The snake story sums up Benton Mackenzie's tenacity.
Jeff Mackenzie took a moment to share the story at a memorial service Saturday in Eldridge to honor his 49-year-old younger brother, who died Jan. 12 after battling cancer.
They were kids living in a rented farmhouse surrounded by cow pastures in White City, Kan. One afternoon when the school bus dropped them off at their dirt road, they spotted what they thought was a garter snake.
"Of course, Ben loves snakes, so he picked it up while I went to get the container," Jeff Mackenzie said.
They noticed the snake kept striking from inside the sealed container, leaving droplets on the plastic. After their father got home from work, he identified it as a venomous copperhead.
"We were very lucky Ben was very good at picking up snakes," Jeff Mackenzie said.
His fearless determination lasted until his death, he said.
Benton Mackenzie fought Scott County authorities over his efforts to grow marijuana for his own medicinal use.
He and his wife, Loretta, were jailed in 2013 and put on trial last summer for growing marijuana at their Long Grove home. They challenged a Scott County Sheriff's search warrant that led to the felony charges, and then at trial, they tried to persuade the judge to allow Benton to testify about his terminal cancer. The judge denied the request.
Meanwhile, his health deteriorated. Through countless court hearings and a two-week jury trial, the baggie clothes he wore masked huge cancerous tumors covering his rear and right leg, a symptom of the angiosarcoma he was diagnosed with in 2011.
The couple were found guilty on the felony charges, and their son, Cody, was convicted of misdemeanor possession. They were all sentenced to probation, and Loretta said Saturday she is continuing with their appeals even after her husband's death.
"I still think we have a good chance to win," she said.
Cody Mackenzie called his father his mentor.
"I learned everything from my dad," the 23-year-old said. "He was — I'm really going to miss him. I know he's in a better place. He'd hate to see people cry over him. He's tough as nails."
Jeff Mackenzie said his younger brother seemed to do everything before him.
"I always called him my big little brother," he said.
Benton Mackenzie, who also is survived by two younger sisters, was first to drive a car, get married and have a child.
"He's in heaven before I am," Jeff Mackenzie said. "That's the deepest cut of all."
The informal service for Benton Mackenzie wasn't without pop and goodies, as well as a sense of humor. A sign above the brownies stated: "Don't worry Iowa — they're just brownies."
Loretta Mackenzie, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, shared with dozens of family and friends how she met her husband two decades ago in Phoenix, when she was 21.
She dug guys with long hair.
"He had that look that captured me — long hair, mustache," she said. "He wore a leather jacket without a shirt, which was funny because it was Arizona."
He was going through a tough patch and living on the streets, but he never complained.
"He was the kindest, gentlest guy I ever met," she said.
They were married 22 years.
Her husband's picture is her cellphone's home screen. Since his death, she's made it a point to kiss his picture every night before she goes to bed. One night, as she kissed his picture, a video game app for black jack turned on. She said he loved playing black jack.
It's no surprise Benton Mackenzie learned how to extract medicinal oil from marijuana plants, which he used to ingest and rub on his tumors. His brother said that at 13 years old he taught himself taxidermy using a frog, a knife and a fork.
He also was keen on hunting and skinning opossum and snakes. He once brought home a 4-foot-long rattlesnake and cooked it.
"He was the only one who was going to eat that rattlesnake," Jeff Mackenzie said.
What Benton Mackenzie loved to do most of all was play bagpipes.
His mother, Dottie Mackenzie, shared how he piped "Amazing Grace" for his grandmother while she was on her death bed.
"I ran outside to tell Ben he had just piped his grandmother home," Dottie Mackenzie said.
Loretta Mackenzie said her husband probably is playing bagpipes in heaven.
"He's at a Scottish castle with a moat and on top he's piping with William Wallace," she said.