Thursday, June 15, 2017

A possum in the applesauce

Row of buildings in Stuart when it was a pioneer town
This pioneer photo on page 87 of Stuart on the St. Lucie, A Pictorial History
is credited to Robert Gladwin.
How I wish I had a photo to go with the headline: A possum in the applesauce. But Southeast Florida pioneer Homer Hine Stuart Jr. had other things on his mind the night he encountered the marsupial in 1886. Namely, ridding his bungalow of the critter before his visiting mother woke up and saw it.

Homer described the scene in a letter to his fiancee, Margaret, who stayed in civilized Athens, N.Y.  She declined his invitations to come to the frontier town of Stuart on the banks of the St. Lucie River. The city carries Homer's surname to this day. Yet Homer homesteaded on the river for only a handful of years. He and Margaret got married in 1888 and settled in the North.

Head and shoulders image of Homer Hine Stuart Jr. in the late 1800s.
This image appears on
the title page of  Stuart
on the St. Lucie.
Before I return to the possum story, I first want to credit the book in which I found it. Parts of Homer's letter are transcribed in the wonderful Stuart on the St. Lucie, A Pictorial History, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow (Sewall's Point Co., 2001).

The possum story gets better, and Homer's writing is all that's needed. So let me step out of the way:
"...At last I got to sleep but only for a little while, I thought all the dishes were being broken & there was a Possum on the table with his idiotic smile. Of course I had to make the best of it & while mother sat eating her breakfast & saying how delicious the applesauce was & in this climate what a perfect substitute for butter, I agreed with her & to prove it ate some more of the delicate flavored applesauce thinking all the time of what she would think if I told her the picture of the night before. An Opposum standing in the dish of applesauce & munching the wing of a chicken, his tail resting in the sugar bowl."
Truly, I couldn't have made that up. And I write fiction when not blogging.

Thurlow writes that Homer became disenchanted with pioneering soon after his widowed mother left. He homesteaded in Florida for only five years. Several other family members also owned riverfront land in Stuart, so the city name may also reflect their influence. Not a one, though, can top Homer's possum story.

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