State snake triggers memories of Milky

Marriage teaches many lessons.

With the knowledge gleaned from marriage, a man can adapt to working in an office staffed by predominantly women. As part of that learning process, a man can realize that bringing a pet snake into the office should never happen again.

Oh well. At least we were ahead of the curve in having a milksnake serve as unofficial mascot here at The Weekly Post.

Last week, Illinois designated the eastern milksnake as the official state snake. Credit goes to Gentry Heiple, a 7th grader at Carterville Junior High School. Heiple worked with Republican State Rep. Dave Severin to pass legislation as a way to learn more about state government.

“I decided to do this bill to try and highlight the good and importance of snakes all over,” Heiple said in a press release. “And by doing this, I was able to visit the capitol and meet some of the most important people in Illinois.”

A cynic might say Heiple also encountered more snakes in Springfield than he could meet in the wilds of Illinois, but this is a feel-good-story, so we’ll skip that cheap shot.

Besides, I’ll always have a soft spot for milksnakes thanks to memorable experiences with Milky and Milky Jr., who for a time lived in the front window of The Weekly Post office.

Back in August of 2014, I offered a $20 reward if anybody would bring us a snake. The only taker was my fish biologist friend, Rob Hilsabeck, who showed up with Milky and a custom-made snake aquarium that actually kept the occupants inside.

Milky was a docile, friendly snake that anyone could handle. He even let me put a Santa hat on him for the Elmwood Christmas Walk, though he quickly wiggled through a rock to shed his hat. After 10 months, we deemed he had spent enough time frightening the staff, so he was released at Camp Big Sky under the watchful eye of Elmwood fourth-graders in Franke Keefer’s class.

Milky Jr. arrived in May of 2016 and provided plenty of memories too, though they were not warm and fuzzy. What we did not know was that Milky Jr. came to us as a pregnant mother and would eventually lay a clutch of seven eggs in her tank. No doubt that explains why she tended to bite everybody, since milk-snakes are generally easy to handle.

Or maybe it was just genetic, because the six babies we hatched also bit whenever given the opportunity.

Even so, when we paid state track qualifiers a reward for finding Burl Ives’ statute on the Eastern Illinois campus, they had to reach past the snake for their money. We never vetted that with our insurance guy – and didn’t check with him before asking former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti to hold our snake during her lone visit to Elmwood.

Looking back at it, hatching those babies in an incubator ranks among my greatest accomplishments. I still get panicked thinking about the day they emerged. Graphic artist Lynne Breitbarth loves all critters and had been keeping an eye on the incubator, where we placed the eggs in a mixture of sand and vermiculite.

“Um, I think the snakes hatched,” she said one day, though there was at first no evidence to prove her claim.

But as we stood there watching, tiny heads started poking up, only to slip back under the sand once they spotted us. This set off a panic and a hasty trip to buy Tupperware. Each baby got their own plastic container and on the top of each, along with holes poked to facilitate fresh air, was written a name: Wiggly, Walter II, Milky III, Squirmy, etc. I remember the names because those containers have been repurposed as storage for prairie seeds.

Alas, raising baby snakes is no easy task and we eventually released them. Milky III was last to go and, true to form, bit my oldest son.

“What great memories,” he said.

Contact Jeff Lampe at (309) 231-6040 or