When I think about someone having to eat a ‘possum or ‘coon, I think of poor folks in the Deep South.
But from old family letters, I learned that my mother’s family–from Dexter, Iowa–ate both during the Great Depression. At least two family members enjoyed it.
Clabe and Leora Wilson had seven children. There were three more babies, but twins Jack and Jean succumbed to whooping cough in 1929 when all nine kids came down with it. The last baby, Marilyn, died of a weak heart. So seven of them grew up together.
Clabe and his sons trapped and hunted. The family mostly ate squirrel and rabbit, supplemented with whatever they could grow in their big garden.
Because of the Depression and their father having no steady job, the two oldest brothers–Delbert and Donald–joined the Navy. Not only were they kept out of trouble, their bellies were kept full and they could sometimes even send home a five dollar bill which was a real god-send to the Wilsons.
Because of the boys in the Navy, Leora Wilson saved all the family letters.
Dec. 4, 1935, Dexter, Iowa. From Leora on her 45th birthday: “My, what a wonderful present from my Navy boys! thanks a lot, boys.” They had sent a card and some candy. Leora’s mother had sent her $1.”
“We had roast coon 2 years ago today, remember? You caught the last one on Dec. 3rd and the folks [her mother and brothers from Omaha] and surprised me, but the next day was the 4th and we had that nice fat coon.”
Four days later, their brother Dale, age 14, wrote about a football banquet and added, “Today we had possum and sweet taters. Boy it was sure good.”
His twin Darlene wrote Del and Don, “The sun is shining beautifully this morning. Dad and the boys are out trapping this morning, so Mom and us girls clean house and get dinner for the hungry hunters when they come. They came in with two opossum yesterday, and today we’re going to have opossum and sweet taters. Yum! Yum!”
She chats about her twin Dale playing football, older sister Doris playing basketball, younger brother Danny old enough to hunt with his dad. “Well, I’ll write more after having a piece of the good opossum with the fumes just a-oozin’ out, and some gravy and sweet potatoes.”
Opossum were good for something else than food. Their dad Clabe wrote just before Christmas that he’d “shipped 8 skunks and 5 opossum to Sears.” They would take them in trade for goods from the catalog.
Even in November 1937, Delbert wrote home from the USS Chicago, which was moored at Long Beach, California: “You boys coming home with all that game makes me sort of home-sick. I thought for awhile you boys weren’t going to take to huntin’ and trappin’ so well but it looks as if you boys will break Don’s and my records. Go to ‘er, boys. It’s good outdoor exercise and a lot of fun. Sure like to sink my fangs in some coon meat for a change.”
In spite of Dale and Darlene’s comments about how good ‘possum and sweet taters were, I’d have to be as desperate as they were during the Great Depression to try any.
Just in case you want to try roast ‘possum with fumes a-oozin’ out, the link has a recipe for you. Or maybe this version?
“Possum for Supper,” my 8-minute story, on Our American Stories. (In July 2022, Our American Stories learned from their “podcast side” that this was one of their most downloaded episodes in the last few months.)