The Story Of O

When I recently wrote here about the folks of Brasstown, North Carolina, who celebrate the New Year by dropping a live possum in a plexiglass cage from the roof of a gas station, this blog’s faithful reader, possum, mentioned in the comments that he possesses a rich trove of photographs of the marsupial, pictured at work and at play.

Those photos have now been vouchsafed to me, and I am going to reproduce some of them here. Because it is wise, every now and again, to spend some time considering creatures that are not human beings.

Accompanying the photos are two texts that possum authored for the Shriek Shack, back in 2006, long before the level of shrieking there became truly unsane. The first piece describes the cruel and unusual uses to which contemporary Florida politicians put possums. The second recounts young possum’s lesson from his father on the necessity of consuming what one brings to earth.

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The Florida Possum And Politicians

by possum

Very little warms the cockles of my heart more than a good possum story. Today the WSJ did the trick. On the front page is the title:

Possums Are Playing Upside-Down Role In Florida Elections

Apparently the lowly possum is a required pol toy in Florida.  Just imagine that.

Katherine Harris, the Florida congresswoman, U.S. Senate candidate and controversial former secretary of state, dangled a live possum by its tail. Other candidates waited their turns.

The 37th annual Fun Day and Possum Festival was underway. Candidates do their customary thing kissing babies and shaking hands before holding up a marsupial for the obligatory possum picture.

Don’t let it crawl up your arm and bite

is a customary admonition.

Any person who ever tangled with a live possum will recognize the wisdom of that advice. While they may pretend to be dead as a defense mechanism the creature can scratch and bite with the best of them.

Perhaps the best parts of the story have to do with possum dinner.

…tastes like chicken. (snip) That’s a bad chicken.

My lone experience suggests they taste just about as bad as they smell. Nothing good about cooked possum under the best of circumstances.

The town of Wausua is about 90 miles west of Tallahassee. With a population of 411, the town apparently has more possums about than humans. The locals recommend possum fried, stewed, baked, and so on. Must not be much to eat in Wausua these days.

The killer line of the article goes like this:

There’s a direct correlation between possums and politicians. They get into office and they play possum—then every election they go out and pretend to be something else.

Fine words. An apt description.

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There’s Possum For Dinner, Children

by possum

Childhood is such a marvelous time. A time of great wonders when nearly every experience is new. A time when food is still an exploration. We all have memories of those times past. In today’s life my friends and I are real foodies. We love fine food and the stories that go along with such adventures.

Today’s recollection is of a childhood time when food was on the table but the experience was somewhat different. Follow down the yellow brick road, around the curve, and over the bridge for another of the possum’s tales.

As a child I enjoyed the benefits of hunting wild game both in the field and on the table. By age six or seven my brothers and I were taught the care and handling of a shotgun. Christmas at nine years old brought the first shotgun of my own, a 20-gage, Remington, semi-automatic, with a stock shortened to fit the arm length of a child. The gun had quite a recoil and left a bruised shoulder behind after each day of hunting.

My family hunted rabbits and doves with regularity. When we were young my father loaded the car with people and dogs (if we were rabbit hunting) and off we went. Dad always knew a farmer where we could hunt with full permission of the landowner. Sometimes we stopped at the owner’s house, but most times we had blanket permission and just went to the fields. Many times we took along my father’s friend, Bud. I never did discover how the two of them came to be friends as they were very opposite in so many ways. Far from the privileged childhood that was mine, Bud’s existence gave new meaning to the word, poor. Bud was retired when we first met at about my 6th birthday. He scrambled for every bite of food on the table. His very living was always in peril from most any adverse event. Still Bud took life as it came his way without complaint. Whatever he had always seemed to be enough for his satisfaction.

Bud was a crack shot since shotgun shells in those days cost as much as 10 cents. He could not afford to miss even a single effort to kill his target or he would be both poorer and hungry. Many days my dad gave Bud shells for the hunt as there were not always enough in Bud’s house to accomplish much. Poor as Bud may have been in economic terms, he was a treasure trove of natural wisdom and folk tales. He knew the ways of the animals and could always find his way back to the car no matter how far we wandered through either fields or woods. He delighted in telling stories to show a child the ways of the world. If or not the stories were true I do not know to this day. I still remember just how tall Bud stood in the eyes of a little boy. In fact Bud stood tall in his own ways by most any measure of men.

One special winter day we were hunting rabbits. My father, my brother, Bud, and myself were in the hunting party as we were on so many occasions. For his own reasons Bud had dropped back behind the group. I followed him to see what was about to happen as Bud had a way of finding interesting things along the way. One just never knew what to expect in his company.  Seems he had seen a nest high in a tree. With no leaves on the trees the nest was easy enough to see  with a structure of leaves and twigs in the high fork of the tree. Bud, with his keen eye for nature, somehow knew the nest belonged to a possum and that the owner was in the nest. A 10-year-old boy is easy prey for a man who he worships and so convincing me to shoot at the nest was pretty easy for Bud.

Lo and behold, not only was Mr. Possum in residence, he was killed by a single shot aimed only at the nest. Somehow the eyes of a boy were not good enough to actually see the animal in the nest. Remembering the sound of that possum’s falling to the ground with a heavy thud shocks me to this day. The shot brought by father and brother back to see what happened. Father reminded me of the family rule, “Whatever you kill, you eat.” No exceptions were allowed. My brother already had a cardinal served for dinner when he mistook the song bird for a dove. Mr. Possum was duly loaded inside the game jacket I wore for the trek home. Mother was not entirely pleased to hear we had bagged a possum, but Dad convinced her that the lesson was important. Dad dressed Mr. Possum and presented him to Mother for cooking.

Mother boiled the possum for what seemed like 4 days, but was more likely only a few hours. The smell permeated the entire house since the weather was cold and the windows were all shut down tight. After boiling to remove a large portion of the fat which possums accumulate just from living a possum life, the carcass was baked for dinner. I remember mashed potatoes (a staple of family dining in our home) along with the meat. In addition we had green beans (green in name only as they were always cooked in fat and sugar into a shapeless, dark brown mass before eating) and most likely had jello in addition to dessert (Mother really made a mean pie or cake in those days).

Dinner in our household was almost always served on a back porch that was converted to a dining area when I was about 6-years-old. We ate on a formica topped, 1950’s table the same as did most of our friends and neighbors. Meals in the dining room were reserved for special occasions such as times when our relatives were visiting or the occasional Sunday dinner. Just imagine the family’s surprise when Mr. Possum landed on the dining room table. We used our everyday dishes and silverware but the room was otherwise decorated just as though we were having company for dinner.

My father served the meat from a platter in front of his plate. Each person got a fair share and somehow my share seemed bigger than others. Having already smelled dinner in preparation we were all suspicious of our fare. Our worst suspicions were confirmed by the very first bite. Not only did the meat taste pretty strong, gamy, and to our minds, purely foul, but the fatty texture lent a degree of sliminess that defies adequate description even though the memory is crystal clear even today. We each and every one were entirely cured of our possum dinner desires. Never again did we kill or eat a possum in my home. My father’s lesson was a good one, well applied so we learned right then and there not to kill what we did not wish to have for dinner.


11 Responses to “The Story Of O”

  1. 1 possum January 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Took a while for the tears of laughter to clear enough to author a reply. You made my day with this one. I can smell and taste that possum to this day. So many lessons of life are best learned the first time out.

    “…it is wise, every now and again, to spend some time considering creatures that are not human beings.”. Very fine advice. Many thanks for the posting.

    • 2 bluenred January 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Well, they teach you in the newz-biz that a catchy headline draws eyes. And my stats counter says I’ve got people coming in from all over to take a look at this one. ; )

      Thanks for the photos and text. Feel free to provide any stories surrounding the snaps, if you’re so inclined, and if such stories exist, and are suitable for a (bent) family audience. ; )

      And I surely hope that the fine food you consume these days washes away that possum taste at least some of the time. : /

      • 3 possum January 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

        Bent or not your audience seems to be an interesting collection of folk. The pictures mostly came from Flickr where people share their pics these days. I have not a single photo of my own relating to the lowly possum.

        Reading the story again I can once more hear that possum hit the ground. Somehow dead flesh makes a sound unlike any we hear on TV these days. The thud is pretty unmistakable.

        • 4 bluenred January 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm

          Well, I’m sorry to bring that sound back to you. Here’s a story from Belarus I saw today that may take your mind off it. Seems a fox shot a hunter:

          A wounded fox shot its would-be killer in Belarus by pulling the trigger on the hunter’s gun as the pair scuffled after the man tried to finish the animal off with the butt of the rifle, media said Thursday.

          The unnamed hunter, who had approached the fox after wounding it from a distance, was in hospital with a leg wound, while the fox made its escape, media said, citing prosecutors from the Grodno region.

          “The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle pulled the trigger with its paw,” one prosecutor was quoted as saying.

          • 5 possum January 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

            Good for the fox. Stupid human tricks. Who in the world would attempt to finish off an animal with the butt of a loaded weapon? Sounds like one for the books for sure.

            Wounded animals can be pretty ferocious. Reminds me, a cornered possum is one of the worst. Sharp teeth and claws can do a real job on human flesh.

  2. 6 Elva January 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Love this story. I am sure the dinner was just as he wrote. A few years ago, two baby possums entered my garage to get a meal of cat food. I went into the garage and there were four beady eyes looking at me. I ran and got my camera, not digital, and took a picture of them. My 5 year old granddaughter went with me to see them and to this day she remembers this surprise. Now I keep the back garage door closed. The pictures turned out great. Let Possum know I really enjoy his postings.

    • 7 bluenred January 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      You never et no possum, did you? I do know that when a child you were repeatedly drowned in mutton—old, tough sheep—and your memories of the taste and the smell seem to track possum’s of the possum. : /

    • 8 possum January 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      The story is as near truth as memory allows. My childhood was nothing if not an interesting and educational one.

      Our neighborhood creatures these days include a fox, a raccoon, and a pair of red-tailed hawks but no possums. That is the penalty of leaving rural behind and moving to the suburbs.

  3. 9 possum January 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Memory tricks continue today as I am reminded, the story of Florida pols may have been my first ever diary posting at the Big Orange. That was so long ago that memory may not serve well, but I believe that is true. Lots of water under many bridges since that fateful day. Times are better in Possum Valley and the GOS is not so big a part in the days these days.

    • 10 bluenred January 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm

      I ran a search on your early diaries, and the Florida piece was indeed near your debut. And I’m glad things are better in the Valley now, than they were then.

  4. 11 possum January 15, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Cool trick with the search. Somehow I missed the ability to pull that off. Thanks.

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When I Worked

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