Mary Wiygul: Life Lessons (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I was born in Panola County, Mississippi, (where SEC affiliations are handed out as birthrights) to parents from towns named Tocowa and Blackjack. They decided to split the difference and raise me in a town called Pope (population 242) where putting pennies on the railroad tracks, catching lightning bugs to put in Mason jars, swimming in the creek (although Momma told you not to), and fighting with sweetgum balls and watermelon seeds were the highlights of most people’s days. My family did not believe in leaving things alone, so they took these normal Southern activities and threw them to the wind, shook them up, sprinkled them with imagination and eccentricity and out of it came the memories I write about.

Life Lessons

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I tried to focus on the spackled sheetrock walls in the bedroom my sister and I shared. Quickly, I pulled the quilt up to my neck and tried to figure out what had startled me awake. It was “Blackberry Winter,” as we call it in the South, the time of year in late Spring when a cold snap hits just as the blackberries are blooming.

“Rex, have you lost your mind?” I heard Momma scream from the front of the house followed by the same sound that must have awakened me.  The urgency in her voice, teamed with my curiosity, convinced me to forego the usual fight with my older sister about who would be getting in the shower first, and I scrambled out of bed.  I made my way into the hallway stopping to catch a second of warmth from the wood heater before I eased toward the source of the commotion.  As I peeked around the living room door, I witnessed what had become an imaginary boxing arena. In one corner was Momma and Frisky, my beautiful black and white cat. In the other was Daddy, and the spawn of Satan in animal form- an albino possum.

The possum was just one of many creatures my animal-loving Daddy had dragged home. It, along with her seven babies, had been occupying a cage in the back yard that had at various junctures housed two rabbits, three raccoons, and two chickens. But today, this fine specimen had garnered an honor above all honors: a visit inside the house to square up against my cat for a battle royal. “Daddy,” I wailed at deafening decibels as I instantly decoded the scene laid out before me.

My cry startled the possum and the origin of the slumber-wrecking sound was revealed as it let out a hiss as loud as a washtub full of water moccasins.  This reaction, in turn, sparked a retaliatory hiss and tip-toeing, back arching ninja move from the cat. Momma and I watched horrified as Daddy did a jig and urged the competitors on.  My cat, which was accustomed to Daddy’s antics, (Daddy had even taught it to play fetch) took about a millisecond to assess the situation, hastily decide he was the “undercat” in this match up, throw in the towel, and Fred Flintstone his way out of the room.

Unfortunately, Daddy urged on by amusement and Wild Turkey, had other ideas for a towel besides throwing it in. With the prizefight idea thwarted, he moved to plan B: giving the possum a bath.

Without giving one thought to his safety, Daddy scooped up the possum and carried it to the bathroom to draw a nice warm bath. When the water was at the perfect temperature, he opened a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid and whipped up a snowy mountain for his albino freak of nature. As Daddy lowered it into the water, the possum’s fine white hair disappeared like cotton candy, and Momma and I watched, dumfounded, as it allowed him to lovingly scrub it clean. When he was done, Daddy took a hairdryer and dried him right up.  Then when the flowy white hair had reappeared, he brushed it and added a sprinkle of baby powder for good measure. When the spectacle had come to an end, Daddy turned to me and said, “I’m done with the tub now. You can use it.” I opted for a shower instead.

Though an unlikely text for life lessons, there are many that can be gleaned from the story of my Daddy’s actions that day. First of all in life, one must be flexible. When Daddy’s original plan fell through, he didn’t give up, he simply changed his course of action. Secondly, one must be fearless. Daddy dared to bathe a possum and came out completely unscathed because he never once allowed fear to rear its ugly head.  And last but not least, one must stand firm in his/her dedication to the task at hand.  Daddy set forth to achieve his goal and through his perseverance and strong will claimed his prize– prettiest possum in Panola County.