The Way It Was – Playing possum


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I had several household chores that I performed regularly. Some of those chores took me to our basement. For example, I made sure the coal bucket at the top of our basement stairway contained enough coal for the cook stove in our kitchen and the fireplace in our living room. I also shoveled the ashes out of our furnace and carried them to a spot behind our garage.
Then, when summer arrived, I cleaned out the furnace, both the fire chamber and ash trap. The furnace doors to both of these areas were left open in summer to get good air circulation. My dad said that would help prevent rust inside the furnace.
I was usually in a hurry to get these chores done so I could go to Elwood Sawyer’s house to shoot some hoops. I was in such a hurry, in fact, that I sometimes inadvertently left our outdoor basement door wide-open. This upset my dad, as he said any stray dog or cat good walk right into our basement. Or even worse, what if a skunk got into the basement! I knew that would be serious, but I still sometimes forgot and left the outside door open.
Then one summer day, I went to the basement to get a hammer from my dad’s toolbox. While I was there, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw something move in the ash trap of the furnace. I moved closer and looked inside.
Oh man, there was some kind of animal in there. It looked like a giant rat with a long skinny tail. By golly, we had a possum inside our furnace. I got a flashlight to get a better look, and when I shined the light inside, I not only saw a fully-grown possum, I also saw several babies. Oh boy, when I left our basement outside door open, it turned the ash trap of our furnace into a possum maternity ward.
The first thing I did was to call my friend, Bill Porter. He loved wild animals, and he knew more about them than anyone else I ever met. I knew he would want to see this. I have written about Bill previously and his special relationship with animals. Bill said he would come right over to our house.
When he arrived, I told him I thought the mother possum might be dead because she hadn’t moved a muscle. He told me she was just “playing possum.” She was just pretending to be dead. He said that’s what possums do when they feel threatened.
Bill said that possums are related to kangaroos – they carry their babies around inside a pouch. And when I looked again inside the furnace, there were indeed two baby possums poking their head out of the mother’s pouch. Wow, was that great or what! Bill and I decided we would put them all in a cardboard box that was on a table in the basement. I told him that the mother looked pretty mean, but he said that possums are harmless.
We put the mother and all those baby possums in the cardboard box. Then, when my dad got home from work, we put the box in the trunk of our car, and drove west out of Marysville to the Amerine Cemetery, along the banks of Mill Creek. We let them out in a wooded area just west of the cemetery. Then we headed for home.
From that day forward, I don’t think I ever again left our outside basement door open. The next time, it might be a skunk.
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