Three years after the childhood scare I told you about last week, I came across something which wasn’t at all frightening, but which was — to a 9-year-old boy — more startling than anything I had ever seen.

The top hit record of 1941 that day was a lyric tune called “Amapola.” The first few words of its lyrics were, “Amapola, my pretty little poppy ...” Imagine my amazement that sunny morning as a stark naked, 5- or 6-year-old girl came strolling down Brook Street, Staten Island where I lived, singing, “I’m a Pollack, a pretty little Pollack ...”

Don’t ask me where she came from or went to. I don’t know. All I know is this: that moment came as one of the biggest surprises of my life.

Not to mention one of biggest laughs.

Four years later at age 13 I was hiking the woods around New London, Conn. in a spot where I had learned to save myself a long walk down to the bottom of a shallow canyon and back up the other side. I did that by going to the place where the canyon’s inner end narrowed severely and butted up against the vertical face of a cliff. I would cross the canyon by inching my way sideward across the vertical cliff face with my feet on one narrow ledge and my hands on one just above my head. It was a bit scary, but it was short, safe enough if I was careful, and very quickly took me across the gap between the two slanting grassy upper edges of the canyon.

One bright summer afternoon I started across the 20-foot wide gap, holding onto the upper ledge with my hands as my feet inched sideways along the lower one. I had made my way partway across the narrow space, but exactly how far I had gone I didn’t know.

And then it happened!

My eyes were about a foot below the upper ledge as I inched my way across, and right out of the blue — without the slightest warning — a snake, which must have been lying on the upper ledge sunning itself, suddenly stuck its head right in my face, with its forked tongue just an inch or so from my nose.

Oy! Talk about letting go in a rush! I don’t think I ever reacted faster in my entire life!

I have read accounts written by people who told how everything slowed down as they fell through the air, and I can tell you that those accounts are exactly right. As I fell I found myself wondering what lay below. Was I headed for the rocks or had I reached the grassy edge of the opposite side?

I have no doubt that if I had fallen onto the sharp edged rocks below I wouldn’t be telling you this now. However, I was lucky. I only dropped about 10 feet before I landed on the slightly slanting grassy surface of the canyon, about a dozen feet or so from its edge.

Whew! Talk about lucky! And talk about startling! Nothing before or after that moment has been quite as personal as having those two, ice-cold snake eyes staring into mine.

When I stood up, I saw that it was only a “harmless” black snake, but turn your open hand toward your face, stick your fingertips two inches from your nose, and consider just how “harmless” any pair of unblinking snake eyes would look from that distance.

And wait till next week! Talk about startled!

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