Some memories stick with us in the most profound way.
I remember well a particular Saturday morning in April. A friend had spent the night at my house, and we were up wandering around outside before breakfast, anxiously awaiting a trip later than morning to the skating rink in Red Bay. As we meandered about one of our family dogs, Sandy, came ambling up to us with something in her mouth. We didn’t know what she had, but I petted her and told her to spit it out. When she did, it ran underneath her.
With the cautiousness of a normal 12-year-old, I immediately thrust my hand under her to grab whatever wild creature had just exited her mouth. I grabbed it and didn’t know exactly what it was, so I ran it into the house for some assistance in identification.
What parent doesn’t long for the time when their child will run with abandon into the house with some potential varmint?
Anyway, Dad quickly told us what the dog had caught: a baby rabbit. It appeared unharmed, other than being scared and covered with a nice bath of dog slobber that would have smelled of Sunshine brand dog food. We had no idea, really, what to do with it. It was a baby, we didn’t know exactly where it had originally called home, and we figured the dog had raided the den and brought this one back for a snack.
So, I decided to keep it. I didn’t know a thing about raising rabbits, but with the unbridled enthusiasm of a normal 12-year-old, who was already responsible for a bunch of chickens and a few cats, how hard could this be?
Mom and Dad recommended using a medicine dropper to feed the rabbit a mixture of regular milk diluted with warm water. We made a nest for it in a box that sat on top of the water heater. The water heater looked like a clothes dryer, not the round tall ones we have now, so the box fit nicely on top.
All went well for about a week. Then, the rabbit went lethargic. We didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I knew one thing for sure: I was devastated. My grandmother tried to console me, as did Mom. Nothing was working. The only thing we knew to do was for me to hold the rabbit next to me and keep it warm. That’s exactly what I did, and for the entire evening – almost all night, I believe – I held that rabbit on my chest to try to keep it warm and hope for the best. I prayed for it, and I suspect Mom did as well.
The rabbit survived that night and started to soon show signs of strength. I nursed it back to health and it wasn’t long before it was back to normal.
Because of some of that rabbit’s antics, we named it Bunky. We would later determine Bunky was a girl. Ten days after we got Bunky, she was joined by another rabbit. Dad was working in the garden and came up on another very young rabbit, this one caught in some weeds. He caught it and brought it in, and because this one was bigger, I named him Jumbo.
Bunky and Jumbo were, for all practical purposes, my first kids. I was solely responsible for them. This meant that I had to go out every day and gather grass and leaves for them to feed them. I had to keep their home cleaned the best I could. And every time they chewed through the cardboard box we were using at the time for their temporary home, I had to come up with another box for them.
We eventually moved them into a sturdier cage with stronger wire walls. They called that cage home for more than seven years.
Jumbo lived nine years and three months to the day after we got him. Bunky, had she lived another two weeks, would have been 11 years old when she died. She was born in the woods of Halltown, Alabama, and eventually followed me when I moved to Tupelo, Mississippi. When I rented my first apartment, having a spare bedroom for Bunky was a necessity.
The story of what all happened in those glorious years God gave me those rabbits will have to wait until next month. I really can’t wait to tell it.
Jason Collum is Publisher of The Red Bay News.