I remember the exact moment I realized it was time for me to leave the South.
It was the morning I turned on the early local morning show and the host, a hefty gentleman whose generous belly spilled over into a too-tight plaid shirt and denim overalls, looked into the television camera and posed the following question to viewers:
“So, what do y’all think is smarter, a coon or a possum?”
I don’t pretend to be a candidate for MENSA, but the fact that this was the height of what was considered an intellectual conversational topic was, frankly, frightening.
I waited to hear a few gasps in the background by those stunned over such a display of “redneck-dom”, but instead was audience to people who actually called in to give an answer, some who discussed the matter at length. In between calls, of course, the host graciously threw in a word about some of his sponsors, a tractor/trailer establishment, an area doughnut shop and a popular catfish and barbecue restaurant.
On the show that day, I learned more things about possums and raccoons than I ever cared to know. Possums, for example, are nocturnal, carry their young in pouches, live from 5-7 years and despite their mean and nasty exterior, can be “gentle” creatures, if not threatened. Raccoons eat fish, birds, mice and people’s garbage and will attack you if you come right up on them. Then, there was the host’s wise discourse on how he got his huntin’ dog Clyde to properly tree one of these critters.
By the end of the show, the conclusion was that the raccoon was the clear winner.
Meanwhile, I sat there, envisioning all the water cooler conversations that would transpire that day, as all the Billy Rays and Bucks, faithful viewers of this program, would likely add their own knowledgeable remarks to the possum/coon debate. From there, local mayoral and city council candidates might have their political futures hinging on their response to this question. Perhaps the local community college would have seminars on this issue, as experts participated in heated verbal exchanges regarding which side they supported. Then, pretty soon, the town would be separated into two hostile camps- the “possum folks” and the “raccoon people,” while civilization, as we knew it, slowly slipped from our grasp.
Not wanting to get caught in the middle, of course, I left town for good.