The day before Mother’s Day in 1971, approximately 45 miles southwest of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, soft-spoken Eric Wuschke, his wife Waldine and their two sons Steven and Ronald, moved out of their beautiful old farmhouse into a new cedarlog bungalow right alongside it. “It was the nicest Mother’s Day present I ever received,” said Waldine.
For the first 20 years of her married life, Waldine had shared her home with an ever-increasing number of garter snakes. Eventually, the snakes took over the old homestead which had belonged to Eric’s father before him.
The Wuschkes’ losing battle with the snakes is unusual but not unique in southern Saskatchewan. I have heard of three other families who have moved out of their overrun homes, and there may be others. It’s not something people like to talk about much.
The Wuschkes’ home was built around 1905 when the first pioneers began moving into the area. Over the years improvements had been made, extra rooms had been added, until it had become a beautiful twostory house with a hip-roof.
Waldine saw her first snake in 1951. As usual in those days, canned goods and vegetables were stored in the dirt basement, reached through hole in the kitchen floor. When Wal-
dine, only recently arrived from Ontario, went down to fetch potatoes for supper that September afternoon after helping Eric in the fields, she came up screaming and shaken. Crawling through the potatoes on the floor she had seen snakes.
One day the following spring, Waldine filled her washing machine full of hot soapy water and went to collect the week’s dirty laundry from a closet beneath the chimney. Returning to the washing machine with an armful of Eric’s workshirts, she saw a snake slithering through them, just below her face. Screaming, she dropped the load, snake and all, into the scalding water.
When Steven was born, Waldine, who didn’t have a refrigerator, was in the habit of keeping fresh a supply of baby formula in a pan of cold water in the cellar. Going down there one day she discovered the little black and yellow snakes wound around the baby’s bottles. Although the nipples were protected inside the bottles, she flatly refused to use them and, instead, made the baby wait until she had milked another cow, pasteurized the milk, and made up a new formula for Steven.
Garter snakes normally give live birth to a brood of 20 or more, the young being able to survive without food for months if necessary, so it was not surprising that every year brought more and more snakes around the home.
Waldine was an excellent cook and she loved nothing better than to set a neatly laid table for company. One Sunday afternoon she was about to serve supper when she realized everyone was sitting, tight-lipped and silent, contemplating a snake as it crawled in and out of an electrical outlet on the wall beside the table. She decided to ignore it, but no one spoke much, and her visitors left early.
Luckily, in time, friends of the Wuschkes became tolerant and understanding. In fact, one neighbor three miles away began to have the same problem. “He couldn’t understand why his well water got so riled up,” Eric said, “until he discovered it was full of snakes. Mine was too. I thought there might be one down there but I found out there was a cluster of about 40 or 50 inside the cistern which was under the porch floor. Lucky it wasn’t our drinking water. We only used it for washing. A couple of cups of Javex made them let go and then I could fish them out. But you had to be careful of the Javex. Too much and the water was no good for anything.”
Eventually they took over the house. “They were behind all the walls,” Eric said. “We never knew when one would fall down on our head, and it was nothing for the boys to fill a five-gallon pail in two days.”
The University of Saskatchewan advised the Wuschkes they could burn their house down, surround it with lime, or dig a ditch and fill it with calcium chloride into which, presumably, the snakes would crawl and die. The first alternative would leave the Wuschke family homeless, the other was out of the question with children around. There was nothing left but to learn to live with them. They did — for 20 years.
In 1971 it took Eric, with the help of friends and neighbors, about three months to build a new home for Waldine. The new house is built on a firm, snake-proof concrete foundation and its walls are built of solid cedar logs which provide their own insulation. The Wuschkes are taking no chances.
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