In October 1978, with a seventh-grade education, 19-year-old Dolly Freed published a book called POSSUM LIVING: HOW TO LIVE WELL WITH NO JOB AND WITH (ALMOST) NO MONEY about the five years she and her father lived off the land on a half-acre lot outside of Philadelphia.
The two of them lived in a renovated gas station bought "free and clear" in foreclosure for $6,100; they raised rabbits for slaughter in their basement and obtained the rest of their food by growing it in their garden and fishing in local creeks; neither chose to hold a job (jobs were scarce in any case), and instead avoided the kind of gracious one-upmanship that seemed to make so many Americans miserable. "We have and get the good things in life so easily it seems silly to go to some boring, meaningless, frustrating job to get the money to buy them," she wrote, "yet almost everyone does. 'Earning their way in life,' they call it. 'Slavery,' I call it."
Following her success as an author, Dolly Freed grew up to be a NASA aerospace engineer. That is, after acing the SATs with an education gleaned from the public library and putting herself through college. She’s also been an environmental educator, business owner, and college professor. She now lives in Texas with her husband and two children.
Tin House Books will reissue the book in January, and it includes new reflections, insights, and life lessons from an older and wiser Dolly Freed, whose knowledge of how to live like a possum has given her financial security and the confidence to try new ventures.