January 7, 2017 10:40:06 PM
"A Mr. Ronald Crowe is here to see you." It was a receptionist in the front office, Monday morning.
It's not uncommon for people to show up at The Dispatch wanting to talk. It could be a business leader concerned about city-county relations or a 30-something in shorts covered with tattoos, convinced he's being shadowed by government agents.
The man waiting for me was stocky, about 5'8", in jeans and a bright green T-shirt advertising a Harley Davidson dealership. Ronald Crowe wanted to talk about possums.
"Possums will bite you," he said, by way of introduction. "Make no mistake about it."
Crowe had read my Sunday column the day before, which quoted Eddie Johnson on possum lore. Eddie was inconclusive as to whether a possum will bite.
With Crowe, I soon realized, there's no need to say, "Tell me more."
"Back when I was 13 or 14, my father worked with carpenters in Thorsby, Alabama. (Thorsby is between Birmingham and Montgomery, just south of Jemison, home of Petals from the Past, the native plant nursery.)
"We would spotlight rabbits," Crowe went on. "There were so many of them the game wardens looked the other way."
One evening, Crowe and his buddies were bouncing around in a pickup when they happened upon four or five possums feasting on a dead cow in a field.
"That's why I'll never eat possum," Crowe said. "I'll eat raccoon, not possum.
"Somebody hollered, 'catch 'em.'"
Crowe and his companions piled out of the pickup.
"You can kick a possum in the head and it will sull," said Crowe.
"Sull" is the term of art among possum hunters for playing possum; occasionally humans sull, get sullen.
"You can pick them up by their tails when they sull," Crowe said.
"We tied their feet with bailing twine and hung them on the pipe rack mounted on the back of the truck."
When a dangling possum started hissing, one of Crowe's collaborators kicked at the creature. When he did, the possum bit him on the toe.
"He bit all the way though his boot into his big toe," Crowe said.
The kicker jerked his foot away in pain -- "if you can imagine a nail in your toe," Crowe said -- and the possum's tooth snapped off.
There was no pulling the tooth out. It was flush with the skin of the toe. The erstwhile rabbit hunters headed to Birmingham for an emergency room.
"He didn't see any humor in the whole thing," Crowe said about his wounded companion.
"Yes a possum will bite, and they have a vicious bite," Crowe said. "I don't let my hands or feet get anywhere near a possum."
Crowe hunts deer and squirrel. "The guys I rabbit hunt with have gotten too old," he said. Crowe is a robust 72.
Crowe, who has joint Canadian-American citizenship, grew up in Birmingham. That's a curious story, too.
Crowe's father, a native of Fayette, Alabama, succumbed to frostbite while serving in the Army in Alaska. While recovering in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, James Crowe met a pretty 17-year-old carhop of Ukrainian descent, Helen Romaniuck. They married, had Ronald and moved to Birmingham where they raised a family.
Ronald grew up, went to school in Birmingham and married the girl next door -- or rather the girl two doors down, Bonita Gonzales. They had five children, four girls and a boy.
The Crowes settled in Columbus where Ronald worked in maintenance for almost 40 years at General Tire.
Bonita died in 2010. Later that year, Ronald asked Glenda Faggert, who like him, was a widow and member of First Assembly of God, to have lunch. Apparently, the two got along.
After that first lunch, members of Glenda's Sunday School class told her: "You might as well go on and buy your wedding dress."
Two months later they were married. Not before Glenda, who grew up in Altitude, Mississippi, made one thing clear. "I spent my life in the country. I'm not going back," she told Ronald.
"I guess you could say she got in the first punch on that," Ronald said.
The two live in East Columbus.
Ronald is still hunting, every chance he gets, though about that, there's one thing you can be sure: It's not possums.
"I don't hunt anything I don't intend to eat, and I'm not gonna eat a possum," he said.
Birney Imes III is Publisher of The Dispatch.
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