Commentary

Push the opossum as our state animal

May 24, 2014 

When I was a little guy and my older brothers went squirrel hunting, I prayed they’d come home empty-handed.

I was always drafted to hold the dead squirrels by their two back legs, while the hunter skinned and disemboweled them in preparation for the “chicken stew” my brothers would be holding that night for the “young folks” in the neighborhood.

That traumatic childhood experience led to my being a confirmed vegetarian until well after I was grown. All animals were my friends.

In recent years I’ve fallen out of love with the grey squirrel to the point that I’m ready to petition the General Assembly during its “short session” to revoke the state mammal title bestowed on the grey squirrel by the 1969 legislature.

Many of you who also have been victimized by this pesky creature undoubtedly will concur. Let me present the particulars of my alienation.

A year or so ago, squirrels twice vandalized my car, eating through the bottom of the vehicle to gain entrance to the trunk.

It’s true I was partially to blame, having hauled home a 20-pound bag of sunflower seed and left it in the trunk overnight. My oversight cost me almost $400, as the squirrels chewed the wiring, fuel line and other essentials, totally disabling the vehicle. It had to be towed to Triangle Car Care.

While there, I noticed a large trash receptacle adorned with a large photo of a squirrel and a “Save the Squirrel” caption. I complained to management that it was cruel and inhumane to subject me to such propaganda while I was shelling out big bucks for repairs inflicted by said creatures.

A month or so later, they hit again, with no incentive seed in the car’s trunk. Another big repair bill.

Meanwhile, squirrels gnawed out the framing of the window to my back patio storage room, committing several acts of vandalism within.

While we were on vacation, squirrels cut two big holes in the porch screen and apparently held some kind of wild party, defecating all over the porch before leaving.

For almost a year, the squirrels and I co-existed in relative peace, as I overlooked their digging in the flower beds, etc.

A week or so ago when I started the car, I was almost overcome by the gasoline fumes. Back to Triangle Car Care. Another repair bill.

“They were easier on you this time,” assistant manager David Blackburn said as he handed me a bill for $142. “They only took one big bite out of the fuel line.”

We are at the mercy of the squirrels since, most of the time, it is illegal to shoot, drown or beat them to death with a baseball bat if you can catch one. Even trapping and transplanting them to other wooded locations is illegal without a permit obtainable only on proof of property damage.

Because the squirrel has, by its high crimes and misdemeanors, besmirched the state mammal title, I suggest the General Assembly strip it of the honor. I nominate the ’possum as a possible successor.

A shy, genial fellow with an ear-to-ear grin, the ’possum lacks the arrogance and the aggressiveness of the squirrel.

It travels mostly at night, minding its own business, and is not nearly as destructive or scheming as the wily squirrel.

Its proper name, of course, is opossum. The late Atlanta Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard once wrote that it came by the “o” because of its habit of hanging out on highways at night. When caught in the glare of headlights of oncoming cars, the doomed animal is given to uttering, “O hell! I’m a goner now.”

The ’possum is family oriented. Mama ’possum brings forth litters of up to 13 at a time. She can be seen moving about with several of her children clinging to her back, a fine example of a caring mother.

It’s true that the grey squirrel is prettier and perhaps more personable than the ’possum. But, as we’ve always been told, “Pretty is as pretty does.”

The squirrel definitely flunks the “pretty does” test. So let’s push the ’possum as our state mammal!

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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