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Snake pit a rattling experience

Nov. 17, 2005

by SCARLETT STEAKLEY, columnist

To this day, there have only been 46 Miss Snake Charmers.

I'm the 42nd.

Your next question might be, "What exactly is a Miss Snake Charmer?" Well, Miss Snake Charmer can't be summed up by its misleading title.

My West Texas hometown of Sweetwater hosts the World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup every second weekend in March. In case you're wondering, a Rattlesnake Roundup is mostly just hunting, capturing, skinning and killing western diamondback rattlesnakes. The three-day event begins Thursday with the Miss Snake Charmer pageant. After my mother's incessant pleas, I agreed to enter the pageant. I thought it was a waste of time. But it was no snake's underbelly.

Contrary to popular belief, I did not charm snakes for the title. I participated in a legitimate interview, evening gown, casual wear and talent competition. To my surprise, and the surprise of those who witnessed my less-than-symphonic singing, I won the talent competition as well. I am from a small town with only 10,000 people, so my exposure to "cool music" and other things was a little limited. So I chose country singer Lila McCann's "With You." I can't say it's a song I would choose today, but hey, it got the job done.

After I won the pageant, the weekend festivities began. The weekend was full of daily appearances at the main arena, where I helped the professional snake handler with safety demonstrations.

We stood in the middle of a huge snake pit covered with hundreds of rattlesnakes. The stench snakes leave behind is less than pleasant.

Somehow, I wore my snake-proof chaps and carried a rattlesnake by its head and tail. All I had to do was hold the snake up high with its mouth open so the crowd could see its fangs while I wore my sash and crown.

After that, I stopped by the pit where dead rattlesnakes were stripped of their meat and skins.

You can buy almost anything snakeskin at the roundup -- snakeskin key chains, snakeskin earrings, acrylic-snakeskin toilet seats, snakeskin belt buckles, snakeskin boots, snakeskin purses and so on.

I participated in the snake-skinning tradition, visited the flea markets, awarded the snake-eating contest winners and enjoyed the evening dances. It was one glamorously redneck weekend.

Scarlett Steakley is a senior communication specialist from Sweetwater.