Monthly Archives: June 2011


Week 10 Day 7

Reptile House


It is not just because of the relevance I have posted these three memories but Moses has been too busy to post anything himself.  We are close and I hope soon he will let everyone know what he’s been up to soon.

 3. Reptile House

 When I think of reptile houses, I think of zoos not some building off a dusty roadside east of Amarillo, Texas.  Hand painted billboards promising “Biggest Reptile House in Texas,” and “Stop in and see a pit filled with over a thousand snakes, “ littered the roadside.  It advertized itself as having the largest concentration of poisonous snakes in the continental United States.  Oliver had to see it.

 We followed the signs that led down a two lane road.  The building was long, a single story with bright red trim.  There were hand painted signs the size of cars depicting overly large and extremely viscous looking snakes.  Not one accurate rendering but all had a nice sense of blood lust.

 Before I could turn off the motor, Oliver was out of the car and running to the entrance.  I was still concerned about his reaction to Dinosaur World the day before.  But little boys do not worry about the same things their mother’s do.  He wanted to see snakes.  They were cool.

 I paid the admission and we entered.  The room inside was long with three walled pits, one on either side, the largest in the middle.  Centered above the middle pit hung a stuffed two headed monkey dangling from a string.  Oliver stopped and stared.

 “Is that real?” he asked.

 “I don’t know.”

 “Looks fake.”

 Mystery solved and Oliver ran over to the pit.  We looked over the edge and saw the bottom covered in snake.  It was a mass of slithering bodies.  The site actually made me a bit light headed.  I don’t like snakes.  Oliver pointed and said, “How cool is that, Mom?”  It was a precious moment because I remember him so happy and engaged.

 We looked at the other two pits and saw basically the same thing, snakes all twisted up together.  We walked along the walls looking in cages filled with lizards, huge spiders, and of course more snakes.  There was no one else in the building except the ticket taker.  We had the place to ourselves.

 “You may want to go look at the center pit.  Feeding time,” the ticket taker told us.

So we looked over the edge once more.  A door in the wall slowly opened and a man pushed the snakes away with a hooked pole.  He wore some type of thick waders that the snakes could not bite through.  This didn’t stop them from trying.  He had a large bucket hanging from his arm.  This was lunch.

The man took the bucket and tossed live mice towards the middle of the pit.  Using the pole, he pushed snakes out of his path and left through the door.  At first, there wasn’t much to see, writhing snakes with this mass of white mice in the middle.  Then one mouse just disappeared.  And then another.  The feeding frenzy began.  I have never seen anything as fast as those snakes striking their prey.

Oliver thought it was the coolest thing.  That is until he watched one mouse closely.  We saw the life just leave the little things eyes.  I was afraid this was going to upset Oliver.  He just turned and walked towards the door.

“That was gross,” was all he said.

“Yes,” and I left it at that.

I bought two bottles of pop from a machine.  We sat on the hood of the car drinking in the hot sun.  Dust was blowing up from the dirt parking lot but neither of us felt like driving yet.  I said something to Oliver like, “Must suck to be a mouse around here.”  He thought a moment and then said, “No.  It’s worse for the snakes.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“It’s over quickly for the mice.  The snakes, they have to live down there all the time.  I bet they just want to go home.  But, their stuck in those pits.”

Yes, my perceptive little boy had an interesting analysis of the situation.  The snakes just wanted to go home.   Like Moses and if he is correct, like Oliver, they just wanted to go home.

Not all of our adventures had deep meaning or melancholy endings.  These three stick out like talismans.  I don’t know if they have meaning.  I just want my son back.


Dinosaur World



Now abandoned, Dinosaur World was a must see for my son. It was a perfect marriage of Dinosaurs and kitsch. Located near Beaver Springs, AR, it was a hodge podge of brightly colored concrete reptiles and cavemen. Even Oliver saw there were no facts behind any of the exhibits. Badly molded cavemen stood in a wooden tower menacing the parking lot below as we drove in.

Why relate this memory over the taffy pulls, petting zoos, digging for diamonds or Cadillac Ranch? Because I watched my son run from one tacky exhibit after another looking for something. I don’t think he even knew what he searched for.

I let him cross the rope bridge suspended over water. Thinking back, I’m not sure it was even safe. But I wanted to see my son have fun and that he did. Oliver walked out to the middle, looked both ways making sure he was alone before shaking the bridge back and forth. He wanted to see how far he could move it and how scared he could make me. I was but didn’t show it. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction only to have him try something more death defying.

Then he found this big green dinosaur. I couldn’t tell you if it was supposed to be a T-Rex or a Spinosaurus, its ferocity almost comic. Oliver stood ten feet in front of it, staring up into the painted eyes. The claws were spread in an attack behavior but the statue was anything but menacing. Yet, my son stood transfixed. And just as quickly he was ready to leave.

We walked back to the main gate in silence. I thought about asking Oliver if everything was alright but decided against it. I could sense he just wanted to be with his thoughts. At the snack bar, we shared a Kong Burger and French Fries.


Actually, I ate a few bites and Oliver played with the fries. Finally I asked if he was alright. Oliver said he wasn’t sure. He was afraid but didn’t know why. He felt “fuzzy” and there was a ringing in his ears. He didn’t want to go to see a doctor. He said it was already gone. I made him promise to let me know if this feeling came back. He promised.

We pulled out of the parking lot and started back to the highway. Oliver watched Dinosaur World disappear into the trees. We drove in silence for a while. Then out of nowhere Oliver says, “Something’s going to happen.”


“I don’t know.”

“Good or bad?”

“I don’t know.”

And that was it. I tried to ask him about it later at the hotel but he said he didn’t know. It was just a feeling and the feeling was gone. I didn’t push. The remake of King Kong was on television that night. I find it now a synchronous event. As I later learned, Dinosaur World was originally named Land Of Kong and was somehow connected with the actor John Agar who was in the 70’s remake of the film.

Is there anything relevant about that roadside stop? Who’s to tell? In Moses’ dreams, my son battles dragons. He felt “fuzzy” with a ringing in his ears similar to what I felt the day he disappeared. Maybe I too am looking for relevance in simple coincidences.

Number 3 to come.

The Little Prince


Moses asked me to write down what I remember from my cross country trip with Oliver.  It was Oliver’s interest in roadside attractions that piqued Moses’ curiosity.  We’d seen a television show about these sideshows along the road.  They captured Oliver’s imagination.  In 1987, many were still open.  From the memories I have jotted down, three seem important—that is, based on Moses’ dreams of Oliver. 

 1. The Airport

 My father had been an Air Force test pilot.  He’d grown up in Pennsylvania and received his pilot’s license at age fifteen at a small airport near Clarion, PA.  So we stopped at what I thought might be that airport.  The stop was more for me than for Oliver.

 The county airport was small, but not the grass strip my father’d described.  We pulled up to a chain link fence and sat on the car hood to watch a small plane take off.  After that we just wandered.  The day was warm with a slight breeze.

 A shack stood at the other end with a wind sock draped from a pole on its roof.  Behind it there was a hangar.  An old man walked out.  He wore coveralls spattered with grease.  I remember he dropped some kind of wrench on the ground.  Just dropped it and left it there.  It seemed odd at the time, but there was no one to steal it.  He shuffled around to the front of the shack.  As he opened the door, he noticed us.

 “You need something?” he shouted.

 “No.  Just looking around.”

 “Don’t go past the fence.  Dangerous.”

 I asked him if the airport once had a grass field.  He continued to stare at us, hand still on the doorknob.

 “Not in a long time.  Why?”

 His question why flummoxed me.  I guess validating my father’s story was more important to me than I thought.

 “I think my father got his pilot’s license here.  A long time ago.”

 “Could be.  Who are you?”

 I realized I hadn’t introduced myself or Oliver.

 “Melanie Williams.  This is my son Oliver.”

 “Um.  Elvis.”

 His name was Elvis.  I remember that, and his dropping of the wrench, vividly.  He invited us into his shack.  It was cluttered with tools, maps and magazines.  A radio squawked every now and then, pilots asking to land.

 “Coffee?” he offered from the dirtiest coffee maker I had ever seen.

 I declined.

 “What’s his name?”

 “My son?”

 “Your dad’s.”

 “Oh.  Joseph.  Joseph Matthews.”

 His eyes crinkled back in a smile.

 “Crazy bastard.”

 “You remember him?  So this is where he got his license?”

 “No.  Down the road a bit.  That was ’42.  Wanted to join the Air Corp.  Too young for the war though.  Whatever happened to him?”

 “He did join the Air Force.  He flew in Korea and later became a test pilot.”

 “One of those crazy bastards, huh?  Didn’t go for space, though?”


 “He still around?”

 “He passed away.”


 “It was a long time ago.”

 Elvis looked at Oliver for moment and then began rummaging through shelves and boxes in the corner.  He came up with an old, tattered, slim hardcover book.  He handed it to Oliver.

“That was your grandfather’s.  First edition.  He gave it to me when he left.  Figured I’d get something from it.”

We both looked at the book.  Elvis was right: it was a first edition, English translation of “The Little Prince”.  On the front cover was my father’s name printed in pencil and now smudged with oil.

“Yeah.  Said the author was one of the most important pilots of our time.  I don’t know.  But if he’s gone, you should have it.”

“Thank you,” Oliver told him.

“Sure.  Got to get back to work.”

Elvis began to shuffle out of the shack.  I stopped him at the door.

“How did you know him?”

“Grew up together.  He always wanted to fly airplanes.  I just wanted to take them apart.”

He walked out.  Oliver and I got back in the car to leave.  I said to Oliver how crazy it was to meet one of Grandpa’s boyhood friends.

“Yeah,” was all he said as he opened the book.

I pulled out of the parking area and got back on the road.  Oliver didn’t say a word as we drove.  He just read.  I believe he read that book four of five times on our trip across America.  I wish I’d kept the volume.  But a year after his disappearance, I got rid of everything from that trip.  Too many memories I couldn’t bear anymore.

I’ve found a picture online of the book cover.  This one is in better condition than the one Elvis gave my son.  If Oliver is still with us somehow, as the dreams Moses describes, I believe that book stayed with him.

I will post the other two later.

I’M BACK. Why?

Week 9 Day 6

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