anyone who reads the senior writer’s group stories knows by now that i love to drive. perhaps even more than driving, i love to explore. beginning way (way) back when just a child, i was a natural explorer. the one rule i nearly always violated was to stay close to home and away from certain areas. my curiosity about the world was simply too great to restrain.
when i tuned twelve my new bicycle allowed my wanderlust to travel further afield. at sixteen i discovered that driving and exploration fit together quite well, the one being the vehicle, so to speak, for the other. soon there wasn’t a nook or cranny of our small town or neighboring areas that i had not visited.
married at twenty, my new husband and i purchased a cabin the mountains of southern pennsylvania, a whole new world to explore. we often found ourselves driving through the scenic wonderland of forests, creeks, fields, and orchards. my favorite thrill was to turn onto some obscure dirt road, never knowing what lay ahead.
it was on just such an afternoon reconnaissance, that my curiosity took us onto a dirt road that seemed to appear out of nowhere in the middle of the forest. excited to find out where it led, we drove for a mile or two, and discovered the road ended at a clearing in the woods. at the far end of this clearing was a small shack.
in what served as a yard in front of this structure were several old rusted-out automobiles, grass grown up around and through their hulking bodies. just as we realized that we had arrived at someone’s (perhaps abandoned) abode, out of that small shack poured six or seven rather unkempt children of various ages.
in seconds, our vehicle was surrounded by these excited, exuberant kids, greeting us with “hello”s and questions. so many questions. it became abundantly clear that visitors were a novelty not to be missed. “hi, what’s your name?” “are you here to see our paw?” “what kind of car is this?” “i’m eight years old; how old are you?”
“do you wanna see my possum?” wait. what? “i found a possum. he’s mine. do ya wanna see him?” and with that, the roughly eleven year old boy was off and running into the woods behind the shack, er, house. the others continued their seemingly infinite cache of questions, and i began to worry whether “paw” would make an appearance with a shotgun.
my attention was on a sweet little dirty-faced girl on my husband’s side of the car, when a raucous just outside my window gave me a start. the boy had returned with his larger-than-life, grey, long tailed possum and the other kids were gathering around him.
“you can pet him”, said the boy, “do ya wanna pet him?” without a second’s hesitation, i declared, “no! uh no, tha…” too late. the poor, unhappy-looking possum was shoved in the window at me. i promptly leaned as far away from the window as i could. still closer came the possum, pushed by the boy, who was saying, “he’s really friendly. you can pet him.”
though a small part of me did not want to disappoint the child, a much, much larger part was begging me to escape this particular afternoon nightmare. i felt sorry for the children. it seemed that we were their sole entertainment for who knows how long. i felt sorry for the possum too, but not that sorry.
all i could see by then was a wide-open possum mouth with vicious-looking sharp teeth, hissing at me, rather like an angry cat, and coming ever closer to my face. “you can pet my possum.” “no thank you.” “he’s really friendly.” yeah, friendly, like an angry pit viper whose sleep had been disturbed.
the fingernails on my left hand dug into my husband’s leg. nothing. they dug harder. “well, we have to go now,” he said, and slowly began backing our car out of the driveway of this hidden gem of a home and family, though i think he was trying (not very hard) to contain his laughter.
that little trip cured me of my wanderlust. no more exploration for me, i thought. of course that decision only lasted until my next venture into the forest. sometime i will tell you about that particular bit of craziness.