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The great possum hunt

I spent a good bit of time as a kid in Ohio hunting, fishing, trapping, camping, and anything thing else that did not involve gainful employment or study. I had a number of partners in crime—Kelsey (Lurch) Puckett, Lamar Snipes, Rastus Clodfelter (the local bootlegger) and others. I lost track of most of the conspirators when I moved from Ohio to Alabama. Lurch and Lamar, however, stayed in touch. We would occasionally write to each other (this was way pre-email) and occasionally call one another on the phone.

I had settled into the new life of a southern kid with no money and did what other southern kids with no money did—hunted, fished, trapped, camped and any thing else that did not involve gainful employment or study.

Lurch and Lamar decided they wanted to come to Alabama--they had never been south of the Ohio River--and help me do what I do so well, hunt, fish, trap, camp and . . . you know. We settled on a time in early fall and began to plan our activities. One thing we all had enjoyed in Ohio was hunting at night. The quarry of the night hunters in Ohio was the mighty raccoon. Raccoon hunting involved dogs, guns, and beer or something Rastus Clodfelter drained out of the bottom of his still. Night hunting in Alabama involved usually a dog, a gun, and beer. We were after “possums.” Although there were possums in Ohio, I can never remember hunting them. Not so in Alabama. It was the game animal of choice for night hunting, that is until some reddish-necked person realized that deer were easier to shoot at night than in the daytime. Back in the late 1950’s we hunted possums at night and would never have thought of shooting a deer at night.

Anyhow, I planned 3 consecutive nights of possum hunting for my Yankee friends. I lined up a local dog known for its possum sniffing prowess and two of my southern friends, John Melson Henry and James Lee Basset. John Melson and James Lee were avid possum hunters and champion beer drinkers. An ideal combination.

Lurch and Lamar arrived at the appointed time and, after a short rest, which included a major relationship with the beer we had iced down for the hunt, we went hunting. We turned the dog (Slab) loose and he lit out in a dead walk. Slab was not one to get in a hurry. He believed a dog should stop and smell the roses--then pee on them. For the first 20 minutes of the hunt it was sniff and pee, sniff and pee—it probably had something to do with all the beer Lurch and Lamar had to drink accompanied by their allergies. After they got control of themselves, they sat back with a can of beer to await the excitement of the hunt. Slab in the meantime had ambled off in search of the omnipresent possum. It wasn’t long, maybe an hour or two, before Slab let out a deep bass bark that indicated that he was onto something. We all put our partially drunk cans of beer back in the cooler to await our return from capturing the possum. We walked about 100 yards to where Slab was sitting down by a tree barking with as little enthusiasm as I have ever heard a dog bark. John Melson told me that Slab never got very excited about anything. He seemed to be correct. The antecedent of the previous “he” is unclear—it could be John Melson or it could be Slab. It was both. John Melson was right about Slab and Slab was right about the possum. The possum was about 10 feet up a little sweet gum tree looking down at us with his red eyes blazing. He was not a happy possum.

What happens now, Lurch wanted to know. Here opinion varies on just what to do when you have treed a possum. Opinion is so varied that many possum hunts just fall apart at this point and the hunters go back to the cooler and finish their beer. However, in this case John Melson decided (it was after all his dog that treed the critter) that we would shake the possum out of the tree and put in the burlap bag we had brought along for that purpose. It was a small sweet gum and not difficult to shake. After about 5 minutes of shaking, the possum turned loose and came tumbling down out of the tree. I felt sure Slab would pounce on him and subdue him like the mighty hunter that he is. It was not to be. Slab looked mightily unconcerned and ambled over to a huckleberry bush and –well I’m sure you know what he did on it. The possum, in the meantime, hit the ground, bounded to its feet, looked at the circle of semi-drunken hunters, one of whom had a gun, and promptly fell down and played possum. It’s called “sullin” in Alabama. In this state Mr. Possum can be picked up by the tail and dropped into the gunnysack.

Lurch and Lamar were fascinated by this process. “Whatcha gonna do with the possum?” Lurch asked. “Take him home and fatten him up for about 2 weeks then eat him with some good fresh sweet potatoes,” James Lee said. James Lee was our local possum chef.

We turned Slab loose again and went back to the cooler. After a couple more beers, Lamar wanted to get a better look at Mr. Possum, so he opened the bag and shined his flashlight down into the bag to take a peek. Just as he did, the possum decided it was time to leave. The only thing between him and freedom was Lamar’s face. That did not appear to be a problem for the possum. He considered the face to be a handy stepping- stone for his escape. As he left the bag, he landed with 2 back feet on Lamar’s neck just above his shoulders, his 2 front feet sort of stuck in Lamar’s ears and his nose ended up just about the point where Lamar’s eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead. It appeared to be a rather obscene inter-species mating position. It is disgusting to even think about it.

“The position” fortunately was short lived as the possum decided he had no interest in mating with anything as ugly as Lamar when he could be with his hairless tailed babe back in his possum haven. The possum left without further adieu.

I will perhaps tell you, at a later time, about the other 2 days/nights of the great possum hunt and provide you with a recipe for roast possum with acorn possum stuffing.