The little rabbit

The stone rabbit I bought at the garden shop years ago lost another ear this winter.  He now has no ears, and resembles a bald hobbit. My 2-year old granddaughter Hannah was with me when I got him.  She was riding in the little red wagon we pulled as we loaded plants .  I thought Hannah might be impressed with the colored flowers on the annuals, but the thing that caught her eye was the little stone rabbit.  Hold on to him, I told her, I don’t want him to fall out of the wagon and break.  She put him between her legs and I can still see her small hand as she wrapped it around the rabbit’s ear and said,”Are we going to share grandma?”  I told her of course.  When she came to my house he would be her rabbit.   

A rabbit (A cottontail, I think) posing on the...

A rabbit (A cottontail, I think) posing on the grounds of Pompeys Pillar National Monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later, Hannah had a real rabbit after that, and she read all she could find on rabbits.  He’s not a rodent, she reported one day.  He’s a Leporidae.  I was surprised she knew so much about the family of hares, rabbits and other  Lagomorpha

I bought her a print of a little girl sitting in the midst of a dozen rabbits.  Hannah kept her rabbit print on her wall and her rabbit in a cage in her bedroom for a long time. One year, she put heart-shaped stickers on the print.  When she went to college, she gave her rabbit to one of her school friends.

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I had a pet rabbit when I was a child, and like the 50 million other kids who have had pet rabbits, I named him Thumper.  My brother Mike had a rabbit too, an “Australian Red,” we were told. 

We got our rabbits from our Uncle Sylvester (Sy).  Uncle Sy and Aunt Bernie lived in an old farmhouse on an acre lot in the middle of Indianapolis where they built a Victory Garden and raised food for themselves and their family of 6-7 children.  Uncle Sy had many rabbit hutches in one of the outside buildings, and hundreds of rabbits, big rabbits, baby rabbits, teenage rabbits.  

When I stayed with Bernie and Sy, I ate rabbit but didn’t know it, until I followed Sy into the rabbit shed one day.  He opened a hutch, selected a plump rabbit, held it in his arms and stroked it gently, then took the rabbit by its feet and slammed its head against a wall spattered with the blood of many dead rabbits.

I had never seen a mammal killed for food. Chickens yes, Dad was always killing chickens for food. Times were hard, and during and immediately after WWII and many people went back to the land as best they could with Victory Gardens and animals raised for food.  I owe my good health today to the food I ate as a child, when we had a steady supply of protein from our chickens and milk from our own cow. Sy and Bernie had rabbits and goats.

Aunt Bernie gave me goat’s milk from either Peanut or Buttermilk or both (I don’t remember the sex of either goat, but one or both of them gave milk.  The milk was cold and she poured it into one of those aluminum tumblers so popular during the 1950s. I disliked the goat’s milk and said so, although today, I can eat it in the form of Feta cheese. 

Aunt Bernie and Uncle Sy lived a bohemian life style in the 1950s, before it became fashionable in the 1960s.  Uncle Sy was an artist and he had come home from the War and decided to live a life more akin to the peasant life he saw overseas. Sy earned his living as an artist until the day he retired from the local Catholic high school where he taught in Milwaukee for many years after he moved his family back to Wisconsin.

The last time I saw Sy he was old and tired and spent most days in a drawing room in the house his parents had owned and where he had been raised.  He liked the room because it had a bay window where he could sit for hours and watch the birds landing and nesting in the shrubs outside. 

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My rabbit Thumper came to a bad end. I took him out of his hutch one day, and discovered his whole backside was bloody and gory, eaten off by worms.  Alarmed, I called the police.  The cops came out to our house and I persuaded one of them to shoot the rabbit, which he did while we kids stood and watched.  The rabbit was suffering badly and I wanted him dead, but I look back now and think the bullet might have richocheted off the driveway and hit one of us kids.  I still don’t know why a fully grown cop would listen to me, a kid of probably 12, except that rabbit looked pretty bad.  I also don’t know why my Mom did not come out of the house.  She must have heard the gunshot and seen the police car.      

A week or so ago, I saw a baby rabbit chewing on the Fritillaria emerging under my bird feeder. The dogs spotted him and chased him, and the little rabbit ran for his life to the spot where my neighbor ip the street had recently removed the debris and rubbish that had collected behind his house over the past few years (he is a very old man). Honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper had made a wonderful nesting place for wild rabbits until it was disturbed this spring.  Urban life is hard on rabbits.