The Opossum

Isabella McCall, Columnist •

Years ago, when I was six, my momma taught me about opossums. We were out by the old barn one evening, shivering in the shadow of the mountain and feeding the goats their winter grain when momma shushed my childish jabbering and pointed towards the edge of the woods. I didn’t see what she was looking at until she grabbed my hand and started leading me, and the herd of goats following us, towards it.

Momma had stopped and turned to me. She whispered that she was going to be introducing me to one of Appalachia’s great actors, the opossum. As we got nearer I spotted a straight, fleshy, pink stick attached to a ball of dusted-up and mangy fur ambling along through the dry, muddy grass. Instinctively I had grabbed at my momma’s hand out of fear, but she held onto mine even tighter and pulled me closer to the little, alien varmint

Abruptly, Momma started making goat calls to the goats who stood right on our heels waiting for more grain. As if they were answering, yelling out “we’re here” they called back. When it heard the crude chorus of the goats, the little critter we were following started slowing down, skittering from side to side and limping.

I asked momma what was wrong with it, why was it acting sickly so suddenly. Momma just shushed me and motioned for me to watch the animal. As soon as my eyes fell back on the pitiful beast it stopped moving its paws and keeled over flat into the mud and grass. I quickly looked up at Momma for an answer as she smiled down at me.

“You see there girl? That’s an opossum, it’s the only actor native to these mountains. When it gets scared it falls over, playing dead ‘til the scare is over then it goes back to living, just like nothing ever happened.”

Once in a while, I thought about that odd little opossum, but it wasn’t until I was eighteen I realized that opossums weren’t the only species that could play dead.

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