That Time I Thought a Neighborhood Possum was a Zoo Fugitive

When you move from West Texas into an Austin neighborhood, the familiar can seem strange.

By Ruth PennebakerJune 16, 2016 9:47 am,

OK, maybe I shouldn’t start with the possum. I should start with the beginning, with West Texas.

It’s where my husband and I are both from. It’s a flat, lonely part of the world where the wind blows and the horizons stretch on forever.

It’s a hard land. Not much thrives there – just mesquite trees and rattlesnakes and oil wells.

Even when you haven’t lived there in years, where you’re from shapes you. West Texas gave me a dislike of mountains – they make me claustrophobic – and a low tolerance for people who put on airs. You see, West Texans are a different people.

One night a few years ago, our friend and fellow West Texan, Mark, told the story of preschoolers in a small West Texas town. They’d been shown a variety of pictures to test their vocabulary. They did pretty well till they were shown a picture of an umbrella. What was that?

Listen, this makes sense if you live in an arid land that gets 5 or 6 inches of rainfall annually.

Anyway, the umbrella story led my husband to tell our own strange but true West Texas tale. It happened more than 40 years ago, when he and I first moved to Austin. We were taking a walk in our new neighborhood – and we saw something that astonished us. It was a possum scurrying across the street.

A possum! We’d never seen anything like it. It must have just escaped from the zoo, we agreed.

We rushed back to our apartment and my husband quickly called the police to report the sighting. A few minutes later, a couple of cops knocked at our door. We excitedly told them what happened and where they could recapture the escaped possum, if they were quick.

The two guys just stood there, nodding politely. “So, where are you all from?” one of them asked, finally.

Oh, well, Midland, we said. They exchanged glances and nodded. They didn’t seem terribly surprised.

“You all take care,” one of them said, as they left. They got in their squad car and drove off in the opposite direction of the fugitive possum.

Forty years later, my husband and I haven’t called the police since then about anything. But sometimes I think of the two policemen. If they’re still alive, they’re probably still laughing about us. Like I said, where you’re from marks you forever.

Ruth Pennebaker is co-author of “Pucker Up!“, a wry and poignant look at aging well. She also blogs letters to her granddaughter.