Monday, September 28, 2009

Liza Lou

I was read to as a child. I attribute my continued love of reading to that fact. One of the most memorable childhood stories was “Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp,” by Mercer Mayer. My dad marshaled a host of voices to enliven the episodic adventures of a young bayou girl who’s daily errands took her into the Yeller Belly swamp which was also the haunt of witches, ghosts, ghouls, devils, and trolls. Good child fare. She uses her wits to get the better of them and keep her and her little opossum safe.

A possum. It reminds me of another being-read-to-as-a-child story. My parents had a British friend who came and read me a story about an Opossum. I don’t remember the story, but I remember how odd I thought it was that some people—British ones—put an O in front of possum. Opossum. Seemed unwieldy with the extra letter/vowel/syllable. Sadly the internet wasn’t around to instantly assuage my curiosities at the time. Still, opossum or possum, they were adorable fare for childhood picture books.

So, it was with no small delight that I found there were often opossums prowling about my new neighborhood (ie. Pennsylvania). My first night, dazed and bleary-eyed, driving into town, a white critter appeared in my headlights. On many nights, on many suburban streets, I’ve seen similar specimens of North America’s only native marsupial and it was with no little dismay last week when I turned one into road kill.

Distraught, I called any and everyone I could think of to vent—yes, while still driving, but, no, I didn’t hit another. It was horrifying. A hyper-real horror where, rather than the actual possum I’d just hit and who’s body heft I’d felt filtered through galvanized rubber and steel, I kept seeing Liza Lou’s possum looking startled with it’s big eyes at me, the reader/driver child/man, after sauntering away from Liza Lou’s side while she was telling the swamp devil that she had the parson’s soul in her molasses jar.

But before he could say, “a chicken crossed the road, frogs’ll cross it too, if you’re not real quick, you’ll end up in a stew,” the car shuddered, the darkness took the possum, and I was on my way, a slightly sadder man.