The rabbit


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The rabbit
By Bobby Neal Winters

Summer 2005

“Daddy,” she began. Her oval face looked up at me from under the mop of sun-bleached blond hair as she smiled through the missing teeth of a six-year-old. “Daddy, can I have a rabbit?”

We’d stepped into the pet store in order to get out of the heat and against my better judgment, but, as I saw it, our choice was the least of three evils. We could walk around in the pet store, we could bake our brains in the sun, or we could be tortured for hours in the cloth store that was keeping my wife and two older daughters mesmerized.

“Why in the world would you want a rabbit?” I asked. “All they do is make poop and hop around.”

“But they are soft and cuddly and they are so cute,” she said, her eyes wide and her smile pleading.


Winter 1970

I think the transaction could have been done anywhere, but it was done in the cemetery. My mother drove our 57 Chevrolet, and Grandma sat in the passenger seat. My brother and I were in the back seat alternately fighting, playing, and listening.

“There she is,” my grandmother said. This was Daddy’s mother not Momma’s, but Daddy was at work and Grandma couldn’t drive, so Momma had driven.

I looked out the window, and there was a woman there about my mother’s age. Momma and Grandma opened the car doors and got out, then my brother and I squeezed our way out of the back seat of the two door car.

We stood there in the cool of the dark autumn afternoon as the northerly wind rattled the dry leaves, pulling a few of them off and sailing them to the ground in the process.

“Hello, Mrs. Weathers,” the woman said.

“Hello, Addie,” my grandmother replied. “Have you ever met Clint’s wife?”

This sounded like it was going to be a boring conversation to us, so my brother and I wandered over to the nearest gravestone and looked it over. It was small and had the silhouette of a bunny carved upon it. I was barely learning to read so that hieroglyph held my fascination, but my brother, who was three years older than me had made a discovery.

“Listen to this,” he said in a half whisper. “Daniel Weathers, 1943 through 1948. There is a dead little boy under here and he is only five years old.”

At that age, I felt none of the emotion I would feel now. It was just a fact I filed away. There was a dead little boy who had the same last name as me and was buried under that tombstone.

We walked back to where the women were standing.

Grandma was speaking to the woman she’d called Addie.

“Take the deed to the courthouse and have it notarized,” she said. “When you do, it’ll be yours.”

“Thank you so much,” Addie answered. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

With that the women said their goodbyes. Addie gave grandma a hug. Then she turned to my Momma with a look of tenderness.

“Take care of Clint,” she said.

“I will say you said ‘Hello,’” Momma said in way of answer.

Then we all piled back into the car and drove off, and left her standing there. I turned around on my knees as we drove away and saw Addie kneeling by the grave.

We were barely out of the cemetery and onto the street when grandma spoke.

“You know that plot is worth about ten times what we got for it,” Grandma said.

“I know,” Momma said, “but Clint said just ask what he’d paid for it fifteen years ago because he didn’t want to make money off the death of a child.”

There was a pause as if neither side could think of an argument nor counter-argument, and then a new voice joined in. It was my brother’s.

“Who is Daniel Weathers?” he asked.

There was another silence, as if no one in the front was prepared to answer or each thought it was the place of the other. Finally, Grandma gave in.

“Danny was your Uncle Ned’s little boy,” she said. Her tone was one which was designed to shut off further enquiry, but I was too young to know that. “When he died, his folks didn’t have any money to buy a grave with and your so daddy did.”

My father had been a bachelor until comparatively late and by all accounts had been an uncle with deep pockets for all his nieces and nephews.

Grandma’s answer seemed to be enough for my brother, but I had a question that was bothering me.

“How did he die?” I asked.

“He was run over by a truck,” she said, “so you’d better be careful whenever you cross the road or you will be too.”

Seeing that answers had turned into lectures, I shut up. The car rolled on and we headed home.

This answer was enough to keep me satisfied for forty years.


“Daddy,” I asked my father with the full amount of charm I could muster. I was the youngest, a child of my father’s dotage as it were, and, as such, I was full of charm. “Daddy, could I have a rabbit?”

I had waited until a Saturday morning that he didn’t have to work in order to ask the question. My daddy work hard during the week—and every other Saturday—driving a truck. A lot of days he came in tired and cranky, and, if you asked him for anything, the answer would likely be no.

“What do you want a rabbit for?” he asked. “They are a lot of trouble.”

“But I’d take real good care of it,” I pled. “Please.”

“No,” Daddy said. The answer was with an energy and finality that—even as cute as I was—I didn’t push it.

The next week he brought home a pair of puppies for my brother and me, and that took my mind off rabbits. It never occurred to me that dogs are at least as much trouble as rabbits.


Late summer 1986

When we first know our parents they are giants. Then they gradually shrink down to size.

Then they are gone.

So it was with my daddy.

Only a year passed between the discovery that my father had cancer and losing him. In that short time, he shrunk from the robust man he had been to a skeleton with skin stretched across it.

At is funeral my brother and I were surrounded by family. The cousins took turns telling us stories about what a great uncle our daddy had been to them. They were all a good deal older than us since daddy had married so late. Some of them were old enough to be our parents.

But each one, it seemed, had a story about how Daddy had given them their first bicycle or their first hound dog. He was the Old Bachelor Uncle who loved children and had doted on his siblings children until he had children of his own.

We sat in the yard under the shade tree until the shadows grew long. Folks that weren’t family gradually thinned out until it was just kinfolks sitting under the tree. Fewer and fewer people shared stories until it was just one of my uncles talking. He and my daddy had been close, and Daddy’s passing was hard on him.

The family home was out in the country surrounded by woods and ranch land. We sat under the tree and gazed down toward the barn where a rabbit hopped out onto the tender mown grass and began to nibble.

My uncle noted the rabbit’s presence by nodding his head in its direction.

“Did any of you all ever have a rabbit?” he asked.

My oldest cousin answered first.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “When I was just a kid Uncle Clint bought me one.”

A couple of others indicated the same thing. Daddy had bought them rabbits too.

“Well, when Clint was a little boy,” my uncle continued, “he had about forty rabbits. He raised them and made spending money by selling them. He loved those rabbits, though. I can remember him when he was no older than about eight walking around with a rabbit clutched to his chest.”

At that point he began to sob, and my brother and I went over to comfort him.


Winter 2004

It became a mystery in my mind as to why Daddy had given rabbits to some of our cousins but had never given one to either my brother or me. While he could be stern with us and he was often tired and cranky from his job, he usually doted on us, thinking that we should have anything it was in his power to give us.

Time passed and most of my elder relatives went ahead to join my father in the place where we shall all go. My work became more absorbing and I had less time for family.

Then one day I got a call that an elderly aunt had Alzheimer’s. She had a bunch of pictures and was going to share them with the family because she wanted to be able to tell us who was in them while she still knew.

Her photos were in a large boot box—actually a couple of large boot boxes and in random order. The plan was to go through the pictures one at a time and divide them among the cousins who wanted them. In the process of got several priceless pictures of daddy in his soldier uniform from WWII.

Here would be a picture of Grandpa looking like nothing so much as a cowboy. There would be a picture of the oilfield.

Then we came to a picture of a little boy.

I pointed to the yellowed black and white of what appeared to be a four-year-old boy under a tree.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

My aunt picked up the photo and looked at it carefully, as if it had been years since she’d seen it.

“That is little Danny,” she said, “Ned’s son who died.”

I looked at him. He looked like no one so much as my youngest daughter who’d come into our family as a surprise four years previous.

My aunt appeared to be in deep thought, as if she were digging deeply for a memory she didn’t want to be lost to her Alzheimer’s.

“This picture would have been taken before Ned and Addie split the blanket,” she said. “After they divorce, Addie took up with another man and they started following the cotton harvest. Little Danny was riding on the cotton truck, fell off somehow—I can’t remember how—and it ran over him.”

There were a few more pictures of Danny right then. He always had a sweet smile on his face. We dug through a few more and then we came to another one. He was a little older. There was something written on the back that caught my particular attention.

“Do you remember when this was taken?” I asked my aunt.

She looked at the picture which featured Danny holding a white rabbit that was almost as large as he was. She stared and look of recognition flashed over her face.

“This was taken a couple of months before he died,” she said. “I remember now how he fell off the cotton truck. He was on the truck playing with his pet rabbit. The truck was backing up and stopped. The rabbit jumped off and little Danny jumped after it. Then the truck started backing up again. Isn’t that awful?”

“Yes, it is,” I answered. I looked at the picture again and then the faced inscription on the back. “Can I have this?”

“Sure, honey, sure.”

I looked at the picture again and then the faced inscription on the back. It said, “Danny with Clint’s rabbit.”


Summer 2005

“Daddy,” she said. “Daddy can I have a rabbit?”

I thought of the picture and gave her my answer.