Legend: Child takes mother's exaggerated warning to younger sibling literally and acts on it.
The most horrible tale I remember concerned "the little boy who wet." Depending on the version, he was two
or three years old. Despite scoldings, he resisted toilet training until his exasperated mother warned: "If you don't
learn, I'm going to cut if off."
Unfortunately, she was overheard by the boy's older sister. So one day, when the children's mother was away, the boy
wet again, and the girl took up a pair of shears and cut it off. He almost bled to death.
At the beginning of the war, a young mother sailed for Ireland with her two young children, a girl of five and a baby
of two. She was trying to settle them in their bunks for the night so that she could go off for dinner, but the baby refused
to stop crying. In desperation, she shouted: "If you don't shut up, I'll put you out of the porthole." This seemed
to quiet the child, and she went for her meal. When she returned, the porthole was open, the baby was gone, and her daughter
Origins: We've all said in a fit of anger something we never meant to be taken literally, words we later came to rue.
Sometimes such exclamations Cut down to size come back to haunt us, especially when they're repeated out of context. (A classic
example is the innocent defendant on trial for murder in a "Perry Mason" courtroom drama, who tries desperately
to explain under relentless cross-examination that even though he once shouted "I'm going to kill you!" at the victim
in the course of a heated argument, he didn't really mean it literally.)
A straightforward reading of this legend presents an extreme example of this phenomenon, involving a child who is too
young to understand that a threat made by her exasperated mother wasn't meant literally and acts on it, with tragic results.
This version serves as a warning to parents: Watch what you say around your children, because they don't possess an adult's
ability to comprehend the subtleties of oral communication -- they understand (and act) on a much more literal level.
But is that all that's really going on here, a simple warning to parents to watch their language? That both examples presented
above involve a mother (but no husband) and a daughter who maims or kills her younger brother brings some interesting psychological
interpretations to mind. Perhaps this legend addresses male fears of (literal) emasculation in a world dominated by women.
Maybe the daughter is identified as the older of the two children to emphasize that she really knows her mother's threat isn't
a literal one, but she acts on it anyway out of sibling rivalry. Could this tale even have something to do with -- dare we
say it -- penis envy?
Another possible interpretation -- the suppressed desire of the harried mother to be free of her maternal responsibilities
-- surfaces in variations in which both children are killed:
. . . there is another harrassed mum with two children -- the small boy and the larger girl. This time, she shouts:
'If you don't go to sleep I'll . . . I'll . . . cut off your willie.' This threat seems to work, so she goes downstairs and
relaxes with a suitable glass. Then there is a scream from withup, and she rushes to the foot of the stairs to be greeted
with her angelic daughter, brandishing a pair of dressmaking scissors, saying: 'He didn't keep quiet, so I cut it off for
you.' To the hospital quickly! Mum grabs him from the cot, wraps him in a blanket and rushes down stairs, shouting to her
daughter: 'You'd better come with me so that I can keep an eye on you.' She runs out to the garage, opens the doors and lays
her son on the back seat. Then she climbs in, reverses out of the garage, and runs over her daughter.
This legend bears some similarities to "The Nurse and the Wolf," one of Aesop's fables:
"Be quiet now," said an old Nurse to a child sitting on her lap. "If you make that noise again I will
throw you to the Wolf."
Now it chanced that a Wolf was passing close under the window as this was said. So he crouched down by the side of
the house and waited. "I am in good luck today," thought he. "It is sure to cry soon, and a daintier morsel
I haven't had for many a long day." So he waited, and he waited, and he waited, till at last the child began to cry,
and the Wolf came forward before the window, and looked up to the Nurse, wagging his tail. But all the Nurse did was to shut
down the window and call for help, and the dogs of the house came rushing out.
"Ah," said the Wolf as he galloped away, "Enemies' promises were made to be broken."
In 1994, the Chinese newspaper Guangxi Daily reported a fantastic story reminiscent of a cross between this legend and
the Fatal Telegram: They wrote that a man from the Henan province was fined 3,000 yuan after his wife gave birth to her third
child (a son, after two daughters), in violation of China's 'one child per couple' population control laws. The father supposedly
made a joke about the high cost of finally having a male heir, saying: "A 3,000 yuan fine just for this little penis!
We should just cut it off." This prompted the two daughters to cut off the infant boy's penis with a paring knife and
leave him to bleed to death while their father was away tending his fields. Upon his return, the father flew into a rage and
clubbed the two girls to death with a shovel, then committed suicide by drinking insecticide. His wife "went into hysterics
upon seeing the calamity, running naked through the streets screaming the names of her dead husband and children."
Legend: Friday the 13th is a day fraught with peril.
Origins: Although most of us would probably affirm that superstition's role in Western culture is now a much diminished
one, more a source of amusement than anything else, there are still those who allow their trepidation over particular days
or dates to prevent them from engaging in their choice of activities. We may make jokes about Friday the 13th and only kiddingly
instruct loved ones to exercise greater care on that day, but those who suffer from a fear of the number thirteen (triskaidekaphobia)
or a fear of Friday the 13th (paraskevidekatriaphobia) may genuinely feel limited by the rumored potential for ill luck connected
with the date.
The reasons why Friday came to be regarded as a day of bad luck have been obscured by the mists of time — some
of the more common theories link it to a significant event in Christian tradition said to have taken place on Friday, such
as the Crucifixion, Eve's offering the apple to Adam in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the Great Flood, or the confusion
at the Tower of Babel. Chaucer alluded to Friday as a day on which bad things seemed to happen in the Canterbury Tales as
far back as the late 14th century ("And on a Friday fell all this mischance"), but references to Friday as a day
connected with ill luck generally start to show up in Western literature around the mid-17th century:
* "Now Friday came, you old wives say, Of all the week's the unluckiest day." (1656)
From the early 19th century onward, examples abound of Friday's being considered a bad day for all sorts of ordinary tasks,
from writing letters to conducting business and receiving medical treatment:
* "I knew another poor woman, who lost half her time in waiting for lucky days, and made it a rule never to .
. . write a letter on business . . . on a Friday — so her business was never done, and her fortune suffered accordingly."
* "There are still a few respectable tradesmen and merchants who will not transact business, or be bled, or take
physic, on a Friday, because it is an unlucky day." (1831)
Friday was also said to be a particularly unlucky day on which to undertake anything that represented a beginning or the
start of a new venture, thus we find references to all of the following activities as endeavors best avoided on Fridays:
* Needleworking: "I knew an old lady who, if she had nearly completed a piece of needlework on a Thursday, would
put it aside unfinished, and set a few stitches in her next undertaking, that she might not be obliged either to begin the
new task on Friday or to remain idle for a day." (1883)
* Harvesting: "My father once decided to start harvest on a Friday, and men went out on the Thursday evening,
and, unpaid, cut along one side of the first field with their scythes, in order to dodge the malign fates which a Friday start
would begin." (1933)
* Laying the keel of, or launching, a ship: "Fisherman would have great misgivings about laying the keel of a
new boat on Friday, as well as launching one on that day." (1885)
* Beginning a sea voyage: "Sailors are many of them superstitious . . . A voyage begun [on a Friday] is sure
to be an unfortunate one." (1823)
* Beginning a journey: "I knew another poor woman, who . . . made it a rule never to . . . set out on a journey
on a Friday." (1804)
* Giving birth: "A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune." (1846)
* Getting married: "As to Friday, a couple married on that day are doomed to a cat-and-dog life." (1879)
* Recovering from illness: "If you have been ill, don't get up for the first time on a Friday." (1923)
* Hearing news: "If you hear anything new on a Friday, it gives you another wrinkle on your face, and adds
a year to your age." (1883)
* Moving: "Don't move on a Friday, or you won't stay there very long." (1982)
* Starting a new job: "Servants who go into their situations on Friday, never go to stay." (1923)
In some cases, Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) was regarded as an exception or 'antidote' to the bad luck usually
associated with Friday beginnings:
* "Notwithstanding the prejudice against sailing on a Friday . . . most of the pleasure-boats . . . make their
first voyage for the season on Good Friday." (1857)
* "It was accounted unlucky for a child to be born on a Friday, unless it happened to be Good Friday, when the
event was counterbalanced by the sanctity of the day." (1870)
The origins of the connection between the number thirteen and ill fortune are similarly obscure. Many different sources
for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen have been posited, the most common stemming from another Christian source,
the Last Supper, at which Judas Iscariot was said to have been the thirteenth guest to sit at the table. (Judas later betrayed
Jesus, leading to His crucifixion, and then took his own life.) This Christian symbolism is reflected in early Western references
to thirteen as an omen of bad fortune, which generally started to appear in the early 18th century and warned that thirteen
people sitting down to a meal together presaged that one of them would die within the year:
* "I have known, and now know, persons in genteel life who did, and do, not sit down to table unmoved with twelve
others. Our notion is that one of the thirteen so partaking, will die ere the expiry of the year." (1823)
* "The old story runs, that the last individual of the thirteen who takes a seat has the greatest chance of being
the 'doomed one'." (1839)
Superstition held that the victim would be the first person to rise from the table (or the last one to be seated), leading
to the remedies of having all guests sit and stand at the same time, or seating one or more guests at a separate table:
* " . . . Miss Mellon always gave the last comer an equal chance with the rest for life . . . she used to rise
and say, 'I will not have any friend of mine sit down as the thirteenth; you must all rise, and we will then sit down again
* "Every one knows that to sit down thirteen at a table is a most unlucky omen, sure to be followed by the death
of one of the party within the year . . . Some say, however, that the evil will only befall the first who leaves the table,
and may be averted if the whole company are careful to rise from their seats at the same moment." (1883)
* " . . . so far is this feeling carried that one of the thirteen is requested to dine at a side table!"
(The "thirteen at the table" form of superstition again harkens back to the Last Supper: the one who left the
table first, Judas Iscariot, died at his own hand soon afterwards.)
More generally, groups of thirteen people in any context — at a table, in a room, on a ship — were
believed to inevitably lead to tragedy:
* "On a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic
terror into several who were present . . . but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of our female companions was big with
child, affirmed there were fourteen in the room . . ." (1711)
* "Notwithstanding . . . opinions in favour of odd numbers, the number thirteen is considered as extremely ominous;
it being held that, when thirteen persons meet in a room, one of them will die within the year." (1787)
* "Many will not sail on a vessel when [thirteen] is the number of persons on board; and it is believed that
some fatal accident must befall one of them." (1808)
By the late 19th century the superstition surrounding thirteen had become even more general, with people going out of
their ways to avoid anything designated by the number thirteen, whether it be hotel rooms, desks, or cars:
* "'Look at that,' said Parnell, pointing to the number on his door. It was No. 13! 'What a room to give me!'"
* "For some time before the late War I went almost daily to the British Museum reading room . . . I gave some
attention to the desks left to the last comers . . . there was a very marked preference of any other desk to that numbered
* "The mechanic helped him get out [of the racing car]. 'May as well scratch,' he said. 'He won't be good for
anything more this afternoon. It's asking for trouble having a No. 13.'" (1930)
Once again these ill omens were avoided through artifice, such as the renumbering of rooms in hotels and inns to eliminate
any Room #13's, and misnumbering the floors above the 12th floor in multi-story buildings so that tenants could pretend 13th
floors were really 14th floors.
Just as Friday was considered an inauspicious day of the week on which to embark upon a new enterprise, so the 13th day
of a month came to signify a particularly bad day for beginning a venture. Although regarding the confluence of a particularly
unlucky day of the week (Friday) and a particularly unlucky day of the month (the 13th) as a date of supreme unluckiness might
seem to be obvious and inevitable, superstitions regarding Friday the 13th are not nearly as old as most people tend to think.
The belief in Friday the 13th as a day on which Murphy's Law reigns supreme and anything that can go wrong will go wrong appears
to be largely a 20th century phenomenon. (The claim that the Friday the 13th superstition began with the arrest of the final
Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques Demolay, on Friday, October 13, 1307, is a modern-day invention.)
Books of English folklore generally cite a 1913 Notes & Queries reference as the earliest known expression of Friday
the 13th as a day of evil luck, and this corresponds to what we found when we searched The New York Times and the Los Angeles
Times for similar references. In both newspapers the first mentions of the ill-fated date occured in 1908, as in this short
piece about a U.S. senator from Oklahoma who dared to tempt fate by introducing 13 bills on Friday the 13th:
13 SIGN ON INDIAN SENATOR
Puts In 13 Bills on Friday the 13th and
There's Little Hope for them.
WASHINGTON, March 13 — Friday the 13th holds no terrors for Senator Owen. The Senator from Oklahoma is a
Cherokee Indian, and he places the Indian sign on the ancient superstition.
To-day he introduced thirteen public building bills, and by a queer coincidence the file numbers ran from 6,113 to
There is little likelihood that the public building bills at this session will carry any but the most pressing improvements.
(It's interesting to note that this very early reference to Friday the 13th already describes it as being an "ancient
Similarly, a 1913 piece described a minister who offered to marry free of charge any couple willing to take the matrimonial
plunge on Friday the 13th:
EMAIL ANY COMMENTS TO ME.........
Legend: Even in the most crowded of rooms, an inexplicable silence will invariably strike conversationalists at twenty past
Origins: Ever notice how conversation spontaneously seems to die out at twenty after the hour? If so, you're not alone
— others have noted it too.
Why does this happen? There's no right answer . . . which in itself is reason enough to attempt to explain it away with
superstitious belief. A 1948 book about superstitions proffers this explanation for the phenomenon:
Sudden Clock silence — it must be twenty after
The most popular superstition on this subject, however, is the belief that when, for no apparent cause, everyone in a
group suddenly seems at a loss for something to say, it must be twenty minutes after the hour. This idea is generally accepted
by superstitious Americans, and is purely American in origin, going back to a legend which has grown around Abraham Lincoln's
For those who believe that the Great Emancipator died at 8:20 o'clock, a sudden silence is supposed to occur automatically
ever since, through some supernatural agency. By the same token, there are those who believe that it is also a special reminder
that the moment is of great significance and should never be forgotten. This superstitious belief has grown into a national
tradition among all classes of society.
For what it's worth, President Abraham Lincoln did not die at 8:20, although — as best history records it —
his death did occur at roughly 20 past the hour. Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's
Theatre at approximately 10:13 on the evening of 14 April 1865; he was then carried across the street to Petersen's Boarding
House, where he drew his last breath at about 7:22 the next morning.
A related theory asserts that human conversations lapse into silence every seven minutes; that is, that all members of
the verbal exchange spontaneously find themselves at a loss for anything to say, leaving a blank spot in the yack session.
It has been postulated that this seemingly impromptu onset of what in the radio business would be called 'dead air' dates
back to prehistoric man, whom evolution eventually hardwired into programming in these pauses to listen for the approach of
dangerous animals or members of rival tribes intent upon raiding the campsite.
Claim: A woman killed her husband by sitting on him.
Origins: Making no claims as to this story's veracity, I merely present it as found in a 1984 newspaper:
Harrisburg, Pa. (AP) -- A man whose wife weighed twice as much as he did was squashed to death when she sat on him
during a domestic quarrel, the Dauphin County coroner said Thursday.
Kay Weaver, 36, sat on her husband Kenneth, 41, for five to ten minutes in their rural home in nearby Elizabethville,
said Dr. William B. Bush, the county coroner.
"The massive amount of pressure on his chest rendered him unable to breathe," said Bush, whose office conducted
an autopsy and investigation. "Because of that, he suffocated."
State trooper Claude Mohr, who investigated the case, said Mrs. Weaver weighs about 280 pounds. Bush said the woman's
husband was a "very small, very thin" man, weighing between 125 and 140 pounds.
Mrs. Weaver was not in custody and will probably not be charged, the trooper said. "She was trying to restrain
her husband," Mohr said. "There's no indication there was any foul play intended."
Weaver came home drunk and in a bad mood at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, Mohr said. He soon went out again to go drinking
and returned about 9 p.m. after running his truck into a ditch, the trooper said.
After Weaver "threatened to shoot the wife and two sons and burn the house down," his wife attempted to
subdue him while a son was sent to get the state police, Mohr said.
Mohr said Weaver's drinking may have contributed to his death.
Barbara "weight of the evidence" Mikkelson
Sightings: The plot of a Picket Fences episode ("Squatter's Rights," originally aired 11 March 1994) eerily
echoes this news story. In it an obese woman confesses to killing her allegedly abusive husband by sitting on him rather than
bearing the shame of admitting she accidentally rolled onto him.
Claim: Obese woman brought to emergency room is discovered to have various household items concealed in the folds of her
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1998]
A woman with shortness of breath and who weighed approximately 500 lbs. was dragged into the ER on a tarp by six firemen.
While trying to undress the lady, an asthma inhaler fell out of one of the folds under her arm. After an X-ray showed a round
mass on the left side of her chest her massive left breast was lifted to find a shiny new dime. And last but not least, during
a pelvic exam, a TV remote control was discovered in one of the folds of her crotch. She became known as "The Human Couch."
Origins: "The Human Couch" popped up on the Internet in 1998, making several lists of "Darwin Award"
winners (although the subject hadn't met the requirement of "removing herself from the gene pool"). Its probable
source was a collection of emergency room stories published in 1996, where the tale was related in a slightly longer form:
A mordibly obese woman was brought to the Emergency Department for shortness of breath on a tarp dragged by six firemen.
After positioning two gurneys side by side, we somehow managed to lift her up. She was in respiratory Here I am! failure due
to her weight, which we estimated to be approximately five hundred pounds.
Attempting to undress her, we lifted her arms to pull her very large blouse over her head. To our surprise, an asthma
inhaler fell out from under her right armpit. It had been enveloped in the skin.
Reviewing her chest X ray, we noticed a round density in the left chest. With the help of an assistant, we lifted
up her massive left breast to find a shiny dime. No telling how long it had been there.
Finally, a nurse and two technicians attempted to place a Foley catheter in her bladder. After spreading apart one
tree-trunk leg at a time, they found a handful of industrial paper towels, apparently being used as a sanitary napkin. But
they also found an even larger surprise in her crotch -- a TV remote control.
When I gave a report about the patient to the unhappy admitting physician, I tried to cheer him up by reminding him
that if he did a thorough exam, he too could find buried treasure. We nicknamed our patient The Human Couch.
The patient's family was very happy that we found the remote.
The same basic anecdote has been circulating on the Internet since at least the early 1990s:
While examining an obese woman a third year medical student moved the patient's left breast to the side in order to
listen to her heart. Beneath her breast he found a sandwich in a ziplock bag. The patient stated: "Oh yeah, I forgot
Our society has an unfortunate tendency to associate obesity with slovenliness -- people wouldn't be fat if they would
just exercise some willpower and control their appetites, we callously assume, so why should we expect them to be concerned
about hygiene? (A connection made more explicit in the example above, in which the concealed object is not only a food item
but one the patient acknowledges knowing was there.) The grotesquely large woman with household objects and food concealed
in folds of her own fat is the epitome of the "obese = slovenly" image, an image unfortunately reinforced by the
attitudes expressed anecdotes like these.
Claim: Woman goes to emergency room when potato used as a pessary sprouts in her vagina.
Example: [Brown, 1996]
An elderly female comes to the Emergency Department complaining: "I got the green vines in my virginny."
The patient reports a two-week history of a vine growing from her vagina. On physical examination it is discovered
that she does indeed have a vine growing out of her vagina, about six inches in length.
A pelvic exam reveals a mass which is easily removed from the vaginal vault, vine still attached. Upon extraction,
the patient reports that her uterus had been falling out and that she "put a potato in there to hold it up" and
subsequently forgot about it.
Origins: The Here I am!tale of a woman who employs a potato as a pessary (a device worn in the vagina to support the
uterus) has also been circulating on the Internet since at least the early 1990s. The patient always refers to her condition
in some nonplussed, malapropic fashion (e.g., "I got a tree in the bedina" or "I got the green vines in my
virginny") to establish the image of a simple old rural woman prone to employing folk remedies such as a potato pessary.
Legend: Family pet startles man by sticking its cold nose into his genitals.
[Collected on the Internet, 1997]
Our story is not complete without telling of a man who could not give a convincing explanation about his broken arm.
He kept muttering something about trying to stick his arm through his car window that he thought was down.
That was the public version, in private, he confessed that it happened when his wife brought some potted plants indoors
after they had been out on the patio all day. A friendly garter snake had hidden in one of the pots, and later slithered out
across the floor, and the wife spotted it.
"I was in the bathtub when I heard her scream," he related. "I thought she was being murdered, so I
jumped out of the tub, and ran to help her. I didn't even grab a towel." "When I ran into the living room, she yelled
that a snake was under the couch. I got down on all fours to look for it, and just then my dog came up from behind and 'cold-
nosed' me. I guess I thought it was the snake, and I fainted dead away. "My wife thought I'd had a heart attack and called
for an ambulance. I was still groggy when the medics arrived, and lifted me onto a stretcher." "Just as they were
carrying me out, the snake came out from under the couch, and obviously frightened one of the medics. He dropped his end of
the stretcher . . . and that is when I broke my arm."
A mountain lad was very late for school one morning, but his excuse was deemed adequate. "Maw woke up Paw at
three in the morning," he explained, "because she heard a noise in the hen house. Paw grabbed his shotgun and ran
outside. He pointed it at the hen house and waited for something to happen. Something happened, all right. Our old hound dog
came up behind Paw with his cold nose, and we've been cleaning chickens ever since."
The victim is always male.
Prior to being summoned to deal with a domestic emergency, the man Cat balls was asleep or showering, thereby explaining
his nudity. In other versions he's wearing a robe with nothing underneath, thus unwittingly granting access to the family
The naked man is trying to effect a plumbing repair or attempting to catch a mouse or snake. The robed man is nursing
a hangover in his kitchen or on his way to collect the morning mail.
Either the cat swats at the man's dangly bits or the dog gives him the cold nose down under. The shock of the unexpected
attack causes the assaulted to crack his head on something (rendering him unconscious), or to faint dead away (leading his
wife to believe he's had a heart attack).
The overwhelming majority of these tales end with the ambulance men's dropping the patient and causing further injuries,
but in at least one telling the unconscious and exposed man is discovered by the police. Though they don't believe his story,
they don't do him any additional harm.
Origins: Where do good stories begin? We know this one has been around at least since 1964, for that was the year Herb
Caen told a version of it in his San Francisco Chronicle column. In that telling a woman spotted a leak under the kitchen
sink and called her husband out of the shower, as she thought there might be some connection between the two water lines.
The unsuspecting man got down on his hands and knees to attend to the leak, and, spotting something interesting to play with,
the family cat gave whatever was dangling a good swat, causing the man to knock himself out on the pipes under the sink.
By 1974 the tale was well enough known to be included in a Los Angeles Times roundup of urban legends:
Remember the one about Uncle Herb and the kitten? Uncle Herb, suffering the agonies of the morning after, is leaning
over the sink of his mobile home, shakily mixing an Alka Seltzer. He is wearing only a bathrobe, and the family kitten is
leaping up and grabbing at the tassels of his robe.
Suddenly the kitten leaps up under the robe and claws Uncle Herb in a particularly sensitive area. He straightens
up with a scream of anguish and cracks his head open on the soffit over the sink, knocking himself unconscious.
The ambulance crew, summoned by Aunt Tillie, revives Uncle Herb, and as they maneuver him out of the mobile home they
ask him what happened. He tells them. They start laughing so hard they drop him out of the stretcher, and he breaks his arm.
That this one has legs is demonstrated by its inclusion in a collection of "true emergency room stories" in
An unconscious 30-year-old man was brought to the ER by ambulance. His girlfriend had found him lying naked on the
floor of his bathroom and called 911. In the ER, he was found to have a large lump on the top of his head and, strangely,
several scratches on his scrotum. The lump was not much of an enigma and probably explained why he was knocked out, but the
source of the scratches remained a mystery until he woke up and provided us with the following explanation. He said he had
been cleaning his bathtub while naked, kneeling on the floor beside the tub. His cat, apparently transfixed by the rhythmic
swaying of his scrotum, lunged forward, sinking its claws into this pendulous target. This caused the man to rocket upward,
striking his head on the top frame of the shower door.
The "dropped stretcher" motif shows up in another legend, this one about an exploding toilet. It's not unusual
for legends to share certain common aspects.
In late 2000, this embellished version began circulating on the Internet:
Green Garden Grass snakes can be dangerous, Yes, grass snakes, not rattle snakes. A couple in Sweetwater, Texas had
a lot of potted plants, and during a recent cold spell, the wife was bringing in a lot of them indoors to protect them from
a possible freeze.
It turned out that a little green garden grass snake was hidden in one of the plants and when it had warmed up, it
slithered out and the wife saw it go under the sofa. She let out a very loud scream. The husband who was taking a shower ran
out into the living room naked to see what the problem was.
She told him there was a snake under the sofa. He got down on the floor on his hands and knees to look for it. About
that time the family dog came and cold-nosed him in the butt. He thought the snake had bitten him, so he fainted. His wife
thought he had a heart attack, so she called an ambulance.
The attendants rushed in and loaded him on the stretcher and started carrying him out. About that time the snake came
out from under the sofa and the Emergency Medical Technician saw it and dropped his end of the stretcher.
That's when the man broke his leg and why he is in the hospital.
The wife still had the problem of the snake in the house, so she called on a neighbor man. He volunteered to capture
the snake. He armed himself with a rolled-up newspaper and began poking under the couch. Soon he decided it was gone and told
the woman, and she sat down on the sofa in relief. But in relaxing, her hand dangled in between the cushions, where she felt
the snake wriggling around. She screamed and fainted, and the snake rushed back under the sofa.
The neighbor man, seeing her laying there passed out, tried to use CPR to revive her. The neighbor's wife, who had
just returned from shopping at the grocery store, saw her husband's mouth on the woman's mouth and slammed her husband in
the back of the head with a bag of canned goods, knocking him out and cutting his scalp to a point where it needed stitches.
An ambulance was again called and it was determined that the injury required hospitalization. The noise woke the woman
from her dead faint and she saw her neighbor lying on the floor with his wife bending over him, so she assumed he had been
bitten by the snake. She went to the kitchen, brought back a small bottle of whiskey, and began pouring it down the man's
By now the police had arrived. They saw the unconscious man, smelled the whiskey, and assumed that a drunken fight
had occurred. They were about to arrest them all, when the two women tried to explain how it all happened over a little green
snake. They called an ambulance, which took away the neighbor and his sobbing wife. Just then the little snake crawled out
from under the couch.
One of the policemen drew his gun and fired at it. He missed the snake and hit the leg of the end table that was on
one side of the sofa. The table fell over and the lamp on it shattered and as the bulb broke, it started a fire in the drapes.
The other policeman tried to beat out the flames and fell through the window into the yard on top of the family dog,
who startled, jumped up and raced out into the street, where an oncoming car swerved to avoid it and smashed into the parked
police car and set it on fire.
Meanwhile the burning drapes had spread to the walls and the entire house was blazing. Neighbors had called the fire
department and the arriving fire-truck crew had started raising the ladder as they were halfway down the street. The rising
ladder tore out the overhead wires and put out the electricity and disconnected the telephones in a ten-square city block
Time passed. Both men were discharged from the hospital, The house was re-built, The police acquired a new car, and
all was right with their world. About a year later they were watching TV and the weatherman announced a cold snap for that
night. The husband asked his wife if she thought they should bring in their plants for the night.
The police came a bit later and arrested the woman for shooting her husband.
Even in our own homes, we are not safe from societal disapproval. As in all "caught in the nude" legends, nudity
Cat ballsis punished, and the underlying message of such tales is that society will catch us and laugh at us, even if we have
all the blinds drawn and are acting as any reasonable person would.
This legend also employs the stereotypes of the typical man (can fix or put the run on anything) and the typical woman
(terrified of small harmless animals and wouldn't know a crescent wrench from a crescent roll). The wife's inability to deal
with domestic emergencies sets the sequence of events in motion. For the legend to work, it has to appear reasonable that
the average woman would panic upon seeing a mouse or garter snake or would not know how to monkey about with a leaky pipe.
She summons her husband to deal with such matters, and he comes running.
Barbara "dear, I've a run in my stalking" Mikkelson
Sightings: The "cat takes a swipe at something dangling" tale shows up in the 1972 classic comic The Collected
Adventures of Harold Hedd and in the 1976 Jan de Wetering novel, Tumbleweed. Also, the "dropped stretcher" motif
shows up in an an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, entitled "My Mother Can Beat Up My Father" (original air date
23 September 1964), in which Rob is injured while trying to demonstrate a judo throw using a stuffed monkey; when the ambulance
crew learns he lost a fight with a toy, they laugh so hard they drop their patient into the rose bushes.