Curtains for Peter Cottontail

Note: I have noted elsewhere that I have one Christmas Story.  This is my one Easter story.  I published it, years ago, under a different name, on another blog I kept.   It’s one of my favorite anecdotes.


 

During Dad’s first tour of ’Nam, Mom moved us into a house built by my grandfather in southeastern Kansas. The house was a catty-corner shortcut across a pasture from the house he shared with my grandmother and aunt. Grampa was still laying the bricks outside when we moved in. I spent many afternoons handing him bricks, which he mortared and set in neat rows.

We spent many days in our grandparents’ company. With Dad’s various duty assignments locating us hundreds of miles from most relatives, this was the closest thing we ever had to the “normal” experience of an extended family. We hung our Christmas stockings along Grampa’s mantle. We hung ornaments on a tree in their house. And we hunted Easter eggs there, too.

The night before Easter we gathered in Grandma’s kitchen to color eggs with Paas® dyes. Dissolving colored tablets in vinegar gave us a pastel palette for a couple dozen hard-boiled eggs. I can’t say for certain from this distance, but I remember several drives with my grandmother to a farmhouse where she bought fresh eggs, so I’m going to guess that was whence these came. You might imagine the flurry of activity which accompanies five children under the age of eight trying to roll eggs in bowls of dye. No doubt this is why we did it at my grandparents’ home. With their assistance and that of my 12-year-old aunt—and my toddler brother confined in a high-chair—there could be one “big person” helping each child.

At the cusp of spring, the sun was still retiring early, but I am willing to bet my sisters and I were tucked into bed before dusk. We sometimes laugh about that, as adults. We often heard the laughter of neighbor children playing beyond our bedroom windows long after our heads hit their pillows, but Mom had strict bedtimes for us. The natural corollary to early bedtimes was our springing from bed at the crack of dawn, when nocturnal adults still snored in their bedrooms.  Especially on exciting morns such as Easter of Christmas. Many a holiday morning we sneaked to the upcoming center of activity to have a peek beneath the tree or, in this instance, the living room hearth where our Easter baskets awaited. One or two of the eggs we dyed nestled in each wicker basket atop plastic grass among marshmallow Peeps® and chocolate eggs and bunny rabbits.

Despite our efforts at silence, the sleeping adults eventually rousted themselves from their quarters to supervise our family egg hunt. When we were very young, the Easter Bunny hid the eggs in easy places: below children’s eye level, obviously poking from under a sofa pillow, or on a bed of plastic grass beside a table leg, on the lower shelves of a bookcase. (As we grew older, and added a sixth to our brood, EB came up with increasingly difficult hiding places. I remember one year when we didn’t find one until July. That was not a pleasant surprise!)

In short order we found the hidden eggs. Then commenced the begging to indulge ourselves in the treasure trove of chocolate and jellybeans we now possessed. Somewhere between adult warnings of spoiling breakfast and concessions to “just one piece before church” we heard my sister Suzy squealing from the living room. I scurried with my other sisters to find Suzy standing near a bundle of red-eyed white fur with long, floppy ears. It began moving!

Of course it wasn’t THE Easter Bunny—who was surely out delivering eggs to children in parts of the world that were still dark—but it was a cute little pet for us. Grampa transferred the rabbit into a hutch he had built for that purpose. He placed the hutch in our side yard, at the entrance to the path between his house and ours. Over the next year we gave it water and food, but a rabbit isn’t exactly the kind of pet which comes when you call or that you can let out of his hutch to play fetch. He was strictly a look-at pet. Maybe pet under adult supervision. The “under adult supervision” part is one of the reasons I got so upset when my brother Michael stuck his finger in the hutch one day and received a rabbit bite.

That was his version of the story. Or, more accurately, the version fabricated and put in Michael’s mouth by other family members. Face it: the kid was dutchy until he was six years old and probably wasn’t three at the time. Who could understand him? My version is that he scrapped his finger on the chicken wire when he poked it where it didn’t belong.

Regardless of whose version is factual, Grampa took Bunny to live on a farm in the country. Except we lived on a farm in the country. Grampa actually, and everybody knew it, terminated Bunny with Extreme Prejudice. Then cooked him. Ever since, I tell people, “In our family, when pets are bad, we eat them.”


 

Postscript: After my siblings and I grew up, I sometimes told variations of this story at family gatherings. For decades, my memory of the event is that Bunny was served for supper at our table and I, unable to stomach the thought of eating our pet, begged Mother to let me eat dinner with my grandparents. Once, as I got to the rabbit-bite part of my narrative, Mom interjected, “Your grandfather liked rabbit. He was probably just looking for an excuse to cook it.” It took several more years before the well-worn paths of my childhood memories ran into the realization that, rather than being the only child who didn’t eat Bunny, I was likely the only one who did. Which I guess should make me feel gnarly, but it passed long ago.

About Mark Matzeder

By education a filmmaker, by trade an electrician, by avocation a writer and sometime scholar. Occasionally I wring an essay out of some observation I have made or experience I've had and share them here. Sometimes I'll share short fiction. Sometimes a poem. But mostly it's just my spin on this strange trip.
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