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SOS-Searching Out Stories/Info- Opossums-'Possums
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians

Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians

(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

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1) Found several versions of the Cherokee tale of "Rabbit, Possum and Cricket." (no Cat)

2) There is Zora Neal Hurston site where Ham, Noah's son, uses possum hairs and cigar box on the Ark to make a banjo. (Same site tells why Woodpecker's head is red.)

3) "The Possum Song" lyrics.

"The Possum Song" on YouTube. (51 sec.)

"The Possum Song" on YouTube by the Flying W Ranch Band. (2:02 min.)

4) There is a book called Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot. Old favorites such as Macavity, Gus, Rum Tug Tugger.

Check out the "Groundhog's Dance" where the wolves catch him & want to eat him, but the groundhog tricks them by teaching them a song & dance that eventually lets him escape down a hole, but he loses his tail to the closest wolf. That's in at least 3 books: Pleasant DeSpain's Twenty-Two Splendid Tales to Tell from Around the World (American Storytelling); Margaret Read MacDonald's Twenty Tellable Tales: Audience Participation Folktales for the Beginning Storyteller; & Judy Sierra's Nursery Tales Around the World.

Viewed from the front, a possum that doesn't want to run away is one of the unnerving sights in this world. Especially when I accidentally step on one in the dark. Envision a mouth full of that double row of small, but needle sharp teeth, hissing madly at you. A possum is an unfriendly critter.

7) Possums waddle when they walk; they have two rows of teeth; they sleep hanging upside down. Lots to work with for a puppet (well, except maybe the teeth part.).

8) Viewed from the rear, a possum trying to run away is one of the funniest sights in this world. I occasionally catch one in the headlights when I turn into my driveway at night. Envision a small nail keg viewed end on, covered with scraggly hair (possums don't rightly have fur) with a long nekked tail sticking straight out and the whole affair rolling from side to side like a garbage scow in high seas. Under this are lots of little pink feet going twinkle, twinkle, twinkle. The feet twinkle very fast, but the possum runs rather slowly. It looks even funnier if you've had some of Stephen's daddy's moonshine on the way home.

9) They're not very funny if they're cornered. I was watching one of those TV. shows about a guy who removes wild animals that get into people's houses. A woman called, terrified, saying there was a "monster" in her garage cupboard. The "monster" turned out to be a possum (or possibly several) that was all teeth and noise when confronted. The animal removal guy managed to get him out of there, but he was bitten right through his leather gloves. Nasty little devils. Having only seen them feeding or as roadkill, I had no idea they could be so vicious - or that they had so many sharp teeth.

I'm told my grandma used to cook possum, but I was never there at the right (or wrong) time to be offered any. At our Renaissance Faire, they sometimes feed the cast members beaver stew -- can't be fed for profit to the public, but it can be used to feed the "help."

11) From Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend:
Possum has a bare tail according to the Cherokee because originally it was white and he wanted a brown one. Raccoon advised him to brown it at the fire; Possum tried this and burnt all his hair off. A2317.12 Possum got his big grinning mouth from grinning and laughing at a malicious joke once played on Deer. A2341.2.1 And there is the Delta region story about the possum that stole the doctor's last chicken, was killed and roasted for the doctor's supper, but ate all the potatoes and gravy in the roasting pan and ran away the minute the oven door was opened. Botkin, Treasury of southern folklore, p. 452.

A strange bit of rural folklore common from New Jersey to the Rio Grande is that the male possum copulates into the nose of the female, and the female blows the seminal fluid into her pouch, where the young develop. According to F&W, this idea probably originated in the fact that the male organ of the possum is bifurcate and that the female does lick and prepare the pouch for the young for weeks preceding the birth.
Response: I will never, never be able to tell the part of Br'er Possum's Dilemma where I say "he was always stickin' his nose into business it didn't belong" without having a mental picture completely different than my audience. I'll just carry that picture along in my pocket along with other seminal information to seed new stories. BTW, is that why possum has such a long nose?

The possum often plays the part of the clever trickster in the tales of the Amazonian Indians and mestizos. The motifs of these stories are generally identical with the Turtle cycle. And yes, there is a more complete story about the possum's tail being pulled naked by the ghost in Botkin's Southern Folklore book. One more from Botkin's Treasury of American Folklore. Methodist grasshopper and Baptist possum. Methodists are like grasshoppers. Hopping, all the time hopping. They hop into heaven, they hop out of heaven, they hop all around. But Baptists are like possums. When a hunter is after a possum, he climbs a tree. If the hunter shakes the tree, one foot shakes loose, then another foot shakes loose, but you never see a possum fall off the tree. You know why? Because he hangs on with his tail. And the devil can't shake him off.

Our desert possums sure would be mortified to learn of the crude ways of their mountain cousins. Out here their food of choice (they're as picky as koalas who won't eat anything but eucalyptus) is watercress, which is generally in pretty short supply. But if you've never eaten a watercress-fed possum you don't know what you're missing. When we talk about 'road rage' out here we're talking about two snarling motorists or more tuggin over a sun-dried 'cress'-fed possum carcass somewhere along route 66 just east of Albuquerque where there's a well know crossing known to the locals but sorry I 'm not about to tell where.

13) The diet includes: grasshoppers, slugs, caterpillars, mice, frogs, shrews, snakes, bird eggs, corn, chestnuts, acorns, blackberries, wild cherries, persimmons. Now that's a diet rich in story possibilities! I'm sorry, but all versions I have heard, including that of Jackie Torrance are about "B'rer Rabbit, B'rer Coon, and the Frogs". I suppose one could do it with a possum, however, do possoms eat frogs?

14) I have seen possums eatin' some strange things in addition to the traditional stuff listed. One rule of thumb - if it is dead...possums eat it. If it stinks...possums eat it. If it is gross...possums eat it. That is pretty much why folks in the hills ate possum as a last resort - 'cause they is nasty.

15) Possums eat anything...ANYTHING!!!!!

I know I've heard it with B'rer 'Possum, playing possum -- I think Ed Stivender tells it on the "Tell Me a Story" videos. I think possums are omnivorous -- whatever they can get their little paws on.

17) There is a Cherokee story about possum bringing the sun back to the world. He got so close he had to close his eyes, which stay scrunched up to this day. His bushy tail became bare because he carried the hot sun back in it which burned his tail bare.

Another bare tail story is that possum, fox, and rabbit were stealing corn from a field when a ghost from the nearby cemetary popped up and scared them off. Just as possum was climbing the fence to make good his escape, the ghost reached up and grabbed his tail. But possum just kept going, leaving only a handful of hair in the ghost's grasp.

I too used road kill gags with my puppet. I did an impression of a possum crossing the street. Used it to educate kids on looking both ways. I also did several why did the ----- cross the road? gags. I think you can still use, R.K O'Possum (RKO, only the grandparent will get that!) still works well I think. My possum was very smart, A Roads Scholar. you can have him sing, you take the high road and Ill take the low road and Ill be roadkill before you.... OH one more piece of advice. this was great for working with kids. I didnt carry him in a carrying case! I got a cat kennel, you know the ones with the handles and cage. about 15 bucks at petland. But the effect of me reaching in and pulling him out kicking and squirming was great. Plus it helps build the effect and maintain it for the kids. And the curiosity of what's in the kennel case really gets the kids going. But, do not make the mistake I did, I left the case and puppet in my car while performing at the children's museum on a summer day. Well A woman came into the museum screaming demanding they page the owner of the car. When I got to the front desk she started yelling and screaming about animal cruelty. the animal was obviously dead and not moving and how cruel, she was going to call the police. I had to beg her to come out to my car to check on my "pet" with me. Still screaming and yelling, I reached into the car, grabbed the kennel, reached in pulled out the lifeless puppet and with only a slight flourish had the puppet say "Thanks, lady, it was sure hot in there." I had never seen a brighter shade of red than that of that woman's face. She had a good natured laugh, and I thanked her for her sincere concern but recommended listening to the whole story next time.

"Possum and Rabbit Fool the Frogs," Here He Comes version. Lots of people tell it. The best I heard was Jackie Torrence with those eyes just rolling around.

This is more of a 30-second aside than a story, but you might find it useful. During a tracking class I took (as in, following animal tracks through the forest) the instructor taught us that the one essential piece of equipment you should take into the backwoods is a possum. If you get lost, release the possum and follow it. The possum will find the nearest road to get run over on.

How about "Possum and Snake"---"You knew I was a snake when you took me in!"

Not a story, but I always think of the possum as Irish, you know O'Possum? Marsupial O'Possum maybe? So maybe s/he could tell an Irish story passed down through the family.

Isn't there a (Brer Rabbit?) story about Possum encountering a snake trapped under a rock who asks Possum to carry him and warm him up? He assures Possum he won't bite, but of course in the end he does. "You knew I was a snake when you picked me up." something like that.

24) Y'all have reminded me of the possum that one day found itself in our outhouse hole. Or did it go there by choice? Did it need to go? Anyway, to those who think a possum's diet is shitty, this one could have testified to the truth of that. Our son Derek who was about 8 at the time, came running into the house singing "there's a possum in the outhouse hole, possum in the outhouse hole and we can't poop no more." Had everyone's attention in no time flat, I can tell you. That poor possum didn't live long to tell the tale of that adventure--we
found him dead in the yard a few hours later.

Created 2004; last update 2/20/10

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