Laura Dean Bennett
Spring has sprung and our world is greening up.
It’s the time of year when every gardener’s fancy turns to planting.
I was reminded the other day of a gardening tale from my childhood.
It came to be known as the “rabbit story,” and was told far and wide to gales of laughter, probably because most people found it hilarious that three people – two adults and one child – could be so soft-hearted and soft-headed.
The story may help to explain my outsized feelings where animals are concerned. I come by it honestly, as the old people would say.
One year, my mother decided to plant a kitchen garden beside the back porch. It contained salad fixins – lettuce and onions and the like – close at hand for last minute additions to a meal.
I was probably in middle school at the time, an only child, when the rabbit incident took place.
That spring, as Mom’s lettuces and green onion tops made their debut, the little patch began to be visited by rabbits.
My mother had only to look out the kitchen window to see the little invaders helping themselves to her produce.
I don’t know what she thought was happening back in the “big garden,” which was situated far out of sight of her lookout post in the kitchen.
There were probably hordes of furry invaders helping themselves to everything back there – but “out of sight, out of mind,” I guess.
One day, as we were having breakfast, Mom slammed her hand down on the table and flew mad.
She looked at my dad in exasperation and anger, raised her voice to Defcon Level One and issued a command to my father:
“Rudi, those rabbits have to go!” she said. “I want you to get rid of them. Now!”
“Oh, Mom, they’re so sweet,” I protested. “I love them. Please don’t say that.”
“No, they’ve got to go,” she said. “I’m not having all my lettuce eaten by those nasty little freeloaders.”
“Well, okay, Mildred,’” my dad said, resignedly. “I’ll take care of it.”
You have to understand, my dad – a gentle, soft-spoken man – was not really the murderous type, battle experience in WWII and our annual fall chicken butchering notwithstanding.
But one thing he never did was defy my mother, especially when she was riled up.
He had his marching orders.
He got up, reached around behind the door for the .22, and headed out – quietly closing the door behind him.
I ran to my bedroom, not wanting to see the ensuing carnage.
Sure enough, after a bit, there was a crack! And I knew Daddy must have killed one of those darling little rabbits.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to go see.
I came into the kitchen in time to see my mother, wiping her hands on her apron and going to the back door.
There on the porch stood my dad, gun in one hand and a dead rabbit in the other.
On his face was a resigned look that seemed to combine grief and pride.
My mother was now a woman, who within the space of less than an hour, had apparently changed her tune.
“Rudi!” she cried. “What have you done?”
“I killed a rabbit,” he said, stating the obvious.
“Oh, the poor little thing!” she wailed. “How could you? What were you thinking?”
“What are you talking about?” he cried, in self-defense. “I just did what you told me to do.”
“But I didn’t think you’d really do it!” her voice was now in the decibel range of a fire whistle.
General weeping, wailing and the grinding of teeth ensued.
Of course, I decided we had to have a funeral.
Daddy dug a little grave, I found a shoe box, and Mom laid the little body to rest in it in one of her cleaning rags.
The spot was marked with a small pile of stones that Daddy and the push mower had to mow around for the rest of the summer.
After that, Mom sowed her lettuce seeds in big flower pots which she kept up on the porch.
The kitchen garden lettuce was, thereafter, assumed to be the property of the furry cousins of the bold little rascal who lost his life the day Mom lost her temper and Daddy got the gun.
The rabbit story became legend.
Mom and Dad enjoyed telling it on each other and it grew funnier over time, maybe because of how it revealed their true selves – my mom’s mercurial temper and Daddy’s sensitive nature.
And I took a lesson from that day as well.
It’s easy to pull a trigger, difficult to undo the consequences and priceless to know that your parents are, really and truly, only human.
After all the hard work we put into our gardens, I know it’s infuriating to watch the deer and the rabbits make off with the results.
But you might want to give some thought to how far you’re willing to go in repelling boarders aboard your gardening ship of state.
I like to live in a place where so many wild creatures make free with whatever they can find in my yard and the birds dare to help themselves.
In the winter, they provide me with hours of enjoyment.
In the summer, I sometimes grind my teeth at their brazen attacks on the garden, my flower beds and berry patch.
But I’d rather coexist with wildlife than kill it.
I know that makes me daft.
But, as they say, to thine own self be true.