No, We Are Not From Here but the Possum Was

OK, we probably shouldn’t start with the possum. We should start in the beginning, with West Texas.

West Texas is where my husband and I are both from — a flat, desolate part of the world with endless horizons, a few gnarled mesquite trees, and spectacular sunsets. It’s a hard, unforgiving land, dusty, windswept and hot, and something about it draws — or creates — inhabitants who are flinty and unblinking. Many are of Scots-Irish descent. Their churches preach hellfire and damnation and their politics turn far, far right on red, green and every other color.

It’s funny. I could never live in West Texas again. But it’s shaped me permanently, giving me a dislike of mountains (too claustrophobic for my taste) and a low tolerance for people who put on airs. When my friend Brenda — who’s also from West Texas — and I recently heard Christopher Buckley interviewed, Brenda stomped out of the auditorium complaining about Buckley’s affected, semi-British accent.

“Maybe it’s just my West Texas coming out,” she huffed. “But I couldn’t stand that.”

I knew exactly what she meant. To boot, Buckley would probably have no idea that Colorado City, which is where Brenda is from, is pronounced with a long “a.” Ignorance is everywhere.

Which is precisely what another West Texas friend, Mark, was talking about at dinner recently. He told the story of a group of preschoolers in a small West Texas town who had been shown a variety of pictures to stimulate their vocabulary. They did pretty well, until they were shown a drawing of an umbrella. None of the kids knew what it was. This makes a certain amount of sense when you live in a part of the country that gets five or six inches of rainfall annually.

Anyway, that led my husband to tell our own story of West Texas shame. Almost 40 years ago, after he and I first moved to Austin, we were taking a walk in our neighborhood. As we neared our apartment, we were astonished by the sight of a possum scurrying across the street.

A possum! We were dumbstruck. We’d never seen anything like it. It must have just escaped from the zoo, we agreed.

We rushed back to our place and my husband quickly called the police to report the sighting. A few minutes later, a couple of cops arrived. We excitedly explained what had happened and where they could possibly recapture the possum, if they were quick.

They just stood there, nodding politely. “Where are you all from?” one of them asked, finally.

Oh, well, Midland, we said.

They exchanged glances and nodded. They didn’t seem terribly surprised.

“You all take care,” one of them said as they left. They got in their car and drove off in the opposite direction of the escaped possum.

Umbrellas, possums in the wild, Christopher Buckley and his accent: When you’re from West Texas, so much of life is a big mystery just waiting to be figured out.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)



19 comments… add one
  • You called the cops for a possum sighting? Hahahahaha!

  • Hey, I’ve called the cops (well, animal control) to evict uncontrollable groundhogs. I don’t judge when it comes to rodents.

  • Too funny. And the possum had the last laugh since he got away scot-free.

  • Cindy D. Link

    The July issue of Texas Monthly magazine is about West Texas and the drought. There is a photo essay that will break your heart. When my Minnosotan friend first moved down here she heard we were under a tornado alert. She called the police trying to find out where the shelter was. Again, it’s all about perspective.

  • Steve Link

    Did the cops really say “You all?” Not “y’all?” Really?

  • Wait till you see an armadillo up close, Ruth!
    I’m originally from Houston, and you’d think just 3 hours away, there wouldn’t be that many differences…well, think again. I’d never seen a scorpion except on a black and white Japanese movie, blown up a million times its size; or had I been bit by one – makes a hornet’s bite seem mild. Six million bats flying out from a bridge in the middle of downtown? Tatoos on top of tatoos? Every third person carries a guitar? And a man that ran around in a thong? God forbid you look inside your neighbor’s house one day. Who knows what you’ll find. Add to the list dears . . . I dare ya!

  • Bonehead Link

    Hilarious Ruth, great story. Friend of mine who grew up in Wyoming and spent his last years in Oregon always swore; he was going to strap a snow shovel and a rain gauge on his front bumper and drive south till he stopped for gas, and somebody finally ask what those things were. He said he was going to call that place home. Sounds like he would have enjoyed West Texas. Knowing him, he would have. He was a tough little son-of-a-gun.

  • Your story reminds me a bit of the ghetto kids whose IQ tests were low. They had no idea what many of the items were that had been included in the test. When they retested with items with which they were familiar, they did fine. One item has always stuck out to me: a car that was called a “deuce and a quarter”. This was known as a Cadillac 225 to those middle-class evaluators, but not the kids. Cultural experiences are the building blocks of our personalities and knowledge.
    I bet those cops had a funny story to tell all of the other cops and their wives later that night!

  • I’d love to visit the West Texas Museum of Oddities, just to find the commonplace. I might discover umbrellas: devices used to shelter humans from precipitation, or protect the throats of people with newly-acquired British accents, or maybe portable domes to shelter that rare species known as Opossums? Oh, well, no matter where one hails from, Life takes on kaleidoscopic fragmented-angles and reflections when one ventures forth into the world. But, really, it’s all the same, its just that the nouns have changed to protect the innocent.

  • Bonehead Link

    You got that right. Ignorance is everywhere. There’s even a bumper sticker that says it should be painful.

  • ConnieP Link

    Funny possum story. My Jack Russell Terrier trap one in my back yard two weeks ago — at 5 a.m. in the morning. I had to go out there with a flashlight because the dog was barking loudly and, no doubt, waking the neighbors. I didn’t know it was a possum (it was making a hissing noise) until I shined my flashlight in its direction. I have a large garden growing heirloom tomatoes. I guess the possum was poaching. The dog finally grabbed it by the throat and trotted off with it. But of course, when the possum played, well, possum, the dog got bored and wandered away …. and so did the possum. A few days later, I saw a dead possum in the road and wondered if it was the same one who had visited me.

  • Bean’s Pat: About West Texas, where evidently there are no possums. Great web site. Blog pick of the day from this wandering wonderer.

  • This story reminded me of my niece, visiting from Australia and sitting on my back deck having a chat with her dad. She started screaming and when I rushed out to see what was wrong I heard her telling her dad that there was a giant insect she’d never seen before buzzing around her and she was trying to shoo it away (in her defense, such sightings, Down Under could be dangerous).

    But I had to laugh: It was just a hummingbird, surely one of the loveliest little winged-creatures around.

  • Cindy A Link

    Hmmm. I’m from West Texas (San Angelo) and actually had a possum for a pet when I was a child. Note to self: possums make lousy and pretty darn stinky pets–never do this again. Maybe you had never seen one because they are nocturnal.

  • J. Rice Link

    Some of life’s best stories come from being young and being from another part of Texas and living in Austin. In 1969 my husband and I landed in Austin from the Texas panhandle so he could go to school at UT and I could teach school . We woke up each morning to the radio’s forecast for the day. Our first winter here the weather news that day was that AISD and UT had closed the schools due to inclement weather. Neither of us believed it because when we looked out the window we saw a little ground cover of snow and patches of ice, nothing to close school about to two experienced winter drivers. After some incredulous wondering if it was true , we followed our routine of him dropping me off at my school, then him proceeding on to UT. I was lucky a custodian was at school to let me in as indeed there was not school that day and of course I had no way of reaching my husband to tell him. He in the meantime was finding out that UT was closed, but still not really believing it, he stuck around to be sure it wasn’t going to open later that day. Several hours later, he picked me up and to this day we laugh about our first “bad weather” day in Austin.

  • J. Rice Link

    This comment is just to say I do not know why my name with e-mail is still showing unless I have to make a comment to get it hidden. Obviously I am new to this type of communication.
    Idid enjoy the possum story as it reminded me of being young & naive in Austin, thus the first post.
    If my name is still showing after this try I will have to consult a posting expert.

  • At least you didn’t think it was a giant rat. Worst experience was facing one off with a shovel in my barn. Nasty buggers!

  • I don’t think I have heard Christopher Buckley talk (I try to avoid the likes of him) but I couldn’t stand his father’s phoney “high class” accent. Nor could I abide his right-wing religious views. Why were you listening to C Buckley, anyhow?

    I love the story about the possum.

  • Your wonderful stories always surprise me.

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