In my “April Fools” column of last week, I made some positive remarks about the North American possum. Now, right away some of you will think to yourself, “Oh no! Not more possum talk — that ugly creature — that nasty varmint — the king of road kill!”
Well, let me tell you right now, there is not a creature on earth that does not exude some elements of beauty or carry a myriad of positive attributes, none more so than the possum.
For today’s offering I could very well be accused of plagiarism, for you see, this enlightening information comes from my own authored book of humor, “Hanging Out in Corbett Hill.” For those who’ve read the book, I trust you will enjoy the review.
Others who choose to read the column, unless completely void of any sense of humor, will come away from it with a smile on their face. Though I’m well aware that some may question the status of my sanity.
From Chapter 30, Elevating the Possum
In the aftermath of territorial expulsion of the North American possum by the English, Spanish, Italians, and other civilized Europeans, the majority of them opted for underground habitats, while a remnant became tree dwellers. In the Southeastern quadrant of what is now the United States, many gravitated to areas populated with persimmon trees and often homesteaded therein. Not only did the “simmon tree” become a place of refuge, it provided sustenance in the sweet fruit that it produced.
In the beginning, Indians and their new white “conquerors” made cursory attempts to tolerate one another and live in peace. The Indians introduced the settlers to wild turkey as a food source. After the bird was roasted, it was placed on a wood-carved platter and delivered as a peace offering. Some say that was the first semblance of what we celebrate today as Thanksgiving.
In truth, credit for the white man’s survival probably belongs more to the possum than to either the Indian or his turkey. Unfortunately, there is absolutely zero appreciation for that contribution. How often have you heard someone give thanks for a platter-laden possum at an annual Thanksgiving dinner celebration?
The white man continued eating turkey as long as it was delivered free of charge, but eventually the Indians got fed up with being shoved around and closed the supply line. Soon the Europeans discovered that it was much easier to capture a moping possum for supper than it was to catch a flying turkey. It was not long before the European man was warring against the Indian and Possum Nations, simultaneously.
In the early years of colonization, bitter winters created excessive food shortages. Without the delicate meat of the possum, many of our ancestors may have died of starvation, leaving behind no offspring to further populate this newly found “bastion” of freedom. If for no other reason, I feel we should pay reverent homage to the possum.
In a sense, his contribution may have proven to be the salvation of America. Some may grimace at the thought, but it is highly probable that the majority of us, were we willing to be tested, would have traces of possum deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) within our cells.
The possum seldom graces today’s traditional Thanksgiving table, but the few who have enjoyed the delicacy would tell you the flavor of turkey pales in comparison. Upper-crust society turns up its collective nose at the thought of eating possum, because, as they say, the hairy creature eats carrion and ingests other impurities. The fact is he eats as much live meat as dead; a fleeing lizard becomes his delicacy.
The status of the possum is often dragged to the level of a rodent. However the subject of this dedication is more honorably defined in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as follows:
“The possum is mainly a tree-living marsupial of the family Didelphidae, native to America, having a prehensile tail and hind feet with an opposable thumb.”
I submit that the possum has reached a myriad of evolutionary mutations far removed from the lowly rat. For example, the female is a celebrated marsupial. Not even the ultimate creation, woman, can boast of that. The only way a daughter of Eve can physically transport her young family is to either cradle him uncomfortably in her arms or strap him on her back in a crude makeshift carrying apparatus.
A lady possum just tucks her babies into a ready-made pouch and leisurely strolls through the underbrush. After the babies grow too large for the pouch, they crawl up on mama’s back as you see in the beauty represented in the photograph.
There are but few marsupials on planet Earth. When one has occasion to think of the land down under, Australia, the first thought that comes to mind is of that country’s own native marsupial, that great “sleek-haired hopper,” the kangaroo. What else comes to mind when one reflects on Australia? Oh, I know about Aborigines and beautiful seashores, but either would place a distant second.
Now, I’m about to raise some eyebrows. Through mild arm-twisting and articulate language, I have persuaded our respected elected representatives in Washington to assist in elevating the reputation of the possum to its rightful place. Come spring they will introduce a bill that would, if passed, make it our new national symbol. I think I have convinced them that the bald eagle has held that lofty position long enough.
My mortal years have been many, but I’m still looking to the heavens to try and spot my first-ever bald eagle. The only perch on which I have witnessed one was on top of a flagpole, and of course he couldn’t fly. He lethargically sat there with that dumb look and unbecoming scowl on his stolid face. The eagle is also a symbol of military rank for colonels in the United States military. One who wears the rank is often referred to as a Full Bird Colonel.
Furthermore, I question whether more than 1% of America’s population has ever laid eyes on a live eagle. Sure, some may have seen his image soaring across the movie screen, but that offers little real satisfaction to an inquisitive mind.
I submit that nearly every child and adult in North America has encountered a possum at one time or another. Just think for a moment of the tender feelings one might have toward the handsome little fellow if, in fact, he were elevated to national symbol status. Why? The answer is simple: because the two are already acquainted. Naturally, it’s easier to bond with one we know rather than a complete stranger.
I boldly proclaim this truth. Most citizens have trouble conjuring up a life-like image of an eagle, bald or otherwise. The majority couldn’t differentiate between a buzzard, an eagle, or an albatross. If I’m not mistaken, the eagle that we celebrate is as bald as the buzzard (vulture). That, in itself, is a turnoff.
There’s one thing about it, you can look high and low, but you will never find a bald possum, unless of course, a coonhound has had ahold of him. Unlike the eagle, in time that plucked hair will grow back.
Over the centuries, other four-legged creatures have become status symbols. The great elephants of India carrying their cargo; the lion as The King of the Jungle; the cheetah, known for its blazing speed; the camel trekking the desert sands as a beast-of-burden getting high mileage out of every gallon of water. Then, of course, there is the aforementioned kangaroo. With those powerful back legs and size-17 feet, he gets more bounce to the ounce than any creature on earth.
If the masses will jump on my bandwagon, and do it while it’s a hot issue, I can foresee the day when the word “possum” will have positive reverberations around the globe.
To be continued.