Possum friends, today we say goodbye to Eugene Oliver Possum, who, at the wizened age of twenty months, has left us. We gather here to remember his life and to honor him in a death that we are fairly certain has actually happened. In the past, we’ve honored him in death a bit prematurely. His funerals usually end abruptly with Eugene opening his eyes and asking us what we’re all staring at. So, we’ll take a few extra moments this afternoon to make sure he’s really gone, this time. Hey Francis, can you poke him with that stick over there? Yeah, give him a good couple of jabs. No, it’s fine, go ahead. Right in the belly. Nothing? Try the ear. Really let him have it. No? You sure? Okay everyone, I think we’re good this time. Let’s continue.
Eugene was the son of William “Billy” Possum, who was a direct descendant of President William Howard Taft’s favorite marsupial by the same name, and Heidi Possum, his beloved, cross-eyed mother. He is preceded in death by his parents and sixty-four out of his seventy-seven siblings, last we heard.
Eugene was my friend, and he was also a father, a partner, and a son. Yet he was so much more to all those who knew and loved him. A ray of light in our community, he went about his days in a joyful manner, with a kind spirit and an open heart.
Eugene grew up in Tidioute, Pennsylvania, down along the Allegheny River behind the Moose Club, but it was a lucky twist of fate that brought him here to Marshall County, West Virginia. On that cold February morning when he climbed up into the engine of a Sun Chips delivery truck to keep warm, he began a journey of wonder and discovery that would take him many miles to the south and change all our lives for the better. I was the first one Eugene saw when he stumbled out from under that truck, dizzy and confused. He shook himself off and staggered a bit, and when he saw me crawling out from under old Don Craig’s toolshed he asked me where he was. I said, “Friend, you’re in West by God Virginia,” and he said it looked as good as any place else and asked if I could show him around. Since that day, Eugene has been my friend through ups and downs. We were all blessed to know him.
Now, my buddy Eugene had a mouthful of teeth, but he was all bark and no bite. His life was all about the joy he found in any given moment. You know, he loved pretending to be rabid. Humans always took Eugene for a dangerous varmint. They wouldn’t come within ten feet of him when he had his rabies face on. His favorite thing in the world was to go down to the playground and stagger back and forth. The kindergarteners would scream, “There’s that sick possum!” And Eugene would belch and drool and pretend to be hydrophobic. He loved the performance, and he never got tired of that joke because Eugene was a creature who was comfortable with himself. In fact, he was wanted in three neighborhoods for a string of urban chicken slayings, and he treasured the attention, misguided though it was. He never stopped chuckling about the notion that he was a cunning chicken killer.
He actually never hurt a chicken in his life, but he sure did love cat food. Eugene went for it any time of day or night. I’ll never forget the time he and I spent an evening scarfing up snails in the Friedline’s garden. Eugene caught the scent of something on the back porch, and I said, “Eugene, don’t go up there. The sun’s coming up and that lady lets her collie-doodle out before dawn every day.” But he said, “There’s Fancy Feast up there and I’m going for it!” And he crept up the back stairs and dove into it face first. He ate like I’d never seen him do. He knew that lady was coming outside any minute and he was going to make the most of that meal. You all knew Eugene—he made the most out of every meal. And when that lady finally did come out the porch she flipped the light on and Eugene froze with his face in the bowl. But she didn’t notice him because she was looking for her fat, old cat, so he climbed up the barbecue grill and onto the porch railing. By the time she saw him she let out a scream and the doodle came running out of the kitchen. She grabbed her phone for a picture but all she got was a blurry shot of Eugene’s naked tail as he hurled his big bazoo off the porch railing and landed twelve feet below, down on the deck. And I was watching from the hemlock tree and I said to myself, “Good God, he’s broken his damn legs for sure,” but he just shook himself off and squeezed down under the porch with a full belly and a devil-may-care smile. That was Eugene. Nothing rattled him.
But today, we’re rattled. We’re rattled because this is the real thing this time, we think. And yet, we’ve done this before, haven’t we? We’ve gathered to say goodbye to Eugene three times now. Admittedly, at Eugene’s first funeral in 2016, after the incident with the middle schoolers and the Nerf gun, we failed to do a basic body scan before the service. He was so surprised to wake up to the pointy snouts of his possum kin from all over the neighborhood.
The second time Eugene died, we were eighty percent sure it was the real thing. That terrier, Tinkerbell, had shaken him up so badly we were sure his spine had snapped. So we called it: Time of Death, 10:42 pm. And we gathered for his second wake.
It was during that ceremony that he met Virginia, the jill who would go on to mother his joeys, many of whom are here with us here under the porch today. His reputation preceded him back then. Ginny knew him as the possum who’d made the Route 2 crossing successfully eighteen times. And as he lay there in the parking lot behind the Buffalo Wild Wings on Jefferson for a phenomenal three hours during his second death, mouth agape and legs akimbo in a portrayal of mortality so protracted and so realistic that we, his friends and family, began our goodbyes again, it was the scent and sight of Ginny that roused him from his coma. Forty-nine joeys and a year later, he and Ginny finally go their separate ways. He, to the landfill when Animal Control shows up in the morning and she, onward to forage alone. Now, Eugene and Ginny didn’t actually spend much time together. It’s the possum way. He was what you might call a lover of solitude, like most jacks. But when they got together they could turn over a hundred garbage cans in a night. And Eugene always talked about how lucky he was to have found a woman with a good, solid bifurcated uterus. Ginny, we’re here for you and the kids. You just call if you need anything.
Eugene, my friend, we regret that we weren’t present for your third passing. Nobody was around when they took you away, so we had your memorial service, again. We were so shocked to see you come waddling home, right into the middle of your own wake. How you managed to escape from a garbage bag in the back of that Critter ‘Gitter truck we’ll never know— it looks like you’re taking that one with you to the grave. We’re pretty sure, anyway—somebody want to poke him again, just to be sure? Thanks, Jake. Nothing? Okay.
Though we’ve assembled to say goodbye to Eugene several times in the past few years, and though he invariably turned out to be alive, his still-beating heart did not diminish the love we felt as we considered his presence in our community. And now that his heart is at rest, and his soul gone on to realms unknown, it’s up to us to carry on his legacy.
Eugene won’t be coming to, this time. He won’t be sitting up in a few moments and laughing at our little gathering. He won’t be sitting on old man Romnosky’s compost heap tonight, describing our expressions as he woke from his mortal sleep. It’s hard to imagine life without him. Trash night won’t be the same without you, my friend.
My fellow marsupials, life is short, and unfortunately, Eugene couldn’t play possum forever. The call of carrion in the road was just too strong—any one of us would have made the choice he did, to live and die by his passions. I hate this absence, this hole in our possum family. You know, we’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and yet in one moment, our lives are over. I think Eugene would appreciate the irony. And I think he would want us to go on, to make our lives count for something.
I’d like to share with you now a poem which reminds us all just how special we possums are, something Eugene would want us each to remember.
Possum, Possum, burning bright
Beside the garbage cans at night
What immortal hand or eye
Could fake thy death with mastery?
Through what distant doggy door
Tread your feet upon the floor?
Behind what feline did you creep?
O’er all the pet food bowls to sweep?
Thy bifurcated uterus
Could never be superfluous
And thy sweet pouch your joeys held,
What the thumb? What naked tail?
Where did you hide from that Airedale?
What the cat food? What foul snack,
Kept you ever coming back?
When the rabid squirrel appeared
Wearing but a frothy beard:
Did you smile a grin carefree,
At your bless’d immunity?
Possum, possum, burning bright
Beside the garbage cans at night
Though once you faked it, mouth agape,
From death, no possum can escape.
May I remind everyone that, while Eugene’s family encourages you to stay and remember him, Animal Control will be arriving in the morning just as the middle schoolers are walking to the bus stop, so there’s bound to be a scene, and we don’t want a repeat of the broom handle incident at Jeanine’s funeral last month. Thank you all for your presence here tonight, and be careful crossing the road going home.
Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer of humor and nature. Her work has recently appeared in Defenestration, Animal, The Higgs Weldon, and on the Erma Bombeck Humor Site. She lives in West Virginia.
© 2018, Laura Jackson Roberts