Contented Reader

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Possum Living

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Possum Living

Dolly Freed

Tin House Books

I’m going to quit my job, and sell my apartment, and live simply and cheaply.  That’s what I tell myself sometimes.  I’m going to use my savings to buy a plot of land and a trailer.  I’ll garden, and keep some chickens.  I’ll be mostly self-sufficient.  If I need a little money, I’ll temp until I have it, then quit.  I’ll get rid of my car and ride my bike instead.  I’ll live by myself, in the woods.  I’ll have books from the library, but no TV and no computer.  I’ll disconnect myself from the whole messed-up society, and be a happy hermit.

I don’t suppose I’m the only person who has that thought.  I am not going to do it.  I’m going to keep my job, and do it as competently as I can, until I can retire.  Live on my garden?  Who am I kidding – I don’t even like vegetables.  But I do enjoy living reasonably simply, being frugal, enjoying simple pleasures.  And since I’m not going to do it myself, I indulge my escapist dreams by reading books by people who have done it.

I had never heard of Possum Living, although it was first published in 1978.  Dolly Freed, the author, is an 18-year-old woman, living with her father on virtually no money, and in this book, she explains how they do it.  She describes how to find a cheap foreclosed house to live on, how to garden and forage, how to stay healthy and happy.  Also, how to make moonshine, and how to deal with the law.  Some of what she describes is not strictly legal or ethical.  Some of it would still work today.  

Part of what’s appealing about this book is Dolly’s voice.  She’s a self-educated teenager with strong, self-assured, occasionally obnoxious opinions, and I swear I can almost hear her through her writing.  Here, have a sample:

Let me re-emphasize that we aren’t living this way for ideological reasons, as people sometimes suppose.  We aren’t a couple of Thoreaus mooning about on Walden Pond here.  (Incidentally, the reason Thoreau quit Walden Pond was that he was lonely – I don’t care what he said.  You need the support of a loved one.) No, if some Wishing Fairy were to come along and offer to play Alexander to my Diogenes, I’d pretty quickly strain that Wishing Fairy’s financial reserves.  We live this way for a very simple reason: It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I was wild with curiosity about Dolly Freed.  Who was she?  Was she real, or some other writer’s assumed voice?  What kind of woman did she grow up to be?  Did she continue ‘possum living,’ or did she get a job and join the rest of us in the economic system?  I happened to be reading the 2010 reprint, and I was absolutely delighted to discover an afterward from Dolly, writing about what happened next, how she lives now, and what she thinks now about the book she wrote as a teenager.  I found an article by Paige Williams about Dolly Freed that filled in some of the biographical details, and, best of all, a link to a documentary that shows 20-year-old Dolly and the life she describes in the book.

For me, the fantasy of living super-frugally and dropping out of work is just a fantasy. Not only am I not going to do it, I think I’d probably regret it. But I love that there are people out there living the dream, and I think it’s important for me to know how to live on basement rabbits and road-kill, just in case I change my mind.


Written by Contented Reader

August 30, 2012 at 7:11 am

Posted in Reviews


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