Cousin Benny and the snake


Cousin Benny and the Snake
In times like these, when the people of our great land are as badly divided as I can recall, we need examples of unity and humanity and just getting along together, so  I’m gonna give you one.
At the center of the story is my cousin Benny, the only son of my Daddy’s baby sister, Anne.
Benny was born and raised in Mississippi.  He lives out in the country, south of Jackson, in a house situated so that he has a clear field of fire all around.
Why does he need a clear field of fire?
Well, after graduating from high school, and a stint in the Navy, Benny returned to go into law enforcement, like his daddy.  In that profession you tend to make enemies, bad folks you would not want sneaking up on you.
You also tend to see things clearly.  Break the law and you go down. Not much gray area there. Benny was instrumental in bringing Byron De La Beckwith to justice for killing Medgar Evers (and went on to play himself in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.”) We are proud of Benny.
More like a brother than a cousin, I always figured that if I ever had the urge to
go into a biker bar and want to come out alive, I should take Benny with me.
In his prime, at over 6 feet tall and well pushing 250  pounds, he was much a man. To look at him then, it was easy to believe the rumor that as an undercover investigator he infiltrated some pretty anti-social organizations, but we don’t talk about that.
Now retired, his curly blond hair, mustache and goatee have gone gray and he does not get around as nimbly as before, but he still has  an affinity for black t-shirts embossed with slogans like “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”  Though he avoids politics, I once heard him remark “I wouldn’t consider myself a liberal,” It was a point I wouldn’t argue.
Now the story.
In his younger days, when he got home from a hard day catching criminals, Benny would hop on his bicycle and go for a ride.  It was his way to unwind.
Now Benny likes snakes. Well, actually he likes to kill snakes, skin them, and cure the hides. Don’t ask why, just keep up with me.
One day, late summer, Benny was peddling along when he saw this rattlesnake in the road. Naturally Benny stops, takes out his derringer (if Benny has on clothes he has a gun) and shoots at the snake. He misses. Twice. Now out of bullets, he tries to run over it. The snake takes this none too kindly and bites the tire, hangs a fang, and is caught fast.
Picture the scene (visuals are important here). A massive man who looks like a fugitive from rednecks-R-us rolling a bike back and forth over a snake with its fangs hung on the tire.
Up drives this truck.  In it is a black couple. They see the situation and like any good Southern gentleman would, the man asks Benny, “you need any help?”
“Got a gun,” Benny replied. (Not a dumb question. ‘Course he does, This is Mississippi.)
The black man pulls out a 40 caliber automatic hands it to good ‘ol boy personified, who takes it and shoots the snake — a head shot. Impressed, the black man asks the white man if he wants a beer.
‘Course he does.
And the black man, the black woman, and the white man crack a cold one, kick back, and talk about snakes and guns and stuff.
Now that, dear hearts, is what we need more of in these troubled times.
Find a common ground – even if it is killing snakes and drinking beer.
Dwell on it.
Celebrate it.
For when we do, the rest won’t matter nearly as much.
So the next time you get all wadded up over something, remember Benny and his friend, and settle down.
You can thank me later.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at


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