Friday night, my daughter screamed — loud — from the bathroom.
It was one of those screams that let me know she was okay. People don’t scream that loud if they’re really hurt.
But I also knew it was more than the garden variety teenage drama. It was real.
I had had a long day with much work, had just finished a rather late dinner and, just few minutes before eleven o’clock, was getting a bit of rest, dividing my already half-baked attention between CNN and Facebook.
“What?” I asked.
Loud and shrill: “There’s a possum in the bathroom!”
Then, as Emma ran outside, she gave me the location: “It’s in the basket,” she called.
At the bottom of the laundry basket was a bra, not a possum, although I could see a resemblance.
I stepped outside: “That’s a bra,” I said.
“The little basket on the table!”
Sure enough, there was a possum in that basket, nestled between the comb, the curler (I think) and the hair dryer, looking up, mouth and eyes wide open.
It was a cute little baby possum with a white face, pink nose, and a full set of tiny teeth.
I knew what to do. I’ve had experience with possums. They’ve been sort of a theme in my life.
â€¢ One day, when I was a child, playing in the woods and creek behind our house, I came across a mother possum that had become caught and cut by a wire fence and was dying. Being, at times, far too curious for my own good, I noticed the baby possums in the mother’s pouch, still very much alive.
I was perhaps eight or nine years old — so I took the babies out of the mother’s pouch and brought them in the house, where I made a habitat for them in the bathroom, in a shoe box.
My mother, also the curious sort, called one of her naturalist contacts in order to learn the proper diet for baby possums.
I used an eyedropper to feed them a mixture of cornmeal and water — I think. In any case, they died before they were old enough to release into the wild.
I learned something about loss and rigermortis that day — something vivid enough, and morbid enough — to stick with me all these years.
â€¢ Several years ago, my parents noticed a full-grown possum in their bedroom. I think it was perched atop a cabinet, sleeping (or playing possum).
I wasn’t personally involved in this possum rescue. They called the police.
But I did happen to have an exchange with a police officer just a few weeks later who asked me for my driver’s license. When I showed it to him, he asked me where my parents lived — and I told him.
“I got the possum out of their house.” he said.
â€¢ Several years ago, my parents’ dog, Zellie, had two puppies. The puppies were a surprise. Nobody had suspected Zellie had been pregnant. She had given birth outside, next to the house, and my parents had made her a bed inside, in my mom’s home office.
One night, around that time, my father called and asked if I could give him a hand with something. While watching TV in his den, he had noticed a baby possum cross from one side of the room to the other.
At first, he thought the baby possum was one of the puppies — until he realized it wasn’t.
I lived only three blocks away. I went over and got the possum in a towel and put it outside, in the bushes beside the house, where it belonged.
A few days later, my father called to tell me there was a possum in the house again.
This time it was in Zellie’s bed, with the two puppies — and it was exactly the same size as the puppies.
You know how mommy dogs carry their pups around, picking them up by the backs of their necks? Zellie had made a mistake.
“She brought it in here,” my dad said.
Zellie, while nursing her puppies, was trying to nurse a possum.
“Amazing,” I said. “She can’t tell the difference between her puppies and a possum.”
“She definitely can’t count,” my dad said.
At this point, I was getting a little tired of my possum removal duties. I took it a little further, to the woods on the edge of Grant’s Creek, where it seemed happy enough — and it never returned.
â€¢ And within a few weeks of that, here at my own house, a full grown possum got into our little storage room, and into a hole in my ductwork, and found its way to air vent in my office. This vent is right next to where I sit — where I’m sitting now. Not only did it make a pesty noise, we could actually make eye contact.
I prodded it with a chopstick, hoping it would leave. This just provoked the varmit to do what possums do best, act dead.
It stayed for several irritating days and finally left. I patched the hole in the ductwork and hope it never comes back.
And my family wonders why I’m so quick to say “shut the door!”
Shortly after that ductwork incident, I wrote a play about a family that becomes a bit too fond of the possum that greets them from the vents. It’s called In the Ductwork, and had an excellent production with lots of laughs at the Off-Tryon Theatre in Charlotte, in 2003.
Last night, I put a towel over the basket and took it to the woods beside the Catawba soccer field. I put the basket on the ground and took the towel off. This little possum knew the drill. It scurried out of the basket and quickly disappeared into the woods.
So I’ve had my run-ins with possums. Hasn’t everybody? Or am I uniquely blessed?