Last Tuesday morning I was clearing some trees up above my cabin. As anyone who has tried to cut down trees filled with wild grapevines knows, that is hard work.
About noon I came in to fix lunch. I turned on the TV and they were showing a large crowd somewhere in Rome. Thousands of people were looking anxiously at some rickety old chimney sticking out of an old roof. I think they were trying to determine what that person was cooking for dinner. Anyway, the TV commentator was talking about the color of the smoke as if that would say what was for dinner.
Then bells started ringing and the huge throng of people became very excited. An old man in funny red pajamas came out onto a second-story porch overlooking the square. He had a microphone and started talking. He seemed to be talking in different languages, I even thought I heard some English, but I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. Then he got closer to the mike and said very clearly, “habemus possum.”
Now I was not the best Latin student in the world, but I knew what that meant.
“Habemus” means “we have”–I remember that. And “possum,” well I’m sure that just means possum-though I must admit I don’t recall Caesar talking about that. (Perhaps that was in Catullus, Miss Stewart wouldn’t let us read Catullus.)
In any case, you would not have believed the excitement. You would have thought that funny little fellow had just announced that Elvis was in the house and was coming out to sing a few songs. I have to admit that I just don’t understand the crowd’s reaction. First, most people I know don’t much like possum; like me, they prefer squirrel. Now I have known some old boys to get all liquored up and go out and shoot a possum and eat it. But the next day they seem to be ashamed, if they admit it at all. Secondly, if my Latin serves me, “possum” is singular. So literally translated “habemus possum” means we have a possum. (Not: “We have a mess o’ possums.”) Well, once you cut off the ugly head and the rat-like tail there is not a whole lot of meat on a possum; certainly not enough to feed that crowd. Maybe they were expecting some sort of miracle like when Jesus turned a piece of fried catfish and a loaf of Merita into a meal for a whole multitude. But if a fellow could do a trick like that he would be in Vegas, not Rome, and I think he would be working in catfish or cheeseburgers, not possums.
I had to go back to work, so I can’t tell you how things turned out. I suspect the old guy in the red PJ’s ate that possum and that the crowd went home hungry.