The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Visit From Oscar

By Anita Louise McCormick © 1992

Issue: January, 1992

The little dog in the back was barking quite seriously now. Although I couldn't see him - or even vaguely make out his form - I knew exactly how he looked out there in the dark - his legs straight, tail stiff and his whole body going up and down in perfect rhythm each time he barked. And without a doubt, the shaggy mane of hair that covered his eyes and made us all wonder how he could tell where he was going was bouncing along with the rest of him every time he sounded out his warning.

At first, his barks were low and questioning. "Woof? Woof?" But when he heard the noise again - and the hideous thing that was making it finally appeared in the small patch of light under the neighbor's window - he barked and barked in all earnestness until everyone in the neighborhood was not only awake, but out on his back door step and armed with a flashlight.

At first, I thought a stray cat might be passing through. There's plenty of them around here, especially this time of the year. But no cat, even the most brazen of toms, would stick around with all that commotion. If it was a prowler or even a late night wino trying to navigate his way home through his self-inflicted haze, he too would have been on his way long ago.

Such barking, such endless yapping barking from a dog that usually holds his peace unless he is unduly troubled can only mean one thing. It is our turn to be honored by a visit from Oscar the 'possum.

Now Oscar isn't too bad a creature as opossums go. About the worst thing he's ever done - at least as far as anyone knows - is get into Herbert Crabdale's garbage and scatter whatever didn't appeal to him at the moment all over the back alley. It was a mighty fine mess, for sure. And Herb was mad about it for nearly a week before he cooled off. But that was over a year ago. And since then, we'd never known Oscar was around if it wasn't for that dog waking up the whole neighborhood every time he takes a notion to come our way.

Oscar is what you'd call a shadowy figure. He never does come out where you can see him in broad daylight, like birds and squirrels and other creatures do. I don't know if it's because he doesn't like the looks of us or he thinks we wouldn't like the looks of him. Or maybe he's just too shy to come right up and introduce himself.

He's a night-time fellow, alright. Sleeps all day. One time, Martha Olson, the lady down the block, found him all curled up in an old box she intended to send away with the garbage. She thought it was a bit heavy when she picked it up and set it out in the alley. When she opened it up to see what might be in it, 'Ol Oscar got all out of sorts and started snarling and hissing like you wouldn't believe. She dropped that box in a hurry and let out a scream you could hear from blocks. Ever since then, taking care of the garbage has been her husband's duty.

So far, no one else around here has had the misfortune of running into Oscar while he's in the process of getting his beauty sleep.

A while back, Ted and his younger brother, Phil made plans to catch the darned thing and take him off somewhere so he couldn't cause any more trouble. They were going to build a box with some kind of gizmo in it that would close the door behind him and hold it shut as soon as he grabbed the bait. Mr. Crabdale certainly approved of the plan, as did Mrs. Olson and the rest of us. But after that big storm came up they had to spend all their time trying to fix the roof - and they never got around to actually doing it. So Oscar, it seems, is still with us.

To tell the truth, I really don't know who gave Oscar his name - or even the occasion it was officially bestowed on him. No one ever tried to call him by it - or for that matter, even bothered to inform him that he had a proper name.

But folks around here think everything deserves a name of its own - and for an opossum, Oscar seems to be as good a name as any.

After all, Oscar isn't just any old 'possum that lives out in the woods somewhere. He's our neighborhood opossum. It's nice to have some way of referring to him.

Besides, he makes a point of paying us regular visits. And that's more than I can say for some of our relatives!

Editor's Note: Anita Louise McCormick sends this possum story from Huntington, West Virginia. For some reason, there are a lot of good possum stories out there. We even have one of our own.

When we started The Mountain Laurel in the old farmhouse at Meadows of Dan, Virginia back in 1983, we had several more cats than the two we have now. The place was on a dirt back road out in the country, and the cats roamed free. Every night after supper, we would take food out and put it in a big bowl on the back porch for the cats' supper. One night, it was almost dark when we put out the food and looking out of the back door, we noticed the cats were running up, taking their places around the bowl and eating, but something just didn't look quite right about the scene. We turned on the back light and lo and behold, there sat a big possum, right beside the cats, eating away. He didn't even stop when we turned on the lights. The cats weren't paying any attention to him, so it must not have been his first visit to the bowl. They seemed to accept him as one of them! If cats talk to each other, though, I bet they whispered behind his back that he was the ugliest cat they had ever seen.

If you have a good possum story, send it in and we will print it. We've never had a "possum" edition of The Mountain Laurel before!