Y’all can call me Possum. I’m not the great white hunter. That title would probably belong to my dad and brother Mule. Both of them cut through fog like ghosts over the many Civil War battlefields found in Mississippi. That’s not to say that I can’t hunt. The few times I’ve gone hunting, I’ve been successful. However, this story isn’t about me, it’s about the legend of Ole Whitey.
The first time I ever heard of Ole Whitey was from my PawPaw. My brother and I were sitting on the porch with him. We were shooting the bull about having to go to school after Labor Day.
“You boys know what tomorrow is, don’t you,” he asked.
“It’s squirrel season,” we respond eagerly.
He pulls off his trifocal glasses and wipes them on his dirty white t-shirt. How in the world he found enough cloth to wipe his glasses wasn’t so much a t-shirt as it was holes? Somehow he got it done.
“That’s right. We’re going to Greene County tomorrow to hunt Ole Whitey.”
My brother and I look at each other in a state of bewilderment. PawPaw smiles at our confusion and puts his glasses back on.
“Don’t tell me you boys don’t know about Ole Whitey.”
We shake our heads no and move closer to the edge of our seats. He watches our movement and smiles, and he clears his throat.
“Well, Ole Whitey is a red squirrel. He is so old that his fur coat has now gone white throughout the years. Many people have gone into the woods to hunt him, but none have ever taken him home. Some people claim the squirrel knows magic, others claim he is an Indian shaman in shapeshifter form. Still, shapeshifter form or not, he’s gotta eat. People see him from time to time foraging in the leaves right at dawn.”
“PawPaw, what if Ole Whitey is a shaman, and I kill him? Will he be human again? I don’t want to go to hell for killing a human being,” my brother asks in all seriousness.
“Me either,” I mutter. “Dad always tells us to kill only what we can eat. You can’t eat no stinking human.”
My grandfather bursts out into laughter. He slaps his knee and howls. His red skin glistens under the warm afternoon sun. I like my grandfather’s skin tone. “He looks like he spent time in hell and all he got out of his experience is a great tan.”
“You can’t eat a human,” my grandfather laughs. “Don’t tell the Donner party.” PawPaw wipes his eyes and sits down on a five-gallon bucket. “You boys better get on toward the house. We will get an early start in the morning.” We nod and make our way to our house. As we walk, my brother and I talk of Ole Whitey.
“Possum, I am going to bag Ole Whitey. Killing this squirrel will be my passage into adulthood,” he crows loudly. I smirk. A smug grins tug at the corners of my mouth.
“Oh yeah? You just remember to add ‘Legend Killer’ to my name when I get him first.”
My brother scowls at me. His mouth tightens into a firm line, and his eyes are cloudy with anger.
“We’ll see,” he snarls.
The next morning, at 0330, we leave for Greene County. At Richton, we pull in for Vienna Sausages and a soda, aka the breakfast of champions. As day break draws near, my dad split us into two teams.
“Possum, you and your grandfather stay on this side of the road. Your brother and I will walk down into this hardwood holler across the road. Good luck.”
My grandfather and I walk over to a nearby stream. We fill our bag limit within an hour. In the distance, we hear the chittering of a massive squirrel.
“You hear that boy? That’s Ole Whitey talking.”
I listen to the chittering. Together, we walk toward the area the racket is coming from. Out of my peripheral vision, I see a white blur race up the side of a large oak tree.
“There he is, PawPaw!” I throw my shotgun into my shoulder and pull the trigger. My shot is off, and Ole Whitey is in no danger of being hit. There is no sign of Ole Whitey.
At lunch, we head back to our campsite. Our campsite is my dad’s 1977 Dodge Power Wagon. We sleep in the truck’s bed. As a covering, we tie a tarp in the trees. A game warden is leaning up against his truck when we come out of the woods.
“Morning,” my grandfather says by greeting. “How are you doing, sir?”
“Morning. You guys have any luck hunting?”
My grandfather nods and motions for me to draw close.
“Show him, boy.”
I lay the squirrels out on the tailgate. The warden looks them over and smiles at us.
“Did you guys see Ole Whitey?”
“Possum said he saw him. He even threw a shot in his direction, but he wasn’t even close.”
“Maybe, y’all get him before you head home.”
“Maybe,” I mutter. After the warden left, PawPaw and I crawl into the cab and nap until my father and brother come back from their hunt. Together, both parties have got their bag limits. As evening draws near, we discuss our plans for the next day.
“Possum, you will hunt with your grandfather, Mule and I will go back to our spot. We may have enough squirrel by tomorrow to head home in the afternoon.”
“What about Ole Whitey,” my brother and I ask in unison.
“If we see him, we will bag him. If not, he will live to fight another day.”
“I don’t want to go home until I get him,” Mule responds bitterly. “PawPaw said Possum took a shot at him today. He didn’t hit nothing. I want a shot at him! I won’t miss.”
My grandfather chuckles at my brother’s bravado, while my dad rolls his eyes and looks at the fire. I glare at him.
“Sure, you won’t miss.”
As dark falls upon us, I climb into the bed of the truck and fall asleep. I dream of killing Ole Whitey. At daybreak, the hunt begins.
“Are you ready, boy?” My grandfather stretches and yawns, while I pull on my shoes.
“Yes, sir.” Weapon in hand, we trudge into the woods in search of squirrel and Ole Whitey. In the early morning, the squirrels chatter in the treetops. I take a seat next to an old oak, my PawPaw sits next to me. Later in the day, I see something move in the brush.
“Hush, boy. Come on out, Ole Whitey.”
The old squirrel dashes madly from the brush, my grandfather tracks it with his gun and pulls the trigger. He misses. I fire in the squirrel’s direction. I miss. “Two shots in two days, and no legendary squirrel to show for it. Mule will never let me live it down.”
We kill our limit of squirrel and walk back toward the truck. My dad and brother sit on the tailgate waiting for our return.
“Did y’all get anything?”
“Yep, we got our limit,” I mutter.
“What about Ole Whitey,” my brother asks. His face shines with sarcastic glee.
“I took a shot at him,” my PawPaw responds.
“So did I.”
My dad looks at both of us, his eyes reveal nothing. My brother gloats in fulfillment of his prophecy.
“So, where is this legendary squirrel,” Mule asks reveling in my embarrassment.
“We both had a shot, but we didn’t get him,” I respond meekly.
“That’s because you couldn’t hit Texas with a nuke, even if you were standing in Texas when you detonate it.”
“Shut up,” I shout.
“That’s enough. Get your gear and let’s go home.” We take down our makeshift campsite and climb into the truck. The ride home is quiet, no one utters a word about Ole Whitey.
“I had my shot, two shots in fact, and I still have nothing to show for my effort. Maybe dad and Mule are correct in their assumption that I can’t shoot.”
Either way, none of us had lay claim to Ole Whitey. Years went by, we went on multiple hunts in search of Ole Whitey but it never bore fruit. Still, to this day, we talk of the legendary squirrel in whispers should he overhear our words. He may have been a shaman. I find it more likely he was a survivor of multiple hunts and our attempts were in vain, because he knew our stratagem.
As the wise Sun Tzu said: The key to warfare is deception.
I never got to add Legend Killer to my name, that honor belongs to Ole Whitey. His elusiveness was the stuff of legends, his defiance regarding the fact that he never fell to any hunter makes him a legend killer in his own right.
Indian shaman, indeed.