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Wednesday, 26 September 2007 00:00

The menagerie grows by one well-trained possum

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By David Curtis

I would like to think Haywood County is still considered a rural county. At least to me, sexing a possum is something I can’t really associate with an urban lifestyle.

Who would think that at 2:30 in the morning my wife and I would be examining the underside of a possum climbing our back screen door? Really, not a pleasant sight, especially at that time of the morning. Don Hendershot, nature columnist for the SMN, would have been proud of my keen marsupial observation skills.

“Look honey,” as I pointed to the exposed underbelly of our nighttime visitor, “we got us a boy.” My wife would comment that men would always notice the obvious.

Typically it’s the cats that get us out of bed with their screen climbing.

My wife and I are really not cat people, but my daughter Emma is, therefore we have two cats, or, more accurately stated, the two cats have us. We feed them on the back deck just outside kitchen door. They stay outside most of the time and only come in at nights to sleep in the basement in pet carriers during the colder months of the year. One is brown, she can be nice, and one is black, she can be not so nice.

You can actually hold the brown one and scratch her chin and pet her, but you have to catch her to do so as she will not come to you willingly. The black one will come over to you willingly only if she thinks you have something to eat, she’s the fatter of the two. Don’t even try to pick up this one; it’s beneath her to be held by mere humans.

This summer, the cats have taken up residence on the back deck. The chairs and table on the deck have become lounging furniture where they spend their days sleeping and dreaming of Little Friskies. Our bedroom is off the back of the house and at night we can hear the beasts coming and going from their food dish.

Much to the dislike of my wife the cats have started to climb the window or door screens when they want to come inside or when they want to be fed. The unmistakable sound of a cat climbing a screen is a sound that absolutely drives my wife crazy.

This summer the cats have developed a habit of wanting to be fed early in the morning, they would first meow at the back door and then if we didn’t get up quick enough to suit them, they would start to climb the screen door. Just the sound of cat claws on the nylon screen would rocket my wife out of bed.

I think the cats got into this morning routine because this summer when my wife would get ready for work around 6 a.m., she would feed the cats. But as the summer progressed they wanted to be fed earlier and earlier and now the ritual begins between 5 and 5:15 each morning — I fed them at 4:30 the other morning.

With a conditional reflex that would make Pavlov smile from the grave, over the summer my wife would subconsciously (I think she’s sound asleep, but she denies it) respond to the sound of the cat’s meowing or the sound of claws on screen by jerking her elbow into my side. Like some sort of human Rube Goldberg contraption, the elbow would wake me just enough to roll out of bed, take five steps, cut on the back light, open the door, pour cat food into the cat’s dish, shut the door, cut off the light, and retrace my steps back to bed.

Several weeks back a hoot owl woke us in the early morning hours, it was so close it rattled the window when it hooted. We both woke instantly and knew from the sound of its call it was a large owl, not one of the small screech owls that twitter in the night.

I whispered to my wife maybe the owl has come to eat one of the cats. It will silently swoop down and pluck the fat black one off the screen door, it could eat for weeks and I could sleep without the risk of an elbow to the head.

Early one morning while answering the cat wake-up call, I flipped on the light and went out the door. There sitting nicely waiting for their breakfast was the brown cat, sitting next to the brown cat was the black cat, and sitting next to the black cat was a possum. I’ve never seen a possum sit before, but this one was doing such a good job it deserved some Little Friskies.

I really think the cats put the possum up to climbing the screen that night. “Listen,” said the brown cat, “you’re the new guy, you climb the screen and the woman is out here before you can say Tender Vittles.”

“And when she screams,” says the black cat, “the man will come out and say something stupid like ‘whoa, look hon, it’s a boy,’ and then he’ll feed us.”

If I want to sleep until my alarm goes off, maybe I just need to get rid of the cats and keep the possum.

(When he’s not gender classifying the creatures that frequent his back deck, David Curtis teaches middle school in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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