Monday, May 7, 2012

Playing Possum

*An editorial note for you amateur etymologists: there is a difference between an opossum and a possum. The possum is an animal native to New Zealand and Australia. The opossum is the only marsupial native to North America. However, I have never heard an American, and certainly not a Southerner, refer to the country rat as an opossum. So, for this story, possum it is!

I went out with a group of friends last night to celebrate the birthday of L-, a sweet and lovely woman, transplanted from the heart of Texas. My friend C- was driving us home when she hit the brakes to avoid hitting a fat possum who was waddling across the road. "Oh, God!" I yelled, "I hate possums!"

I do. They're hideous, mean, disgusting looking things with their hairless tails and pointy teeth and beedy eyes. They bear an unsettling resemblance to a giant R-A-T, and you may remember how I feel about those awful things.

Honestly, look at this thing and tell me it wouldn't make you almost poopy if you saw it face to face in a dark alley.

Before I started writing this piece, I knew three things about possums:
1. They are ugly as shit.
2. They are mean as shit.
3. They are the only marsupial native to North America.

Also, they are all over rural North Carolina. So it was not surprising to see one lumbering across the road the other night. He crossed safely, and then my friend C- started telling us a story.

Some years ago, there was a local celebrity who told the story of his wife, who performed roadside rescues. But not the kind you might think; she didn't aid motorists or pick up hitchhikers or give out sandwiches or fix flat tires. When she would see a possum that had been hit and was dead on the side of the road, she would stop, get out, and check to see if it had babies with it.

Let me repeat that: She would go up to a dead motherfucking possum and check it for babies. If there was a litter of babies, she would take them home and raise them until they could be released back into the wild.

Look, I am an animal lover. Okay, 'lover' might be strong, but I am definitely an animal liker. But there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that I would poke around a roadkill anything, let alone a possum. I'm pretty sure I might fall over in a dead faint at the mere suggestion.

C- is telling this story, and talking about the baby rescue, and our friend L- says what may be the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life. She says, "So, would she do a c-section?"

Now I am picturing this middle aged, well off woman in a cardigan and pearls, bent over a dead possum, performing a c-section. I am crying, I'm laughing so hard, and C- (who is so much nicer than I am) says, "No, they have a pouch, like kangaroos. She'd check the pouch."And poor L- is yelling, "I am not a country person!", while I roll around in the back of the minivan laughing like a hyena.

I think checking a dead possum pouch might actually out-gross performing a dead possum c-section, because it requires more touching of said dead possum. Although I suppose she may have used tongs (probably just those little ice tongs, not big barbecue tongs). It seems to me that if a lady is the type of lady who will rescue baby possums and raise them in her home, she is probably the type who wouldn't have a problem touching them.

Apparently, there are all kinds of people who love possums, and even keep them as pets. In doing research for this post (I assure you, it was sloppy and incomplete), I learned that there are all kinds of people who check roadkill for babies. I find this incredibly disturbing and mildly nauseating. People! If God didn't want possums to get killed crossing the road, he wouldn't have made them so stupid! I see anywhere between one and three dead possums every week. This tells me that:
1. Possums are stupid.
2. God hates possums.
3. People need to stop rescuing possum babies, because they are messing with God's plan.

What would Jesus do? Jesus would stay in the g-d car.

But here is the most horrifying thought - possums play possum. When faced with danger, they can go into a catatonic state, becoming rigid with bulging eyes and a protruding tongue, and a foaming mouth. They can stay that way (appearing dead to a predator, or well meaning woman in a cardigan), for up to four hours.

Say you're super helper lady, scrubbing in for your dead possum c-section or perhaps just prepping your tongs to check the dead possum pouch. Then, all of a sudden, the possum wakes up, freaks out, and attacks you. Was it really worth being attacked by a man-eating possum on the off chance that you could save a couple of rat babies? NO! The answer is NO!

Stay in your car. Keep driving. Thank me later.


  1. OMG...I'm with you! I hate opossums! When Tara and I lived in Northern Cal., in the redwood forest, we had this friend Niles, who we asked to install a cat door. In a fit of frustration, he kicked the bottom panel on our back door and the panel flew out of the door.

    He called that a cat door (it just didn't close, but the cats could get in and out no prob).

    So, the weather is mild, we didn't worry too much, until the local opossum population discovered our fruit basket on our kitchen counter, in our house.

    Worst part is that with our opossum posse, came a rabid opossum. I'm not exaggerating either. This disgusting crazed looking animal would go walking around during the day and growl at people and dogs. It smelled like the skin was rotting on it's body as it walked.

    I HATE OPOSSUMS! and I agree, stay in the stupid car!

  2. No, no, no, no, no, nooooooo! Mike, your story is truly awful and I will never sleep again.
    Kelly - what gives with the possum baby rescue thing?! What?! There is no amount of anything in the world that would compel me to mess around with a possum carcass. Or a possum. I am loving your image of the cardigan & pearls lady with the ice tongs, though! My skin is crawling and I need to go bathe.

    1. I was eating a piece of turkey while I was writing this and had to stop. I can't write about roadkill and eat meat at the same time.

    2. Was it a turkey leg? Were you gnawing on a whole turkey leg and writing about roadkill?

  3. possums are of satan. i hate them and they scare me.

    i once was visiting richmond, va, partaking of an illegal substance (this was many years ago, so the statute of limitaions has run out, thank you). i was sitting on a balcony porch when i looked to my left and saw a possum, sitting on a tree branch, eye-level with me. it's a sight i've never forgotten, and needless to say, i did not go back out on that porch the remainder of my visit.

    1. A possum will flat RUIN an outdoor living space!

  4. Bahaha! I've never seen a possum. But I would have died laughing alongside you after that c-section comment.

    1. Consider yourself lucky! My aunt, after hearing this story, suggested that the woman would have to shave the possum belly before doing the section. That just about putting me over the edge.

  5. Kelly, your logic is impeccable as always. God hates possums and we should not mess with his plans.

    Ah, yes. The days of the fruit-stealing possum!(Thanks, Mike.) One day during that period, I drove up to the house with my two young boys and found the sucker on my front porch. I yelled at it...and it ran into the house through Niles' hole. So, there I was trying to encourage it out from under my sink with a broom. It hissed. It stayed. I called a guy. He came and got it out gently with a shovel. (That statement is not intended to be ironic.) I liked that one better than the rabid one with leprosy and blood caked over one of its eyes.

    1. See, I would have just started running down the street screaming. Then put the house up for sale. Possum cooties.

    2. Ohhh Gosh, I just remembered, Devin was only four then and we asked him about the opossum that had moved into our house and he said, "I think it is beautiful!" Hon, do you think this could be a harrowing pet story somehow? LOL

  6. Being a student of biology, I am neutral on the opossum. They're ugly, yes, though perhaps in a cute sort of way. But maybe I've been desensitized to them from my Zoology professor. Heh.

    He told us the story of the tame opossum he had in college - a fat overweight creature he named Blossom. Blossom the Possum. Who waddled and was very chubby and made me think of cute things. (Granted I like rats, too, having had a few pet ones. So I may have been slightly biased.)

    Same professor also had us memorize scientific names of local wildlife and the opossum was on every quiz. So by the end of the class we had it permanently etched into our memories. Didelphus virginianus - double uterus of Virginia - Virginia opossum!

    Same professor also brought 2 live opossums into class one day. I actually remember being kind of disappointed and I had been home sick that day - when else would I have a chance to see 2 live opossums up close? Said professor was the kind who stopped at the sight of roadkill not to check to see if it was living ... but to collect it to use later to teach how to make museum taxidermies of animal specimens. Or collect tails. Yes. He was rather strange. xD We did indeed have a "how to stuff squirrels" lesson using his freezer full of roadkill.

    But opossums are still pretty freaky at times. I remember driving at night once and the headlights hit the eyes of an opossum - will never forget that eerie yellow stare.

  7. You totally crack me up!! I needed a laugh-out-loud moment this morning...thanks!

  8. Great, great story - and thank you also for the etymology. I have never heard the term "country rat" and now want to know where it's used.

    I've never heard them called "oppossum" either. But I have friends who regularly stop for roadkill, to get bones for their comparative collection for zooarchaeology (identifying animal bones from archaeological sites). I don't think any of them ever bothered to check the possums' pouches, and I'm now mildly horrified by the thought that they boiled, sundried, buried, or fed the hidden babies to carnivorous beetles in their quest for possum bones. :-(

  9. Possums are evil, evil things!

    My mom has a frequent possum visitor. She calls him snowflake and even made a bed for him in the corner of her porch. She has caught him eating the cat food with her cats, too.

    I love my mom, but sometimes I question her sanity when she does stuff like this. She also fed cheese and peanut butter crackers to wild racoons on the deck of a vacation cabin once. I have pictures and video to prove it even! lol