High atop Nancy Mountain in western North Carolina sits a lonely rude cabin. It’s a very basic structure: no paint, no frills, no porch, roughhewn logs with a single window, a door and a crumbling stone chimney. There are cracks between the logs that let in air in summer and cold wind in winter. The roof is barely hanging in there to even earn the name roof.*Nancy Mountain is home to only two human creatures and many, many of God’s four-legged ones: brown and black bear, squirrels, rabbits, white-tail deer, small red and grey foxes, many beautiful birds, raccoons, and possum for a start. The pines stand tall and very green. The rhododendron (sometimes called laurel) and mountain ivy (also known as laurel) are everywhere – huge and in abundance. On this particular June day, the ivy is past its bloom but the rhody are filled with almost sinfully gorgeous blooms from white to blush pink to bolder pink to lavender and magenta red.
Uncle Henry and his pal Sam live off the land and go for days with no other human contact. Sam lives down the road apiece – that is, if you could call it a road. It’s actually more of a wide path. Uncle Henry owns the only wagon on the mountain. It’s a rickety affair pulled by an equally rickety mule named Sam2! Sam2 is just about like his owner and his owner’s friend, Sam1 – ornery as they come!
Of all the creatures on Nancy Mountain, one of the most disgusting is the possum! Not that Uncle Henry and Sam would agree because they dearly love their possum. Uncle Henry’s possum recipe is famous all over Nancy Mountain and beyond. It’s mountain manna straight from heaven according to Henry and Sam!On this particular June morning Uncle Henry got Sam2 out of the rough shed attached to the mountain shack and hitched Sam2 to the wagon. Henry planned to go into town for some provisions. Along the way, Henry kept his eyes peeled for whatever he might find. Suddenly, he spied treasure – rigcht thar in the road!
But, that wagon and that darn mule were just going with a mind of their own lickety split down the mountainside. Bump! Squish! Roadkill feast!
Whoa! Whoa, Sam! Just sit a spell and I’ll be rit backatcha! Uncle Henry, scrambled down from his rickety wagon as fast as his equally rickety bones would let him. He shuffled to the road in front of the wagon, stooped, and rose with a bit of icky fur in his hand. Wait, it was ick and fur as there was plenty of pink skin showing. WHAT WAS IT? Disgusting to the max! BUT, Uncle Henry had an expression of adoration, wonder, and hope breaking the cracks in his weathered face! He pitched the thing into the back of the wagon and continued on his way…………
Some hours later Uncle Henry returned to his mountaintop. It was a rare really hot day in the little town of Rosman at the base of Nancy Mountain, and an even more rare hot day high on Nancy Mountain. As Uncle Henry moseyed home he smiled anticipating the feast he would have by evening!
Once he pulled up to the cabin he lumbered down and grabbed the pink and fur thing out of the back of the wagon where it had been getting warm and very dusty on his venture into town and back. He shuffled into the cabin, leaving the wagon and Sam2 standing outside along with the provisions he had purchased at Jarriod’s in town. Uncle Henry exited the cabin again with a scary hunting knife in one hand and his pink and fur creature in the other. He knelt in the bare dirt and proceeded to scrape off all the fur until what he held was all pink if also a little more squishy. With one quick slash he slit the creature and gutted it, discarding the stringy guts on the ground for the flies. Once more Uncle Henry moseyed inside where he proceeded to get down to business for real.
He didn’t need a recipe. It was tattooed to the inside of his eyeballs:
Once you get your possum skinned out and cleaned you will need:8 Big Taters
2 big blobs of butter
1 big smack of sugar
A pinch or two of salt and pepper to taste
Put the possum in the pot with just a smidgen of water, cover with a good tight lid. Possums take longer to cook than taters so wait until your possum has stewed for about an hour before you add the taters to the pot. Place the taters along the sides of the possum and mix in sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Every 15 minutes or so take off the lid and baste the possum with the juices. By now the possum’s own fat will have rendered. It will make some delicious possum gravy!
When the possum is tender and the meat falls off the bones mix a little flour to the water/possum fat and tater mixture. And, don’t let your tongue slap your brains out!
Henry put the meat in an old iron pot which he stuck in the oven of his wood stove, struck a match, and drew a deep breath before he settled his old bones into one of the few pieces of furniture in the room. There was a tiny rough table, one straight back chair with a broken-up rush seat, a lumpy bed stuck over in the dark corner and a wooden rocking chair. It was the rocking chair that now held Uncle Henry! He leaned back, shut his eyes, folded his gnarled hands over his rather substantial belly, and began to snore almost immediately.
Within an hour, Sam 1 came shuffling along the path. He spied the wagon and Sam2. Sam2 was busy flicking flies with his tail. Huh, said Sam softly. Somethin’ must be up with ole Henry for him to leave Sam2 out still hooked to the wagon! Then Sam sniffed. Ah! Heavenly smells were coming from the cabin! Sam peeked inside. Henry was sawing logs big time!
Sam crept over to the stove and quietly, quietly pulled the old creaky oven door open. Ahhhhhh! said Sam rolling his eyes and lickin’ his lips, POSSUM!!! He darted a quick glance at Henry, and then very carefully and quietly slipped the iron pot from the oven and lifted the lid. He squeezed his eyes shut and smiled a totally ecstatic smile that showed off his rotten teeth to their full advantage! O, man, I’m just gonna take a little taste of ole Ma Possum here, said Sam inside his head. He reached into the pot and pulled out a meat-covered bone and sucked the sweet meat right off that bone. O, yum! Just one more…or maybe two and then I’ll be on my way!
Well, when you’re eating nectar straight from heaven, it’s hard to stop! Sam just couldn’t help himself! He just kept sneaking glances at Henry and sucking meat off bones. His fingers were dripping with possum grease and he was lickin’ and lickin’! At last, he stuck his grubby fingers into the possum grease one last time but there were no more bones, no more meat, ONLY grease and taters!
Sam, you’ve done it now! Henry is gonna skin you alive! You better go, boyo, before Henry wakes up! Sam thought as fast as he could. He glanced at Uncle Henry and could tell he was still dreamin’ deeply of possum. I know, thought Sam. I can fix this for the best of both worlds! I got me some possum, and I can fix Henry into thinkin’ he got some possum too!
Sam scooped up some of the grease and very carefully and slowly began to dribble the grease onto Uncle Henry’s hands and down his front, across his many chins, on his nose, across his cheeks and even dropping some into Uncle Henry’s open mouth! Then, for the pièce de résistance, Sam put a few of the bare bones into Henry’s open hands. Then, he slipped quietly from the cabin and went on his way.
Meanwhile Uncle Henry’s dreams were penetrated by the delicious smells of possum grease and bones and meat! Humpf! Uncle Henry shook himself, barely opened his eyes and slowly became aware that he could already taste possum. He licked his lips and tasted pure possum! But, wait, thought Henry, My stomach is still arumblin’! Then he felt the grease dribblin’ off his chin and licked again. He pulled himself up out of the chair and peeked in the pot on the stove, looking at the pretty well-licked clean bones in a pile beside the pot.
WOW! thought Henry. I taste possum. I smell possum. There is possum on my hands and on my chin and even on my tongue, but I swear I don’t think there’s a single string of possum in my belly!
*This story is entirely my creation except that my wonderful Daddy who went to heaven a little over a year ago used to tell us Uncle Henry stories especially on warm summer nights or cold winter days. All six of us would beg, Daddy, tell us an Uncle Henry story tonight! He always said he’d have to think, but he usually came up with another one! The idea for this story is entirely his, and this was actually his very first venture into Uncle Henry lore but his telling is so long ago and far away that I took that germ and put it into my own words! Enjoy!