While much of baby boomer Ansel Head’s education proved difficult and useless, learning from Lewis Amison seemed effortless. Since his schooling with Lewis had started very early in his life, his head was empty (or so his pre-war brother had told him many times) and was thus fully receptive to Lewis’s instructions and teaching methods.
Lewis owned a small plot of land next to the baby boomer’s grandfather’s camp house in the country near Eutaw, Alabama. Lewis grew corn and took care of the camp house, hunting dogs, and horses for the grandfather and his brother. To the young boy, Lewis seemed a practical man with a practical education employing efficient methods. Having avoided memorizing French nonsense like “Bonjour Madam” or “Comment t’allez-vous” seemed to have left his mind uncluttered; not having to deal with plumbing pipes, porcelain commodes, electricity, or the price of gasoline may also have contributed to his pleasant character.
For his get togethers, Lewis served possum. His guest’s appreciated it and the neighborhood’s hooded white knights didn’t so Lewis was assured of a well received and worry free party. If the young baby boomer was encamped with his grandfather, Lewis would let the boy tag along on the hunt.
The possum game is played only at night when the critters come down from trees to feed. After the darkness had grown deep and had become so pervasive and scary, Lewis would put his student on the grandfather’s most gentle horse, wrap its halter around his hand, climb up on the back of his own mule, and fall fast asleep; the boy, unsure of what lurked just beyond his horses head, never blinked much less closed his eyes.
Lewis’s dog, wandering out into the abyss, would soon tree the prey and signal with loud baying. The mule would work his way to the dog, the boy’s gentle horse would follow close behind while the boy maintained an alert vigil. When the caravan stopped next to the possum’s lair, Lewis would awaken, climb the tree, and shake the animal to the ground.
Those unlearned in the ways of possums might wonder what happened next. The snarling dog would jump at the possum. Sensing no route of escape, the possum would act dead – playing possum it’s called. The dog would then circle the comatose rodent nipping at its hind quarter to insure its prey played by the rules. Lewis would alight from the tree, grab his party food by the tail, and drop it into a Croker sack.
Then the hunt and Lewis’s naps would begin again until the bag had several live occupants and the boy had grown unafraid of the darkness.
After a few days of fattening up the critters on corn cobs, Lewis would prepare them using his secret recipe; he augmented the main course with hominy, greens from the garden, and White Lily biscuits (which he and his friends called “Tulips”). His buddies marveled at the food’s quality, discussed only the price of corn (or so the boy had been told), and raised their mason jars of clear liquid to toast each other’s health.
The boy’s grandfather refused to let his grandson attend the hunt’s culminating ceremonies. If the truth be known, his decision had little to do with withholding the practical education the boy would have received at the affair but everything to do with the boy naively sharing his new learning with his mother and grandmother. The boy’s grandfather was one of the smartest men he knew which to the boy meant that he avoided any conflict with the family’s matriarchs.