snake

The text came in while I was sitting in my old bedroom in my mothers’ house in Washington DC. The phone rested in my hand. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. A snake hiding in my house in Charlottesville! I scrolled down to a photo of the little critter which my housekeeper sent. It really wasn’t very big. There it was stuck solidly to one of those horrible sticky rectangular mouse traps. Its whole body fits on the gluey rectangle. It is nice to be able to see what a snake looks like if someone finds one in your bedroom closet while you are gone. It is shocking to discover that the place one thinks of as safest of all, could harbor a silent intruder who may have been there for several days without my knowing it.

Our mother and Wiley

The reason for my visit to DC was to go to a memorial service for my brother who died last March. The service was delayed by COVID because his wife felt that there were good friends who could not travel in March but would be able to by September. There may have been all sorts of family drama in the back of my mind. So perhaps that is why it amused me to think of how some families harbor a viper within their very bosom, unseen until they strike. Some snakes are very pretty, sleek, compact, supple, and fascinating to watch. People can be like that too. They may be doing their snake stuff while you were totally unaware. I can’t help thinking there are plenty of times when ignorance is bliss in families.

Our brother was a wonderful buffer. He kept things light between factions who might otherwise argue. He was a peacemaker. He could be profane but carefully so. He did not believe in fighting to achieve success. He was a smooth operator. Everyone liked him. His old friends demonstrated their love and loyalty when he developed Parkinsons and later Lewys Body Dementia. I am so grateful to them. Since he only had sisters as siblings, he needed all those male friends for bonding and just “hanging out”. He cared about his church and his relationship to God. As a couple he and Janis were very secure in their beliefs. They found solace in the church and their pastor.

Our family was no more complicated than many others. However there were shoals and rocks and quicksand to navigate. Wiley did that nicely. His humor could be relentless and laugh out loud funny! He was inventive and loved pranks. In his younger days he made good use of those novelties one could buy that looked like vomit or dog poop or a spilled glass of wine. He enjoyed terrorizing his friends and family with a well placed ‘fake’. One day when I was a teenager he came into my bedroom with a very realistic looking rubber snake in a cardboard box. He pretended to wrestle with it, thumping it around in the box. It scared me so badly, I have never forgotten it. But he did not force the fright further than my initial terror and he left the room immediately. He was not a mean prankster.

You are in charge of You.


Some families deal with true violence out in the open and deadly. While others are terrorized with psychological warfare and mental games. Some people will look right at you and lie through their teeth. Sort of like the government does daily. Sort of like the Mainstream News. What is that saying? “If their lips are moving they are lying.” I know people like that, don’t you? And sometimes they are real charmers when they wish to be. A snake hiding in the closet. Other times the knives come out in plain view.

The service for my brother was lovely. Except that the church required everyone to wear masks. I rarely wear a mask anywhere these days. It felt really strange to put one on my face. The most ridiculous thing of all was the choir singing with masks across their mouths. Dangerous and damaging, I looked around the church and everyone was complying. Sheep. I wanted to start “baaaa-ing”. But I didn’t. I missed my brother. Perhaps he would have fallen for the mask mandate, perhaps he would have gone to a church in a mask. I don’t know. He was a different person in the last few years from the carefree “cut-up”, the mischievous joker, and downright playful young man I called brother. He was a rascal when he wanted to be back then.

Wiley was always behind me protecting me

In my imagination, the older version of my brother would have been making fun of everyone. He was completely irreverent and naughty. He did not believe the rules applied to him in most cases. He got away with all sorts of improprieties because he was so nice. Sweet. Kind and generous and such an easy brother for me to be friends with. He was more like an older brother to my children than an uncle. They adored him. Thank goodness, my children have been supportive and surrounded me with affection. This has been a difficult week.

The service brought all that up again. He was married for the last 19 years and had a life separate from ours. It is the time before that, the 55 years when he was my confidant and my buddy. I trusted him completely. We had a lot of fun together and he was a great houseguest. He used to come to visit us in the country at our farm “Heathfield”. He was working and living in New York City. He would ask “Is it OK if I come down for the weekend? I need to get “greened”.” And we knew what he meant. He loved the outdoors. The City does not afford much of the quiet our countryside was known for. He loved open spaces, and he was not afraid of snakes.

Ruth Buchanan with Bonnie and Dede and Wiley 1946

It is distressing that his life was cut short. He suffered such serious illness during the last few years. It became impossible for us to have the type of conversation we enjoyed so much. However, he left us all with a passel of memories. Happy, happy memories, of family trips and sumptuous meals, lots of shooting, riding, fishing, and boating. It was such fun driving with him in his famous jeep with the “Long Horn” steer horn nailed to the hood. It seems to me that he was forever sneaking out of or into places. He had so many romantic adventures I lost track. But then he settled down and appeared to enjoy it.

Well, now he is in Heaven where he can watch down on us and see all the family antics. There are no secrets that can be kept from the dead. He knows and understands all. It’s kind of creepy, really. He knows exactly who is doing what and to whom. When someone dies their spirit seems to stay around for a long time and interact with the living. I have a definite feeling of love and support from my brother. Maybe it was he who made sure it was not me who found that serpent in my house. He was very fair. And he did not like dirty tricks or a snake in the closet.

Copyright©. 2021 Bonnie B. Matheson

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