Mellie writes about her
teen-aged exploits in
and how she always
to win a crown!
Mellie Duke Justad
Tales of a Possum Queen
I remember as if it were only yesterday… yesterday with a wicked hangover the size of Texas. It was just after midnight. A sprinkling of lightning bugs twinkled near a clump of bushes like tiny Christmas lights. Loud giggles and a few surprised shrieks rang out from behind its leaves interrupted by a husky, desperate, “Hey, Earl, you got any toilet paper?” thus confirming this, the most popular spot besides the booze tent. A gentle breeze wafted down from the pine tree dotted hillside where a small group of overly happy folks congregated, their ten-gallon hats resembling camel humps silhouetted against the night sky. The sickly sweet smell of homegrown “wacky tobaccy” swirled above, tinged with the unmistakable odor of chicken fertilizer from a nearby tomato field. Banjos, guitars, fiddles, and a couple of mean harmonicas were playing loud and strong in the newly bush-hogged cow pasture. There was booze, too—lots of it. The store-bought kind and the homemade kind. Nope, this wasn’t Woodstock--- it was Booger Holler and Cedartown’s social event of the season, the Possum Ball, was in full swing.
I was right in the middle of two-stepping my butt off to my favorite tune,"Cotton-eyed Joe,"
when I heard my name being shouted down from the wooden makeshift stage. It was Everett, the town district attorney and hunky Head Honcho Possum, the host of this big shindig. Dang. What did he want with me? I bet this was all Daddy’s doing. Probably trying to see if I was still able to stand up, it being my first time and all. How humiliating. I was nineteen for God’s sakes. I waited till they called me a third time before I reluctantly stomped up onstage in my new snakeskin boots; their stylish shiny metal gold tips caked in red Georgia clay left a thin trail of dirt across the stage. Might as well get it over with. Wait till I get hold of Daddy. My eyes quickly scanned the crowd, but couldn’t spot him in the endless sea of denim. Uh oh. Wonder if this had to do with date, Hoyt? Nah. He was still breathing last time I looked at him sprawled out cold in the back of Jimmy Ray’s pick-up. Besides Jimmy Ray said he’d look after him. Shoot. I knew that Possum Punch was more than Hoyt could handle. City boy. Hope his mama is the forgiving type. Next year I’d better get myself a “local” man. My thoughts were still on the possibly comatose Hoyt and what suit they might bury him in when “it” caught my eye.
Ahhh--there it was. The rhinestone tiara. Was there anything on this Earth more spectacular than that crown? Not hardly. Its dangling, curly possum tail and red and white gingham checked bows emerged on stage in style, perched atop a purple satin pillow held steadfast by last year’s buxom, brunette queen, Sudie Simpson.
Ever since I could remember I longed to be the “queen” of something--- anything. Miss Drumstick. Miss Hush Puppie. Or even something with a real regal air like Miss Wide Mouth Bass. A crown was a crown. Just ask my Aunt Pity Pat, the closest thing we had to royalty in our family. She still takes great pride in her rhinestone crown. Some forty years later you’ll find it displayed prominently in her fancy antique china cabinet right next to her expensive, crystal Eiffel Tower clock that came all the way from Paris, and her Uncle Rudell’s urn. The three-tiered gaudy tiara is perched high atop the equally enormous brass loving cup---Miss Flint River Basin Bottom 1957. Now that was something! My little sister Kim and I spent countless hours rehearsing our acceptance speeches clutching that trophy and donning her crown. “Someday” we’d say to ourselves, dreamily. What we lacked in looks and talent, we made up for in patience and endurance. Waiting and waiting and waiting for our big moment. A wait that could only be equated with waiting for the ever-elusive Great Pumpkin to show. Kim finally gave up at the age of fourteen. Had to when Mama stuck braces on her front teeth complete with thick green rubber bands. Looked like she was eating spinach every time she opened her mouth. ‘Course, I had my own problems. I was getting long in the tooth pushing twenty and still nothing in our china cabinet…except china. But things were about to change that fateful day when my invitation to the ball arrived. Finally, a title I had a shot at, one that had little to do with beauty and more to do with a strong booze tolerance.
Hiccupping loudly, Queen Sudie strutted her stuff “Possum Style” in sexy butt cheek exposing cut-offs, tight Possum Ball Queen jersey, and muddy red cowboy boots. She still had that majestic air about her as she paraded across the stage. Guzzling beer most of the evening, she’d somehow managed to stagger over to the microphone unassisted where the fellow Possums had also swaggered in unison, each hanging on to the other like a human chain in hopes that no one would hit the floor. Impressive. All seven of them still vertical.
I was still clueless as to why I was up standing there all by myself when my mind suddenly switched gears from my brain to my bladder, which was about to explode. My sweaty thighs were squeezed together so tight you couldn’t get a credit card between them. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I quickly spied a nearby “ravine latrine” on to the left. Wonder if anybody’d notice if I hopped in for a second, did my thing and hopped back out? I was about to make my move when Everett called up some other girl to join me. Some skuzzy, skinny, cross-eyed skank from out on Booze Mountain Road with stringy black hair and a zillion black freckles to match. Who had black freckles? Looked like she’d been attacked by a swarm of hungry gnats. She was gulping something from a commercial sized mayonnaise jar filled with what I surmised to be the infamous Possum Punch. I could tell she was an idiot just by looking at her. She wasn’t sipping that stuff like she was supposed to, she was cannon-balling it. That would explain the crossed eyes rolling around in her head.
“Rebecaa LaRay Bradley. Rebecca LaRay Bradley,” he called again. “Has anybody seen Rebecca?”
Rebecca LaRay Bradley? Je-sus Christ. What’d he want with her? Why not call her by her Christian name—Backseat Becky? Have you tried looking in those bushes over there or perhaps in the bed of somebody’s pick-up?
Backseat Becky. All of us girls hated her guts, but I had had the privilege of hating her the longest--ever since she moved here in the first grade from Ft. Worth, Texas. On her very first day she pulled my “first day of school dress,” a red and white gingham checked print that mama bought me all the way from Atlanta, right up over my head on the playground. Everybody saw my panties, including the boys. She laughed her head off, standing over me in her official blue and white Dallas Cowboy cheerleader outfit and shiny saddle shoes. Her swinging red ponytails mocked me as I lay in a heap sobbing. I cried for three weeks, but that was nothing compared to when she did it to me again when I was fifteen.
Besides being a cheerleader, homecoming queen, porn queen… I mean prom queen, and having the best body in the entire school, she had also stolen each of our boyfriends at one time or another, mine included. It was no secret that she was double jointed from the tongue down, and possessed a set of muscular “therapeutic thighs.” She was famous for being able to wrap her legs around her conquests’ neck snapping it like a walnut if she so desired. One guy ended up in traction for a month, didn’t bother him a bit, I heard he was still smiling in between the moans and screams the night after they pried him loose from her legs. Had to use the jaws-of-life to do it.
Ah ha. Busted in the bushes. Rebecca swooped down from the hillside, straw all in her hair and protruding from her skimpy top. She jumped on stage barefoot and breathless with her wicked Barbie doll figure, and brightly painted red toes, most likely still moist having just come from the mouth of some overly horny cowboy. She looked more like a high-class hooker than a preacher’s daughter. Her electric, pivot hips were tightly enveloped in a pair of painted-on black fringe leather pants and her “store-bought” breasts were toppling out of her matching fringed low-cut leather halter. I wish she’d croak from the silicon poisoning already. That fringe swayed perfectly to and fro in unison with the long, scarlet ponytail that hung down her butt, beckoning the boys to climb up it like Rapunzel…which they usually did. How’d she do that? One of her many hidden talents, I’m sure she didn’t learn at Sunday school. Bright blue eyes flashed readily telling everybody she was accustomed to getting what she wanted just by batting them. Her teeth were perfectly straight and blinding white due to a daily application of liquid White Out and bleach.
Oh God, don’t stand next to me. But she did. And she enjoyed it, too. Working the crowd like a sideshow carnie, she nearly knocked me over, gyrating her swivel hips to the music of the Rutabaga Boys Band belting out their version of "Up Against the Wall You Redneck Mother." I gave her a run for her money as I hopped around next to her on one foot, my legs crossed at the knees like a rabid flamingo, my bladder about to blow.
That’s when my momentary “blonde moment” passed and it dawned on me why we were all up there—the slut, the skank, and I. This had nothing to do with Daddy or Hoyt. This was no inquest. And I was no accomplice. This was gawd-dang, bonafied coronation. And I was a finalist. Yep, in just a few minutes one of us was going to be…Miss Possum Ball!
Everett stood handsomely clad in his faded Pink Floyd concert tee and tobacco-stained jeans, his words slurring slightly, the Possum Punch filled Mason jar in one manicured hand, my fate in the other. The crowd was screaming hog-wild as Queen Sudie made her way towards us. I was a basket of raw nerves. I couldn’t believe I’d made it this far, but there was still the task at hand before the crown could be relinquished. The last woman standing. I felt that first familiar trickle. Shoot! I would have to have my Mama’s peanut bladder. Everett walked forward, our destiny in his hands--- a jar of homemade corn liquor. Twenty sips was all that stood between me and royalty. Did I have what it took? I took a deep breath. And then it was over. The crowd went berserk. Rebecca screamed her head off. Skanky girl passed out cold and I, well, I couldn’t contain myself either—I peed like there was no tomorrow.
|Mellie Duke Justad is a native of North Georgia, where her claim to fame is being the longest reigning Possum Queen, and most recently her latest accomplishment was being crowned Miss Cow Patty Cotillion. She has spent the last twenty-five years in South Florida, or as she fondly refers to it as the “Land of the Southern Impaired.” She recently completed her first manuscript, Tales of a Possum Queen, and is currently working on a new project, Just Add Humor, We’re Clean Out of Alcohol, about the humorous, but challenging side of living with an Aspergers child and spouse. Her work has appeared in the anthology Writing on Walls III, The Storyteller, ParentingPlus, Smile… American Humor, Caring Stories, What’s Cooking, and in an upcoming edition of the e-zine Dew on the Kudzu. She is also a member of the writers group Southern Humorists.
When Mellie is not writing, she is actively engaged as a teaching artist in the Palm Beach County School system, where she works with children in the classroom, enhancing their education through arts integration. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, swimming, and traveling. She is active in the Autism Speaks organization and Special Olympics. She resides in Boca Raton with her husband, Todd, son Jack, and very Southern dog, Miss Stella.