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Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Preface
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924

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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Preface

THE opossum is the last member, remaining in North America, of that once numerous and very curious group of animals, known as marsupials, which carried their young, after birth, in pouches under their bodies. It is a cousin of the Australian kangaroo, and represents an ancient form of animal life lower than the types now populating the greater part of the world.

It has been found that the opossum brain is much smaller than that of other animals of similar size, and that its relationship to the egg-laying reptiles is a close one. But, be that as it may, this little creature has proved itself to be more able than other wild animals to cope with man. Its intelligence is of a kind not always understood, and its life in the woods an interesting one.


As a pet, however, it is not much of a success, for daytime it dedicates altogether to sleep. Disturb its dreams and it will only gap good-naturedly and, at first opportunity, go to sleep again. The young ones, however, at the age when they begin to make sallies from their mother's pouch, are without doubt the cutest of all the little woods brownies. Little larger than mice they can climb and scamper about in a manner most surprising; but their moments of play are rare, for they are full of a dignity which, in anything so young and sprightly looking, is nothing short of ridiculous.

The trick of feigning death, or " playing possum" as it is called, is so remarkable that it deserves minute description. When escape by running or climbing is impossible and danger from man or dog is very threatening, the opossum usually drops on its side voluntarily, or lets the first touch of the enemy knock it over in a position exactly like that of death. Rough treatment or the ordinary attack of a dog will not injure it because its posture, although apparently unstudied, is in reality the right one to enable fluffy fur, thick skin and the heavy layer of fat on its body to protect its ribs and vital parts. Strangely enough, too, the shifting of the apparently dead little beast to a position more vulnerable is a difficult matter for an enemy. It knows how to resist this without visible effort.

Its mouth hangs open, its eyes become glazed, there is no sign of heart beat or breathing; but, let the dog or man turn his back and walk a short distance away; then suddenly the dead one scrambles up a tree or to a safe hole! He is slow, but a good gauger of distance, and rarely waits longer than necessary for his get-away.

From four to nine little ones comprise the average family, though opossums have been known to have seventeen young in one litter.   Sometimes, indeed, the faithful mother is taking care of very tiny young ones in her pouch while an older lot is still being guarded and led about, or even carried on her back.


The character, Persimmon Jim, is based upon the fragmentary history of an exceptionally large opossum who for years lived on a farm in the southern part of New Jersey. His counterpart, however, might be found in any eastern state, from New York to Florida, for fortunately his tribe is still a fairly numerous one, it's range wide.  Persimmon Jim, however, was unusually courageous. In all his encounters he was ready to fight to the end, instead of " playing dead" when hard pressed.

The opossums, strange to say, need no laws to protect them, other than those of fair play. Their peculiar abilities carry them through and make for them in most communities staunch friends, who link them with all that is romantic in the mysterious night life of the woods, and who know that they do more good than harm in this world of ours.

Nearly everyone enjoys tales of the fox, the rabbit, the 'coon, the squirrel, the skunk, and the 'possum. What would these stories be without the quaint personality of this weird little" left over" from a once mighty race? He is still one of our neighbors, but a most humble one, for he comes, in his quiet way, only to the back door and is happy when occasionally he gets any gleanings from the dinner table.


Some of the old ones become scalawags.  Yes, Persimmon Jim might be called one of these.

J.W.L.

Bethayres, Pa.
...continue to Chapter 1: Persimmon Jim