In the days following our move to the farm, I did my best to encourage my depressed pet rabbit. It wasn’t easy convincing Bunny Boo that living outside in a cold, stinky old shed instead of my warm bedroom in the house was going to be great. Not only was she grieving the loss of her mate, Paul—he’d fallen off the top of my dresser and broke his back—but he’d also left Bunny Boo in a “family way.” Who wouldn’t be distraught? I trained her, with the aid of a lightweight cord tied to her little collar, to hop along next to me. Together, we collected kindling from the steep, forest-covered mountain that sat just yards behind the run-down farmhouse that my parents had rented. We had to keep fires burning in the giant kitchen cookstove year around, as well as in the living room fireplace nine months of the year. As we awaited her due date, Bunny Boo and I explored the fields surrounding the house.
At first, Daddy was furious (with me, of course) that Bunny Boo was expecting, but he eased up on his rants when he realized he could use one of the old sheds on the property to house the new bunnies. I helped him build rabbit hutches. He thought two would be plenty until Bunny Boo surprised us with a litter of a dozen. And when the rabbits multiplied, oh yes, the little furballs did multiply, he said we’d need to build more. For a city guy, Daddy was pretty good with a hammer. He said it was a good time to think. It was during this hutch-building time that he hatched the idea of going into the rabbits-for-sale business. Don’t think he wasn’t all whistles and grins, dollar signs dancing around in his head.
Typical early mornings in Montana are freezing and dark. The dreaded chore of caring for the rabbits before I walked the long trek to catch the school bus became my job. I may have only been ten years old, had only ever wanted a pet rabbit, but now the responsibility for the rabbit farm was mine. First off, let me tell you: watching a nervous mother rabbit devour her newborns because the conditions aren’t right is a horrifying sight. Raising rabbits was a learning process—my dad knew nothing—and we learned quickly that mother and father rabbits must be separated when there are babies; otherwise, she’ll start gobbling away. I’m still trying to figure out why.
It wasn’t uncommon when I lifted the lid of the giant rabbit food barrel, hands aching cold and teeth chattering, that my heart nearly leaped out of my chest. Tombstone-gray rats nibbling on green chlorophyll pellets, staring up at me with beady black eyes, brought on blood-curdling screams. Mom never woke before I left for school so she wouldn’t have heard.
After feeding the rabbits, I checked to see if any newborns had died in the night. Fragility or exposure to the cold was usually the cause of death. I tried to get to them before their mothers did. I placed their rigid, naked, little bodies on their backs in Kleenex that I kept in my pocket, and then stroked their minuscule heads while humming “Rock of Ages.” The tip of my baby finger fit perfectly between the tiny pink flaps of skin that would have become giant ears had they lived. Finally, I pulled out an old copy of a Watchtower. I’d confiscated the Jehovah’s Witness religious pamphlet left on our doorstep when Mom wouldn’t answer the door. She loved to talk to the bible-thumpers—my dad’s name for them: it was a nice break from her soap operas. But, if she didn’t have a dime to her name, there’s no way she’d embarrass herself by accepting the pamphlet and their time even though payment wasn’t required.
I had read the religious tract cover to cover and learned everything a person needs to know about end times. With the spiritual guide and dead babies in hand, I headed to my rabbit cemetery behind the shed. Holding each tiny bunny up to heaven and declaring, “Look, Jehovah, it’s your son!” I began to pray: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, God save your soul, Amen.”