A long time ago, in the 1950s, there lived a ten-year-old boy named Bernie Jones. He was a chubby, cheerful boy with unruly hair and a great big smile. He lived in a small town, in a big house, with his mom and dad, and his nine-year-old sister, Charmaine.
In a lot of ways, Bernie was lucky. He had a pretty good bike, a new pogo stick, and his best friend, Alex, lived next door. But the unlucky thing about Bernie was ... no matter where he went, no matter what he did, he always got into trouble.
Partially that is because Bernie loved insects. He kept worms in his shirt pocket and potato bugs in the cuffs of his pants. When he found a particularly beautiful bug, he would - without thinking - bring it into the house, to show his mother, even though he knew she disapproved of bugs.
He was so proud of them, one time he brought his entire collection of beetles to school, for show and tell. But somehow they all escaped, into every corner of the classroom, which caused the girls to scream and the boys to roar with laughter. Miss Jamison, dear, sweet Miss Jamison, for whom Bernie would gladly walk barefoot on red hot coals, was so flustered, she sent him to the principal’s office where he got into another big bunch of trouble.
Even more than he loved worms and bugs, Bernie loved snakes. And in this, again, he was lucky because right across the street from his house was a field with a lot of tall grass, and in the grass lived more garter snakes than any boy could ever hope to catch. On many spring and summer days, Bernie and Alex would go on snake safari. Over the years they had caught hundreds - maybe thousands of the wriggling - writhing reptiles.