A shorter version of this story is in my book "A TIME AND PLACE A TIME AND PLACEThe Making of an Immigrant." I have expanded the story and it will be published as part of an e-book in the near future.
We Raced Snails
In damp places, under dense, dark trees, where the sun never shined, and the rain had washed the ground bare, we raced snails. Big snails, the ones who carried their houses on their backs, were thought to be the real racehorses.
We readied the track by scratching into the dirt a starting and finishing line. Side line markers were made out of thin sticks to guide the snails to the goal line. Behind the starting lines we made chutes out of sticks to point the snails in the right direction.
We picked big, wide-bodied snails with their houses seemingly too small for their size. We figured they’d be faster because they didn’t have to carry the extra weight of a large house. Strategy! Strategy!
Well, the race started when the snails were placed in the chutes behind the starting line. Their heads had to face toward the finish line. Of course, when one picked up the critter, the head and tail disappeared into their house. One had to be aware which end was where, as not to place your racer with the south end facing north onto the starting line.
We laid on our belly and waited. It took quite a spell for the snail’s body to expand and reappear. Good thing it was cool and comfortable under those dense bushes and trees. Slowly, the slimy glob got bigger. Like two tiny bumps, the eyes came out of the snail house first. Soon they expanded outward; eyes on two little sticks with a distinct dark pupil at the end of each.
The race had officially started. To yell and cheer the snails on did not work. All it would do was scare it back into its shell. So, you left your racer alone. The snail usually just sat there a while and checked out the new environment. As it oriented itself––it laughed at us.
Well, after a minute or so of orientation the snail still had not moved a sliver toward the finish line. We laid low, quiet, and motionless. Finally, all still and safe, the snails began to slither leaving a thin trail of shiny slime.
One would think, with eyes as good as theirs, stuck way out there on those little stems, they could see better. After all, us boys had the finish line and the side lines clearly marked. Yet those dumb snails were determined to veer off to the left or right or even turn around. Once the race began we agreed not to pick up our racers and face them in the right direction. However, we could place a stick to one side or the other if our snail started to veer way off track. Every time we did that, the dumb critter retracted into its shell. It then took its good old time coming back out, look around, before slothfully continuing toward the goal.
I never won a snail race, nor did anyone else. After an hour’s worth of racing, the racers, having traveled hardly the length of one’s hand, were certainly not worn out, but the trainers were. So, we went on to more exciting things.
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