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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest book I am reading

Yesterday I was at the Webster County Library. If you have ever visited it, it is probably less than 1,000 square feet. And yet, I still, am able to find something to read, and if I were more fond of fiction, I would be able to read all that library had to offer in less than 2 years, and that is with taking breaks all summer long.

I came upon the book by accident. As it sat atop a bookshelf with a few other miscellaneous books. I still have yet to figure out all the sections in the tiny library.  As far as I can tell, it is mostly comprised of Christian fiction, but there are still a several titles that I will want to borrow. I haven't utilized a library in a long time, not since my son was little and we borrowed games and videos for him. So this has become something I have grown fond of. It is a quaint little place, with friendly librarians, who still enjoy reading. It is rather low-tech, although they still use the bar code scanners and computers for a card catalog, so at least I don't go in there wondering what I should do! I  put the book back, thinking, with two more in my hand, I wouldn't have the time to read it before the due date. Then I changed my mind, and grabbed it up, adding it back to my stack. I am glad that I did.

So about this book, then.
Possum Living, by Dolly Freed, is an interesting and somewhat humorous tale of a young woman and her father, jobless in Pennsylvania.  She describes how and why they get by with little to no money at all.  After her mother abandoned them, they have found many ways to procure food and goods needed, and have decided that there are lots of things you JUST DON'T NEED. She describes her style of living this way because; "Sometimes Daddy frets and says we are little better than possums living this way.  Possums can live most anywhere, even in big cities.  They're the stupidest of animals, but there were possums on earth millions of years before men appeared, and here they are-still going strong"
She goes into economics, budgeting, and the cost of living (in 1978). She has a list of the things they DON'T spend money on, and in that list is vacations. (we don't really exactly vacation, but we do take trips sometimes). I love this line:
"Vacations, another common expenditure, are not required-our whole life is just one big vacation. We don't need to "get away from it all" because there is nothing we want to get away from."

That statement really began to suck me in to her writing.  Not that the writing is spectacular. Just the opposite.  The fact that opossum is misspelled (or not, depends who is asked), and her indifference to the mores of society, her obvious lack of formal education, her distaste for all that is the "rat race", just makes the writing more entertaining.
I am from Texas, and now reside in rural Missouri.
I once visited New York, and was asked how I like all the cows. I thought to myself, How do you like all the smog? The stressed out executives that curse the tourists in their Big Apple?  how do you cope in a microcosmos of stress, and competition? A population that far exceeds the land? Homelessness, and starvation are a daily occurance, to the point that no one cares about them anymore...how is that working out for ya'll?
  I love my area. Yes, it can be boring if you are from a big city, and enjoy that kind of stuff.  I, on the other hand, find comfort in living in a community that still opens it's doors for the homeless, when there is a wind chill advisory. On slow crime days ( a lot of days) the police will actually go out and assist the homeless to the Red Cross, and churches that invite them in to stay warm. I find comfort, that we are not too good, too busy, or just plain too greedy, to care about those in need, and less fortunate than ourselves.  So if you are a New Yorker, or other city life sucker, think about it....where would you go to "get away"? Vermont? Maine? the Hamptons?  Yes, that is right.....THE COUNTRY!!! I would chose that vacation everyday, and visit the executive monkeys when I fail to appreciate what I have here.

Her chapter titles are cute, too. chapter 4 " We rassle with our consciences" just cracks me up. She describes her father as "the old fool", yet speaks of him endearingly, obviously she adores him.  she lists what Daddy thinks about living the possum life, stating that it is "unmanly to worry so about the future." and that "Jesus clearly and specifically taught against concern for future security (Matthew 6:25-34). Like it or not, it's un-Christian to plan for the future." {what a riot!} Her father says, "There is nothing I do now as a young man to live that I won't be able to do as an old man"  and my favorite " I refuse to spend the first sixty years of my life worrying about the last twenty." She says "The notion of kicking the kids out of the old nest and sticking the old folks into some retirement village is part and parcel of industrialized economics, which I also dislike on other grounds"......"The idea of genetic immortality-the family going on and on forever-appeals to me. It's the closest thing I have to a religion"

So I find that in her simple words, and her obvious rural dialect, that some things still ring so clear and true. That it does not take a higher education to love, to live and laugh. It takes heart. And by leaving behind all these notions, she is left only with the purity of just getting by.  They have each other, and in that they have everything.
She has chapters about raising and butchering rabbit and chicken from their cellar. Fishing, Frogging and hunting turtle from local waters. Some topics are a bit more than I think I would be willing to try, but then, in reading it, it gives me a sense of what it really was like to live they way they have. 1978 is not so far in the past, and not so long ago that this way of living was the norm. But, then, "to each his own". They lived this way not because they HAD to, but because they WANTED to, and enjoyed it. They loved their wild caught food, and they had their own ways of preparing them, their own ideas of catching them. She says, "Some people reportedly play "turtle roulette." They feel around in holes in banks where snappers retire during daylight hours, hoping to grab the thing's tail with their right hand and gaff it before it wakes up. I don't know anything about this technique. If you want to learn it, go to any rural town and ask for "Lefty". He'll be happy to tell you all about it." {that is just funny, don't care who you are!}

this book isn't a text book of getting by, it is almost nearly a novel, non-fiction, but a novel all the same. I read it in less than a day, maybe closer to half a day. I especially enjoyed the afterward. While reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder how that worked out for them. Did she stay living with her father her whole adult life? Did they continue their possum lifestyle?  She answers those questions in the Afterward, written in 2009. And I applaud the addition. with out that, it may as well have ended with a cliff-hanger for me.  I won't spoil it...the way it all turns out for her, and her father. But I do however wonder, why he was ever in that car? Or was he? It makes me even more curious about her life now, and if she ever chose to write another book.  Keep in mind, all the while, that this woman was a mere 18 at the time of writing, and had but a seventh grade education. You will have to buy, beg, borrow or steal the book to find out what became of her. And although I don't think I will be using her recipes for turtle soups or stews myself, I really enjoyed the reading of it. I really found some great things in there, for all that she might take back, there is plenty that is left behind of value.  Her quotes show that her time spent "improving her mind" paid off. And reading it, has also improved mine as well.
This book was thought provoking for me, and led my imagination into another world. Her honest nature, and blunt attitude made it more enjoyable, but the truth of her life in those years, was the best gift. A lot of people have lived this way for one reason or another, but not nearly enough choose to share it the way she did.  I would recommend this book, it was really a fun read!

With that, one last quote she shared, that leaves me with hope for how we choose to change our own lives"

Mark Twain's definition of work: "that which you do when you would rather be doing something else"
By definition, you could indeed, not work, so long as you did what you love. And that is different for each individual, but the principle is the same for all.