Sunday, May 15, 2011

Didelphis virginiana

As newlyweds Sheila and I used to live at a Cave Spring address... Rt 2 Cave Spring... downtown Chubbtown in a little log cabin on Lake Creek a full mile from the nearest pavement.  It was the middle of nowhere in 1971.

Our first Saturday night in that cabin was a new moon night. When I clicked off the bedside lamp that evening I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The screech owls whinnied in the woods. The cicadas and crickets and treefrogs filled the night with sound till we drifted into sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night I fought my way to consciousness as I felt Sheila shaking my shoulders and whispering in my ear, “There’s someone on the porch!” I jerked up, and listened to the night sounds... those crickets and frogs and even a truck on US 27 a couple of miles away to the south, and my heart pounding, I thought, audibly. Then there it was ... sniff---sniff --- just a quiet little post-nasal drip.

The murderer had allergies, I guessed.

But I was absolutely sure now that my beautiful wife was wrong. The evil intruder ... sniff ... even now readying his knife to strike ... sniff ... was not on the porch. He was in the room with us!

My mind raced. ... sniff ... How could I save myself and my beloved? I’d been working down by the creek that afternoon, fighting the never-ending battle against invasive species  ... sniff ...  chinese privet and Japanese honeysuckle ... sniff ... with a machete my father had given me. It was leaning against the wall near the chest of drawers. If I could reach it  ... sniff ... before he struck maybe we’d have a fighting chance.  ... sniff ...

I inched my right hand toward the lamp as my left gripped the hem of our covers.  ... sniff ...  My heart pounded.  ... sniff ...

Click! I threw off the covers and swung my feet to the floor as the lamp illuminated the burglar...

... waddling with remarkable speed from under our bed between my legs.

AAAAAIIII!!!

A very young Didelphis virginiana, our only American marsupial, the Virginia Opossum.

We chased him with a broom and he ducked into the kitchen and scooted behind the stove. I left Sheila on guard with the broom while I went to get a flashlight so we could look under and behind the stove. As I turned toward the kitchen electric torch in hand, the night was split with blood-curdling screams!

AAAAAIIII!!!

I rushed into the kitchen to save my poor bride from some terrible monster and found her on all fours, nose to nose with a hissing little ‘possum, both of ‘em hysterical.

She had decided to pull the pots and pan drawer out of the stove so we could see behind it. She had gotten down close to it so she could peer behind it as it slid out. Well, that 'possum had taken refuge IN the drawer itself, curled into a bread basket, its sharp teeth bared, as surprised as she at finding itself nose to nose with a scary alien species.

Being me, I grabbed the old Minolta and snapped a few pictures before we put him out again.


We finally managed to make the little cabin Possum Proof, but he continued to hang around and we became kinda fond of the little guy and the bond seemed mutual. He made himself a nest under the eaves at the front of the house, and we left him scraps from our meals that he seemed to appreciate.

One Saturday morning I took my coffee and the latest Newsweek out the front door to one of the porch chairs to rock and read awhile. Lo and behold, that possum came down the corner logs and waddled right up onto the porch and climbed right up into the porch rocker next to mine.

We howdyed each other and enjoyed a little small talk. I asked his name and was surprised to find his mama and daddy must have known a little Latin, ‘cause he immediately identified himself as Didelphis Virginiana, but said most folks just called him Delphis, except of course, for his school buddies, who called him Doofus.

I finally worked the conversation around to the question that I guess just about anybody would want to ask a 'possum if they got the chance: just how it was that his tribe had acquired the ability to play 'possum?  He was ready for that one. He told me that his great granddaddy, who was generally called Brer Possum,  had told the story to Joel Chandler Harris a long time ago but ol’ Joel had got some of it wrong. Another fellow named David Holt had done a little better at telling the story. But now he had the chance to tell it, he hoped I’d take good notes and be sure to keep the facts straight.

I'll tell that story in another post.

Delphis the 'Possum, June 1972


© 2011 Terrell Shaw