The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge is one word or a short phrase that’s intended to prompt participants into recounting and recording a memory or discovery about an ancestor or relative. Most of the time, something comes instantly to mind. And I have to admit, something came instantly to my mind with the prompt of “unforgettable” but while it’s a story that’s stuck with me for some 40 years, I will also admit, I really don’t know the details. So rather than set down what I remember – which is probably wrong – I chose to write about something else.
I’ve been thinking about this all week, and I couldn’t think of anything else, until out of the blue someone posted something on social media that made me think of the ‘possum story.
Hoyt Cook, known to me as Pap-pa, always had a dog. When I was growing up, he had two back-to-back that were white with black spots and they were both called spot. This was when they lived down at Lagniappe Beach in Midway, between Gulf Breeze and Navarre in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Their house was on East Bay, and across the road (County Road 399, now called East Bay Boulevard) they also owned quite a bit of property. It was mostly woods, but Pap-pa also planted a garden there, as well.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I was little, and I don’t know how old I was, probably 3rd or 4th grade, in the early 1970s, we were standing on the porch at that house in Gulf Breeze, and Pap-pa was talking to someone, I don’t know who, and he handed me a piece of paper, maybe a wadded up napkin, and asked me to throw it away for him.
The trash cans were right there, just a few steps away, but I wasn’t going to ask Pap-pa why didn’t he just throw the paper away himself. He was talking to someone, and I thought nothing of taking that paper over to the trash can.
This was an old metal garbage can, like the kind Oscar the Grouch lived in. And come to think of it, I seem to recall two trash cans, although, I couldn’t tell you now if I reached for the wrong one at first, and he told me to put it in the other one. I wouldn’t have questioned it if he did.
At any rate, I picked up the lid to throw that piece of paper away, and something big and toothy hissed at me, and I jumped and I dropped the lid with the kind of clang and bang you only get when you slam a metal lid down on a metal trash can.
I doubt that I screamed; my mother did not allow screaming or squealing (although in my adult years, now that I have a husband, I have learned to squeak out a non-verbal call for help at the sight of certain bugs).
I am pretty sure I did throw the piece of paper in after the beast.
Well, my reaction was good for a hearty laugh for Pap-pa and his friend, or maybe it was one of his brothers over for a visit.
Now, here’s the backstory. Sometimes Spot would go out in the middle of the night and tree a ‘possum, and he’d make a racket and Pap-pa would go get the dog. Sometimes he’d bring the ‘possum back and put it in the trash can and use it to play trick on unsuspecting grandchildren.
After the laughter, the lid got lifted off again, and I got a good look at the ‘possum and told him I was sorry for scaring him. I always did love animals, and ‘possums are kinda cute once you get past the teeth. Later, Pap-pa took the ‘possum back out to the woods and set him loose, none the worse for wear, except for maybe a lingering ringing in the ears.
That was more than forty years ago. Spot and the ‘possum are long dead. Pap-pa’s been gone since 1997. Whoever else was there is probably no longer with us either. I’m the only one alive who still remembers that little unforgettable moment on East Bay.