Neal Brown is one of my oldest friends. She’d have to be. We’ve known each other since both of us were young pups. I met her in the months following my master’s degree graduation from Tulane in 1964. Another of my old friends, the late Jerry Brown of Ole Miss University, was back in New Orleans to finish his own degree program and, by then, he was married to Neal. And that’s how we met.
Jerry and Neal eventually settled in a home they built with the help of their two children, Heather and Hillary, in a beautiful forest, somewhere in the piney woods of Mississippi. When I say built it, I mean they literally brought the materials from the city to their homestead site and built everything they could by hand with instruction from books and the advice of live experts. They may have needed to call in electricians and plumbers for help with the more technical aspects, but they did 95% of the hard work themselves. If you ever saw the house, which I once did in June 1982, you would almost sense the love and care that went into the place with every driven nail.
Jerry and Neal always dreamed of a home that came without a mortgage and they found one. It was right at their fingertips. With their own intelligence and willingness to work put in motion, the job got done over time.
And where did “Mrs. Brown” acquire the usually male name “Neal” as her identity?
Neal’s real first name is “Mary,” but she started using “Neal,” a family name, as her personal identity choice way back in high school in Arkansas, long before she went on to Ole Miss and served as the head baton twirler in the school marching band on her way to a degree in education.
The girls grew up, went to college, and moved away to their own lives long ago – Jerry Brown passed away from cancer on 9/11/2005. Neal Brown has stayed on in the house and her life in the forest, along with her pet Rotweiller, Kazza, and several cats, I believe. She also keeps chickens and other small farm animals, and does most of the maintenance herself, in spite of “her” advanced age. She attends church, does volunteer work at a nursing home, and she socializes with friends in a nearby little town, The rest of the time, she’s out there in the wilderness, having adventures that only the wilds shall bring. Now retired from regular employment as the director of a baton twirling school, Neal stays in close regular contact with her married daughters and several grandchildren – and she also has time for e-mail contact with her distant friends in Texas and other places. These come in the form of true storytelling.
People in Neal’s neck of the woods are usually true storytellers. They read a lot. And they live their lives in narrative contact with the daily flow of things. Neal Brown is one of those true storytellers; so much so that, when Neal sent me this latest tale yesterday morning, I had to ask her permission to reprint it here. She was obligingly willing to allow it’s reproduction here as guest columnist for The Pecan Park Eagle. All I’ve provided from is the title and the publication space. Hope you enjoy this brief glimpse of the American forest world through the eyes of one resident, my wonderful friend, Neal F. Brown:
“Mrs. Brown’s Possum Tale”
by Neal F. Brown
At 4:30 a.m. this morning I woke up, went into the kitchen, turned on my coffee, made a cup, picked it up, took it to my bedroom crawled into my bed, started reading a new book by Stephen Hunter about a cop in Arkansas.
Before I returned to my reading, I saw my one of my cats, Fluffy, outside the kitchen sliding glass doors, begging for breakfast, along with Maw Maw, ( my only cat that I can touch). So, as per usual, I place a small container of cat food by the door.
Whenever I turn on the lights in the kitchen this early, Fluffy shows up for breakfast.
I went back to my book that was turning out to be very entertaining, but about 5:30, I was feeling hungry and decided to get up to start my own breakfast, Kazza the Rotweiller was still asleep on her posturpedic bed in my bedroom. That was when all hell broke loose!!
I went to the sliding glass doors to check out the cats because, when they are finished, I put away the containers because my two pet chickens always get up with the sun and fly down from their tree perch. They will want to finish off the expensive cat food instead of their grain that I put out every day.
I opened the door, just like I do each mourning, but this day was different!! Those were not two cats eating breakfast! They were two POSSUMS! Suddenly, one of them took off over the veranda, but the other one RAN BETWEEN MY LEGS INTO THE HOUSE~~ My blood pressure was soaring because I don’t like these animals. (They have very sharp teeth, and they can really growl when they get angry!).
Meanwhile, Kazza comes into the kitchen to see what is going on, and she immediately realizes that something has transpired on the veranda, and she takes off leaping off the deck onto the patio, and she is growling, with her hair straight up off her back, and she runs to the red berry tree, and then to the tall oak. She is jumping up and growling, and I think the possum must have climbed the tree!!
Meanwhile, I am up a creek here. The possum is in the house, and, if he runs upstairs, I will NEVER CATCH HIM.This is a big old farm house with a million places a possum could hide, for YEARS!!
My first instinct is to close all the doors to the two bedrooms down stairs, and the two closets, and the utility room. (Once, many years ago, I went out to the barn to feed the horses in the dark and accidently brought the bucket back into the house, placed it on the floor. Out jumped a HUGE WOOD RAT. He was in the house for a long time, and it was during the winter. He was chewing every night and I was going crazy..Jerry would not do anything except go to the store later and buy a huge trap, but the rat would never go to the trap!! Then, one night, I had all I could take, and I went downstairs and started yelling. I opened all the sliding glass doors upstairs and downstairs and the front door, and I said, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
Well, even though it was freezing outside, the rat left. He wanted out – and I figured out how to get him out, but that was 20 years ago and Jerry is not here to help me this time!
Back to the possum in the house.
I am not sure where he is, but I know he did not run into those rooms, and they are secure now. Should I call Kazza back in, or what?
I start looking everywhere, and then I see him..He is hiding next to one of the sliding glass doors that is locked and secure, and he is behind the trash can in the corner, where I keep the bird seed.
How to get him out?
Will he go out or run toward me and escape to the upstairs? Kazza is still outside with the possum up the tree, and she is growling like a mad bear. If I bring her in, will she start chasing him? If so, up the stairs he may go.
I decide to get a broom and try to unlock the sliding glass door, but before I do that I open the front door, and the other two sliding glass doors (remembering my rat in the house time) in hopes that, if he makes a run for it, he will run through one of them.
The broom may scare him, and I am scared too. I took the broom and tried to get the lock to open, and finally it did. Of course, the possum was behind the trash can, and hiding, feeling pretty secure there. I was able to get the lock to release, and then open the sliding glass door. All he has to do now is to run out!! But he is very stubborn.
He keeps hiding.
I am beating on the trash can, and trying to reach behind it and hit him, scare him, and make him run out. Suddenly, here comes Kazza.
Kazza runs back up on the veranda, and I tell her to GO AWAY!! Then I try hitting the can again, and FINALLY – he takes off through the door. I ran around the house closing all the sliding glass doors, and my heart is beating – so fast. I am thanking Jesus that he is here with me because I had few choices. There was no one to call at this hour, and what could they do, anyway?
I was just lucky that I somehow did the right things. However, never again will I go to the sliding glass door in the dark, and open it to check on the cat food.
I don’t care how hungry they are, they will just have to wait until daylight for me next time – since I can’t tell a possum from a cat!