Yup, that’s me. Back when I had hair. On my shoulder is Peter, The Opossum. I regret that his prehensile tail isn’t in use, or at least visible, in the one extant photo I’ve found of Peter.
Peter arrived by a most unexpected route. One of the neighborhood boys, not a friend, brought me the infant opossum. This kid was not someone I’d have expected to share so treasured a find, though perhaps he did it out of spite, to further demonstrate to the girls – one in particular – that I was, truly, Nature Boy, and thus, indubitably, abby normal. Perhaps he was only not my friend because I was born and raised, K-3, elsewhere before being torn from my close Ephrata friends and lodged, like a hillbilly in the Hamptons, at the sign of that place: Mondamin of Manheim Township. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the doubts are strong. Intentional or not, his plan, both forks, worked like a charm. Despite our mothers having some sort of social contact – probably the Junior League, and despite us, as age peers, being mutually introduced by our affiliated mothers, I couldn’t have been more shunned by the cutest girl on the bus. And, yes, I latched onto that baby ‘possum like the opportunity I knew it was, my own Rascal, the chance to raise a wild creature with a personality greater than a garter snake, more multivalent than a mouse, more funky than a frog. This little guy, with his prehensile tail, he had real potential.
Rascal, the eponymous racoon in Sterling North’s book titled after his beloved pet, was, and remains, my favorite story. I’ve pushed the book on everyone I can, up to and including the neighbor girl, Atta Li, who lives across the street from us in our new location. When we met, she had heard that I was a professional in the fishing industry and, foolishly she realized, she asked me where my favorite fishing hole was. She was expecting me to name some local stretch of river, or a hidden pond. In answer, though, I handed her a book – and if you’re curious enough to read Rascal, you’ll discover my favorite fishing spot, unattainable though it is. My kids have read Rascal and before they were reading, they had Rascal read to them. I’ve recommended the book to clients. I’ve left copies of it in the lending libraries at some of the cottages we’ve stayed in while traveling in the Caribbean. I’ve offered to read Rascal (but only Rascal), on film, as part of the Covidious stuck-at-home educational program for a local public school, but even though the administrator in charge enjoyed the story, it was thought too politically unsafe and my offer was quietly rejected (yet in other districts and public libraries, trannies and drag queens can host story time, in person). Rascal is an elegy to the way life was, and should be again. It relates a time when a boy could explore the woods, return with a wild creature, enjoy the pleasures of the creature’s company, mature by the demands of husbandry, negotiate with neighbors when if the pet caused consternation, and then release the beast back into its native element.
The events related in Rascal took place in the late Nineteen Teens, during the final years of World War I. Even when I was growing up, nearly four decades back, thus sixty years or so after Sterling North’s story took place, the times had already been a changing, and for the worse. Government had grown so ubiquitous that there was no more right to private life, to managing one’s own affairs, and neighbors, who would not cross the strip of grass between houses to politely raise a concern, had no concern about calling in the authorities on a boy and his opossum.
….his death sentence forever endeared Pennsylvania’s Little Green Men to my heart. Thank goodness Peter escaped into the wilderness the day his head was due on a silver platter. I thought of him when I read Oscar Wilde’s Salome, illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley.
Not wanting to end on a grim note, here’s a more pleasant installation of artwork, crafted from Sculpey clay by The Mackenzie and Alex.
This picture is a close-up of a little diorama they made a few winters ago, when an opossum moved out of the woods and up onto our front porch, taking over our last chicken’s nesting crate which we’d set on the sheltered woodpile after a particularly bad storm. The opposum, for reasons I’ll never understand, was named Oswald. The Mackenzie crafted the opossum – and check out that prehensile tail! Alex made the chicken, a fine mock up of Gloria, the Golden Wyandotte.
Here’s Oswald, in Gloria’s Crate, as photographed by The Mackenzie:
And here’s Gloria, also taken by The Mackenzie: