Not just any rabbit, mind you, but a black and white bunny, with one ear pointing north and the other in the other direction. And after tweaking his nose our way, he twitched once, and then high-tailed it (literally) into the thicket. Since his choice of colors was different than your average wild hare, we figured he was a domestic guy who somehow found himself on the wrong side of the hutch.
This brief encounter reminded me of something I wanted to pass on to our readers—and again, something that didn’t make it into Thumbs Up, ‘V’ for Victory, I Love You.
Like many in my age range, our parents were either still involved with, or were only one generation removed from the business of farming. Still in many ways an agrarian society, many mothers and fathers of that era who had just witnessed the end of the Great Depression and were sensing the beginning of a World War, still had the farming instinct in them.
As the industrial revolution created more possibilities in the growing list of professions and trades, more found themselves working in white collar jobs. But the impulse to produce things naturally—and from the earth—was still strong.
In our town, and indeed in many larger cities, families somehow found the time to create and care for vegetable gardens right in their own backyards. Some had more space than others, but they all managed—as they sought to keep alive the feeling received when you held a tomato in your hands that you grew yourself.
In my early years, my Dad was one of those gentlemen farmers, and set aside an area about 50 feet square in our backyard to build on his efforts. For several years thereafter, during each growing season, and with help from Mom, he produced tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, carrots, beets, lettuce and other vegetables for our dinner table.
One day, Dad, in his effort to sustain the double life of farmer and citified businessman, purchased two domestic rabbits. The female was solid white, with pink nose and eyes. The male was a big guy with soft fur about the color of grey flannel. I named him “Smokey,” and he became my pal for the next few years.
Dad had built a small hutch on the south side of our garage for our bunny couple. Inevitably, a litter of baby rabbits soon joined them—and marked the first time I was provided an inkling of the birthing process. We gave the babies away to friends and family, but the two adults stayed with us.
It was my job to feed our critters and periodically clean their hutches. I had to stand on a small stool to reach the higher floors and far reaches of our bunny house, but with Dad’s help, I successfully maintained my “farmer’s helper” role.
Smokey and I became very close. At times, standing on my stool to get face-to-face with him, he would actually touch his nose to mine, then back off and just look at me. When I held him, he made no attempt to move, evidently feeling safe and secure in my arms. I even brought him into the house a few times, but if any accidents occurred, Mom would point in the direction of the hutch, and I’d have to return Smokey to his rabbit high-rise.
Although they were well-protected from inclement weather (Dad fashioned a flap made of canvas, with several breathing holes cut through), the little female (whose name I can’t remember,) died. I was sad, and may have even shed tears when we buried her in the far reaches of the back yard; but I still had Smokey.
Not long after, Smokey made his exit, and from the standpoint of rabbit longevity, had lived a long and fruitful life. But by the time he moved on to that big bunny hutch in the sky I had grown older. Though I had appreciated the love received from my furry little lop-eared friend, I was losing interest in the art of raising rabbits. And since Dad was becoming used to the demands his business was making on him, once Smokey left us, he dismantled the hutch, and that was that.
However, the growing of the garden continued, and as long as we lived in that pretty little neighborhood on South Fifth Street, Mom and Dad produced a growing number of side dishes, at least half of which we gave away.
I was about twelve and my brother 4 when we moved to the east side of town, and Dad’s gardening efforts came to an end. And all the while, those in the field of agriculture were creating new technologies that contributed to fewer families making the art and science of farming their life’s work.
Looking back, I’m happy to have had the experience. I didn’t become a farmer, but from my limited exposure to the industry of growing needful things, it gave me a better understanding of this vital component in our lives—and how important it is to not only appreciate where our food originates, but the importance of treating domestic creatures (other than dogs and cats) with love and affection.