“Where’s Dad?” I asked one Christmas morning. I had seen my father briefly at breakfast and to open presents; it was almost lunchtime.
“Oh, he’s out back burning that possum,” my mom replied casually, as if I should know which possum.
“The what? Never mind.” I headed “out back,” which is more “out off to the side in what used to be your horse pasture.”
There was my father next to the damp pile of brush he traditionally collects during summer yardwork, waiting for the burn notices to go from “EXTREME FIRE DANGER DON’T EVEN THINK WARM THOUGHTS” to “if you can actually light that I guess ok?” On top of the pile was a half-collapsed cardboard box.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” I asked faux-casually.
The Tale of The Possum:
When my parents bought land it came with a greenhouse and a workshop building. The greenhouse has been torn down but the workshop with its garishly painted door still stands and is their main storage building for things that don’t fit in a small house, only get seasonal use, or are tools.
It’s also a convenient nesting place for a variety of wild animals, including our cats.
This particular winter was damp and miserable. The cats wanted to sleep in the shop, but so did the deer and the raccoons. So the cats started leaping onto the screen on my parents’ bedroom window when they wanted something evicted.
One morning about a week before Christmas, my dad peeled a cat off the screen and went to investigate the disturbance. He found this:
Sure, my folks have a gun. My dad used to hunt. But a gun’s not much good when there’s a hissing bastard of an opossum between you and it. The Possum was having none of that “shoo” bullshit, either. So my dad did the only sensible thing:
We keep an assortment of long handled tools by the door of the shop. Unfortunately, all the useful ones were out at a job site, leaving my dad to choose between a leaf rake or a trenching shovel.
With this tiny, light shovel, my father set out to beat the Possum to death.
The Possum crouched, then snarled wrathfully. There’s a sound effect I make here when I tell this story out loud, but you’ll have to imagine the gurgling hiss in your head. Scroll back up and look at those teeth.
After what felt like hours, my dazed father finally lowered the shovel. The Possum had stopped moving. He poked it tentatively. It was actually dead, not just Possum-dead. He scooped it into a cardboard box and closed the lid.
After such an epic battle, it didn’t seem right to just bury the Possum in our pet cemetery. So my dad decided on a funeral pyre. He put the cardboard box on the bonfire pile and waited for it to be time to light the fire.
And then it rained Biblical rain.
By the time my dad tried to start the fire, there was no way anything was going to light. We stayed for hours. We tried white gas, kerosene, matches and candles. Eventually the needles burned off some of the tree branches and part of the cardboard box scorched away.
By the time it was dark the corpse of the Possum lay like Faramir on its sodden bier. The only thing that had ever burned was the box, and I think that really just failed rather than burned.
I hear eventually he gave up and just put some road flares underneath.