Dolly Freed's "Possum Living": A Study in Simple Living and Self-Sufficiency
In this world of constant noise and advertisements everywhere, it can be difficult to tune into common sense. There is always a voice or video display or signage on the side of a bus encouraging you to try this thing or that product, visit this dealer for that service. You must have this device to accomplish that task. And then there is the constant worry over how to earn the money to keep up your lifestyle. Millennial entering the job market are finding adequate employment scarce. Many people, in fact, are complaining about the scarcity of decent jobs.
A Young Woman With Some Practical Wisdom
During the late 1970s, one 18-year-old girl, who went by the pen name Dolly Freed, wrote a book called “Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (almost) No Money.” It was a book of practical wisdom for living well on less. As Dolly, herself, put it, they didn't perform magic. They didn't do anything that any other able bodied person couldn't do. And as she also pointed out, man has been living on the Earth for centuries before the advent of many of the conveniences that we, today, take for granted.
Dolly wrote her book as a response to the economic turmoil of the time. Many people were out of work and not sure what to do. Dolly believed that if people had the option of living as she did, they may not worry so much. The book, written by a girl who had left formal schooling in the seventh grade, found a publisher. It also found enough notoriety to garner the author two printings, a guest spot on the Merv Griffin show and even a documentary. In the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in the book and it has been brought out of print.
Finding Dolly Freed
In 2010, journalist Paige Williams tracked down the elusive Dolly Freed to find out what had become of the spunky, no-nonsense girl who wrote such a sensational and sensible tome on self-sufficiency. The result was a 5,000 word story about a grown woman with a family who had done everything from working for NASA as a bona fide rocket scientist to working as a naturalist and educator. The modern-day Dolly still lives frugally in what she calls a “half-possum” way. She grows food in raised beds in her drive-way at her suburban home and forges for dew berries-- Texas' answer to blackberries. There is no doubt the young Dolly still lives on in the current Dolly.
In her book, Dolly shares with readers the lifestyle that she and her father lived in their suburban home in the late 1970s. They paid cash for their home at a sheriff's auction and made the improvements to it themselves. She explains that without a mortgage, it can be pretty easy to live on very little money. During the winter months they brought their mattresses downstairs and sealed the upstairs. In this way, they could save on heating. They also heated with a wood stove. They did have electricity and indoor plumbing. They did not, however, own a car.
Living the Possum Way
Much of what Dolly talks about in the book is how they fed themselves with very little money. She talks about their garden, her father's love of fishing and the chickens and rabbits they kept. She also tells of trips to the feed store to purchase grains for human consumption. She explained that it may take a little more time to grind wheat yourself than to purchase ready-made flour, but time was something of which they had plenty thanks to their thrifty lifestyle.
One of the overriding themes of the book is that of independence. Reading the book, one gets a real sense of Dolly's independent thought process. Their way of life was designed for the sole purpose of keeping them independent from the 9 to 5 grind. She talks of how her father did work, but found it dull and tiring. He naturally quit. If they did not buy anything, then they did not have to earn money. Dolly explains that the luxury of time and being one's own boss, for them, far out-weighed any material luxury. As long as their needs for food, clothing and shelter were met, they wanted for nothing.
Is it Work or is it Leisure?
As for leisure, Dolly has an interesting take on it. She talks about how it could be easy to assume that a person who does not go to a regular job must be lazy. As she explained, they did not accept welfare or charity. Everything they had, they earned for themselves. As for leisure, she encouraged the reader to consider the definitions of work and leisure. If she spent time in her garden weeding and working on pest control, many people would consider that work. If she spent time in her garden enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, that might be considered leisure. If the time that she spent in her garden served both purposes and resulted in the food that she ate, was that work, or leisure? Her father, she went on, enjoys fishing. If he enjoys fishing for an afternoon but comes home with the evening's dinner, is that work or is it leisure? Why can't it be both?
Live and Let Live
One of the best parts of the book is the fact that her family seemed to get along pretty well despite the fact that her parents were divorced. Her mother, explains in the documentary, that the way Dolly and her father live is not her way of living, but if it works for them, she didn't see any harm. She conceded, for example, that despite the fact that her daughter left school in the seventh grade, Dolly had a far better education than many of the young people coming out of high school. Dolly's father, Frank, explains that he took his daughter out of school because it just wasn't working for her. He admitted that his son, conversely, thrived in a school environment and for that reason would never think of removing him. In that way, they understand that while the “possum” way of life makes sense for them, they acknowledge that it may not be for everyone.
Possum Living is part DIY manual for a simpler way of life and part autobiography of a free-thinking young woman. For those who are tired of the noise and the rat race or who just think that there must be a better way, Possum Living is definitely worth the read.
Possum Living Documentary
Could You Do It?
Do You Think You Could Live Well Without a Job?
Finding Dolly Freed
Full text of the article by Paige Williams.