New York City's Times Square has a ball drop on New Year's Eve. Tallapoosa, Ga., rings in the new year by dropping a taxidermied opossum named Spencer.
The "Possum Drop" is a tradition that career taxidermists Bud and Jackie Jones helped establish in their small town.
Bud, 88, and Jackie, 82, have been married for 62 years, and at a StoryCorps interview recorded in September, they spoke about their colorful love story — which began with a missing pet on their very first date.
"I got in the car and you said, 'Now, don't get excited, Jackie, but my pet snake is loose in this car,' "Jackie says. "And I'm not a snake person."
Two years after the snake incident, there was a duck that almost foiled their plan to elope.
Just as they were getting ready to leave to see a judge and get married, a neighbor named Ivey Pope called. "[He] said he had killed a strange bird in his lake and wanted me to come and look at it," Bud says. "So, we went over to Ivey Pope's lake, and he had just killed a duck."
By the time they were ready to leave it was late in the evening, but they decided to go to the judge's house anyway.
"When we got there, he was drunk," Jackie says.
"Well, he wasn't exactly drunk, he was just kind of wobbling a little bit," Bud says.
"I must have been crazy in love to go through this," she says.
Now, as for that opossum.
Bud found it on the side of the road. "He wasn't hurt at all, except he was dead," he says. "So, I said 'Well, he'll make a nice mount.' "
He never thought the opossum would become a celebrity.
In the late '90s, town organizers decided to create a New Year's Eve event inspired by the name settlers once gave to the town: Possum Snout. One of the organizers asked Bud if he had an opossum they could use, and he gave them his mounted opossum. Tallapoosa residents named him Spencer after Ralph Spencer, one of the town's founding businessmen.
The New Year's Eve tradition has since grown from about 40 people to over 7,000 — more than twice the population of the town.
"We thought it was stupid, but you just never seen such hollering," Bud says. "And they'll knock you down to get over there and get a picture of Spencer."
"Life has not been dull with you, Bud," Jackie says.
"Well, I know that, but when you got in the car that night, you should have known," Bud says.
"I know I did," Jackie says. "That should have been my first clue as to what my life was going to be like."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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NOEL KING, HOST:
It is Friday, and that means it's time for StoryCorps. So Times Square is one option for New Year's Eve - if you like crowds. There's also some action in Tallapoosa, Ga., home of the New Year's Eve possum drop. Instead of a lighted ball, they lower a stuffed possum at midnight. Bud and Jackie Jones helped start the tradition. They are taxidermists and husband and wife. They came to StoryCorps to share their love story.
BUD JONES: What do you remember about our first date?
JACKIE JONES: Well, I got in the car. And you said, now, don't get excited, Jackie, but my pet snake is loose in this car. And I'm not a snake person.
B JONES: But you toughed it out, didn't you?
J JONES: I toughed it out.
B JONES: (Laughter).
J JONES: You were a hot number for me. We dated for two years, and then we decided to elope.
B JONES: I remember you didn't want your mother and daddy to know where we were going, so you threw your clothes out the window.
J JONES: I did.
B JONES: And just as we were getting ready to leave, Ivy Pope (ph) called and said he had killed a strange bird in his lake and wanted me to come and look at it. So we went over to the Ivy Pope's lake, and he had just killed a duck.
J JONES: And by then, it was night. And we had to go to the judge's house. And when we got there, he was drunk.
B JONES: Well, he wasn't exactly drunk. He was just kind of wobbling a little.
J JONES: Well, he was feeling really good.
B JONES: Yeah. He was feeling good.
J JONES: Well, I must have been crazy in love to go through this. We seldom ever have an argument, but if it is, it's about something like an elephant's eye. But I'll say right here that you do know a lot.
B JONES: Well, I'll be. I need to record that.
J JONES: Tell me the story about Spencer.
B JONES: There was this big possum on the side of the road. He wasn't hurt at all, except he's dead. So I said, well, he'll make a nice mount. So I got out and mounted him hanging by his tail. And I never thought Spencer would be a celebrity. You know, Tallapoosa before it was incorporated used to be called Possum's Snout. So the people, they said, let's have a possum drop on New Year's Eve. We thought it was stupid, but you just never seen such hollering.
J JONES: They start cheering and carrying on.
B JONES: Yeah. And they'll knock you down to get over there to get a picture of Spencer.
J JONES: People give you more credit for Spencer than anything else.
B JONES: Well, let me tell you. A man or a woman is blessed if they can go to work every morning and enjoy it. And I'm just real happy that I've had a partner all these years that I wouldn't trade for anybody.
J JONES: Thank you. Life has not been dull with you, Bud.
B JONES: Well, I know that, but...
J JONES: It's been very...
B JONES: ...When you got in the car that night, you should have known.
J JONES: I know I did. That should have been my first clue as to what my life was going to be like.
B JONES: Thank you, Jackie. And I love you.
J JONES: I love you most.
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KING: That was Jackie and Bud Jones at StoryCorps in Tallapoosa, Ga. The first possum drop was in 2000. Forty people came. Now, more than 7,000 people attend. That's more than twice the population of Tallapoosa. This interview will be archived at the Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "OPEN FLAMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.