The Snail Collector: A PTSF Repost

When I was five years old, I wasn't allowed to have pets. I was absent-minded and dreamy, sleepwalking from my bedroom at night only to end up under the couch.

My parents wanted to teach me responsibility. They said if I proved I could be less absent-minded and more responsible that they would buy me a pet. I wanted a rat. That was all that I wanted. A black-hooded rat and I wanted to name him Kevin after the cute boy that lived across the street.

One day my mother was gardening in the backyard, and I was helping her with the weeds. Under a heap of Day Lilies she had found a family of snails. They were eating her plants, and this made her angry. She plucked them, one by one from the plant and put them in a blue garbage bin.

"What will happen to them?" I asked.

"They're snails." She said, and don't worry, there will be hundreds more soon."

"But what will happen to these snails?"

"They will die." She said.

I left the crime scene and went straight to my room where I cried for an hour because I was so sad for the little slimy beasts in their spiral shells.

Puffy-eyed and frustrated at the unfairness of life, and sympathetic to the poor little fragile creatures that lived under the daylily plant, I emerged from my room and tip-toed past my mother, who was humming in the vegetable garden, oblivious to the fact that I was sniffling still, in the after waves of melodrama.

I found the garbage bin in the side yard. The blue one with the blue lid. Inside were the snails. There were dozens of them and they were ALIVE!!!!! A hundred little eyes on little faces looked up at me, smiling. They knew I was going to rescue them. They knew I was going to give them names and make them my "responsibility."

I dug up an old fish tank in the garage and hosed it out before placing the weeds from the trashcan inside, along with all of the snails I could find in the bin. There were well over twenty by the time I was finished, pulling them off the side of the plastic. Their little eyes went in when I held them in my hands, hiding. I always liked snails and pill bugs because they could roll up and hide. I wanted to be able to do that too. It would be more convenient than crawling underneath the couch every time I wanted to disappear.

Once in the tank they were happy. They had food and friends and family to hang out with. They were set!

I waited before each snail had a name before presenting my "responsibility" to my mother. I taped their shells individually with little masking tape nametags, which I learned would not stick for long. I named one Kelly. Kelly was the prettiest name when I was little and when I made believe I was someone else, I was always Kelly. Kelly was my favorite snail in the tank, but I admired them all for their own distinct personalities. They were snails, but they were also my pets and I wanted them to be happy living under my care.

My parents were touched and promised to buy me a rat as soon as I got rid of the snails, but I refused. "They are my pets!" I would say. My parents thought it was sweet, so they let me keep them (as long as they lived in the side yard near the garbage cans.)

That summer, I spent much of my time with the snails. I played dolls outside their tank, and watched them write foreign messages to each other on the driveway with their trails of moisture. I put them on my arms and felt them crawl all the way to my fingertips. I wrote them a poem.

One day my mother came home with an unexpected surprise. It was Kevin the rat and he was perfect, exactly what I wanted. He even had the white spots on his back. I was so excited, I couldn't wait to love him, play dolls with him and make up little stories where he would be the main character. Kindergarten had just started and I couldn't wait to tell my new friends.

But what about the snails? When Kevin arrived they seemed juvenile, embarassing, lowly and even disgusting. "Ewwww. Those things are gross." One of my friends from Kindergarten had said. I told her that they weren't mine. "They belong to my brother." I said.

"You should kill them with a magnified glass." One of the boys from the block told me one day. "We could put salt on them!" He said.

I said, "No" and he said, "Come on" so I said, "Maybe tomorrow?"

I went outside that evening, with Kevin the Rat on my shoulder and I picked up the Snail Tank. The little eyes looked up at me on slimy fingers and I said goodbye. I told them they were going to live in the backfield now, and not to come back to the garden because then they would die or someone would put salt on them or they would eat the poison my mother put in the soil.

I took the tank out to the backfield, in front of the lagoon and I let them all go. The eyes went in and they all hid in their shells for a minute, until they settled in the bushes and then came out again. I left them there, and brought the tank home empty, Kevin, the rat still on my shoulder.

I never kept snails as pets after that. I had proved myself responsible and ended up with what I wanted but my conscience throbbed for years on behalf of the snails: poor ugly and misunderstood. I swore to God I would never name another pet "Kelly" again, and I kicked the little boy from the block whenever he asked if I had snails for him to fry.

I lost much of my innocence with my lesson in responsibility. The lesson, which spawned a retrospective, taped in my memory to the shells of little snails doomed to die in the garden.



Anonymous | 2:36 PM

How cool were your parents to buy you a rat. I'm in awe of the coolness.

That was a great story about the snails. Not only did you prove yourself to be responsible, but innovative and kind as well.

Anonymous | 2:44 PM

I come away with seeing you as a brave little girl, rescuing these snails from certain death (and despite them looking really ugly and scary). The fact you moved on -- that's just life -- like breaking up with a boyfriend and dating another one.

Awesome Mom | 5:18 PM

That is a wonderful story. Good for you for not salting them but releasing them elsewhere.

Anonymous | 7:50 AM

Your story reminds me of a childhood snail memory of my own. I bought my friend Alex a pet smail. I don't know why I did it, I just did. We were probably 9 years old. I had an allowance, and I actually went and bought this snail from the pet store.

We spent hours trying to come up with the perfect name for the snail. Every time one of us picked a name, the other would say, "Yeah, thats a good name, but..."

Again, "Yeah, but."

So we decided to name her snail Yabut.

You know what happened to it the very next day? It died because she changed its water and didn't out in that stuff that kills the chlorine.

Yabut, and your snails, and their inevitable fate. Sigh.

Canadian Mommy | 8:33 AM

Great story! I had two rats as a kid. One named Zoey, and the other Morrissey. Yes after the singer! LOL!

Karen | 8:41 PM

Is this why Archer is the Pirate of the Snails?


Yes!!!! Good Memory!

J | 6:46 AM

Maya had snails for pets. And a hamster, and a dog, and goldfish, so it's not like she was desperate or anything. She would let them crawl all over her. Blech. Once the only way I could get her OUT THE DOOR was to let her bring her snail (Snaily by name) with us in her little plastic bug catcher. She took it out on BART and let it look around, and again at the ball park watching the Oakland A's lose to Texas. I've never really considered the curiosity of snails before, but that one sure seemed to want to know where it was and what was going on.

Over the years, she seems to have lost interest. Thank god.

Andrea | 9:09 AM

I like that story.

When I was 8, we took care of a neighbor's dogs while they were on vacation, and my sister and I, along with a neighborhood friend, would go over in the afternoons to the vacationing neighbor's backyard and play with the dogs. It was a mother dog with a few puppies, and we had ourselves convinced we'd get a puppy when the vacationing neighbor got home, that they'd be ready to adopt by then. We chose the one we wanted, and true to his word, the vacationing neighbor let us adopt the one we'd chosen. But I still felt like I was betraying the other puppies becuase I'd played with them all and hadn't chosen them. I loved them all the same, and would've taken them all home had I been allowed. Eventually they were all adopted, and we had our little puppy who liked to sleep on a pillow in front of a floor fan. I think I wondered about our puppy's brothers and sisters for well over a year before I realized they probably had loving homes, just like our puppy. But I still felt bad for not choosing them all.

Anonymous | 11:06 PM

This is a great story! I also kept pet snails once. We actually had plenty of other pets around, cats, a dog, chickens & rabbits (it's that hippy thing), but I was just fascinated by all animals so at one point I ended up with two pet snails. I kept them in a box and didn't know what to feed them. And that's how I found out that if snails get hungry enough they'll try to eat each other. They were subsequently set free.

I also had a pet mouse. He was tan and white with pink eyes and his name was Nicodemus and he had a mischevious nature. I still think about him.

Emery Jo | 11:19 AM

ahhh, snails... the original mobile homers.

I also have flashbacks of salt induced death on the back walkway of my grandma's house.

They would start to bubble and I would start to cry. It was like that horrible scene in Roger Rabbit where dude-man is melting and his eyes pop out all freaky like.

Kristen | 7:08 PM

I just love the image of five-year-old GGC, wise and alone and strong. Good story.