monster.
Most dairies are fortunate in that they do not have cow-eating monsters on the premises. In the case of the family dairy farm, however, the monster in the sump hole has reportedly dragged off and devoured at least one cow. My niece's eldest son, who is still of pre-school age, has patiently recounted the story in detail to his great-grandmother. My mother nods her head at the little guy as he narrates how the monster grabbed the cow when it got too close to the sump hole. She confirms to her great-grandson that she's heard that same story. And the cow vanished without a trace. No doubt the monster would also gobble up little boys if they got too close. Big people, as well, no doubt. At least those of us no bigger than cows. We all purport to be afraid of the sump-hole monster.
Snakes were enough to keep my generation away from the flowing waters of the irrigation canal. The children of two generations later may be made of sterner stuff. It takes a submerged cow-eating monster to keep them away from the stagnant waters of the sump hole.
Whatever works, I guess.
I'm not satisfied with the solution, although I admire the scale and scope of the cautionary tale. For one thing, I never worried about the snakes at night although I could see the canal from my bedroom window. I knew they didn't like to wander away from the canal and, besides, they couldn't get in the house. We were safe as long as we didn't go right up to the big ditch.
Monsters are a different kettle of childhood horrors. What's to say it couldn't emerge from the sump hole at night and stalk the countryside? Will mere doors and walls suffice to keep it at bay? It certainly must be hungry by now. It dined on cow well over a year ago. The monster may be restive. And I'd prefer that we not sow the seeds of a bone-deep childhood paranoia. Or night terrors.
Uncle Zee had an idea. He got together with the boys' grandfather.
My brother and I have nearly worked it out, I believe. The sump hole will be getting a chain-link fence. The boys will think it's to keep the big monster in, but it's really to keep the little monsters out.