Mum and the Snake

While Dad fought in the Korean War, and when I was 9, my mother and my brother lived in the Highlands of Scotland. Strathpeffer (pop. 1,500) was and is an old Victorian spa town whose imposing Highland Hotel was commandeered by the army in WWII for army families, many still billeted there in 1953. It had a sweeping, varnished staircase up which I once saw a man in brown overalls carry a tiny coffin; it had spacious grounds with rhododendron bushes where I played; and my mother would gather other children from the hotel and take us walking up into the mountains. Like the Pied Piper, Mum would lead us joyous kids along tracks, through woods and beside clear-running burns. Once on a narrow path we came across an adder, the only venomous snake in Britain. I can see her now, worried sick for us, waving her flock behind her, raising a rock above her head, crushing the poor reptile to death.


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