What beautiful brown eyes you have. . .

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
― A.A. Milne

“Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.”
― Bram Stoker

“You know, sometimes the world seems like a pretty mean place.’
‘That’s why animals are so soft and huggy.”

― Bill Watterson

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(images of a little wild rabbit / Julie Cook / 2014)

Imagine my surprise this morning when I noticed both cats poised, like dogs pointing out the prey, deadly still with heads careening out as far as little necks would allow through the posts on the deck, looking intently down to the bank below. “What on earth do they see” I wonder as I edge my way to the railing for a good look.

Quickly, and almost invisible to discernment, there is rapid movement against a sea of pine straw as I suddenly focus on the object of their attention.
A small brown rabbit, a PeterCotton Tail to be exact.

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“Oh welcome my little guest” as I feel my heart rise up within me. Yet the obvious thought, the most logical thought, by any Gardner or farmer would not be too welcoming having a wee rabbit to come calling. And what am I thinking. . .as my garden is no more than 100 feet away—wide open, bare and exposed. . .full of delectable tender green vegetables to be.

This, as I recall the charge of St. Benedict on hospitality–that we are to make all those who come to our home, welcome. I somehow think St Benedict would kindly consider this lowly little rabbit a most welcomed guest of honor.

Yet there is truly something about rabbits which has always captured my heart.
Maybe it’s their big soulful saucer sized eyes. . .
Perhaps it was the pet rabbit we had when our son was a little boy. BunBun.

BunBun was a beautiful black and white lop eared rabbit with a tender gentle disposition. He, she, it, was more like a big flop doll, quite happy wearing a harness and leash as we would enjoy taking him out of his cage, playing with him in the grass.

My husband had had a beautiful rabbit hutch built for our new family addition–large, spacious and secure. . .or so we had thought.
One tragic afternoon, before my son and I had returned home from a long day of teaching for me and day care for him– my husband who had came home prior to our arrival was witness to a horrible sight. A pack of dogs, not even wild dogs but a pack of roaming neighborhood dogs, attacking the cage and rabbit. They must have worked on it for some time as the cage itself was sound and quite sturdy.

My husband came upon the tail end of the carnage, chasing away the dogs and burying BunBun before my son and I got home. He called one of the dog owners explaining what had happened and that he had a great concern as our son often played outside and if this pack of dogs were so aggressive over a small caged animal what might they do to our toddler son. The owners response was most odd–“the next time you see my dogs, just shoot them.”

There’s certainly another post in there somewhere but today I want to remain more upbeat and enjoy my little surprise guest.

I don’t know what it is about rabbits—partly yes to those soulful eyes of theirs, plus their soft cuddly-like bodies, their luxurious coats–ode to the angora—or perhaps their gentle peaceful nature. I remember asking our vet it I’d need to have the rabbit vaccinated for rabies. He jokingly replied “you’d first have to have a brain to get rabies”—I took that as a no.

When I wrote my tale a couple of months back about my childhood companion, my stuffed Cubby bear,”Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly” or The life of the little stuffed bear” I had had the story of the Velveteen Rabbit in mind. The delightfully heart tugging tale of the stuffed animal that was loved so very much that it became terribly worn and yet very much Real.

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Maybe rabbits are a bit like us. They tend to be communal creatures at times, living in groups known as warrens. They certainly mate and have children. . .and children, and children, and more children—ooo digressing
They eat their vegetables.

Yet they are not up there on the ol food chain by any stretch of the imagination.
As I sat watching my little visitor hopping about our yard, I worried over his vulnerability.
Our yard, as I’ve noted before, is more like a 5 acre pasture that just happens to have a house on it. A few oak trees but mostly wide open grassland. Not the best spot for an unsuspecting rabbit who may not know of the danger from the overhead hawks. And then there is the 6 acres of overgrown field which backs up to our property, then the vast woods beyond that—all fertile ground for predators–coyotes abound in our area as do bobcats, fox, snakes, and of course an occasional roaming dog or cat.

But it was another rabbit story which came to mind as I watched my little friend scoot about our yard.
Watership Down

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Watership Down is story that was written in the early 1970’s by English author Richard Adams.
The tale is of a group of rabbits, living together in a warren–their community.
They have a language, a “religion” of sorts, a history as a, uh, people.
One rabbit receives mystical visions.
Visions of death and destruction.
It is a tale of life, transition, death, relocating, but most importantly it is a tale about a journey, hope and faith.

Many have thought Adams’ tale went much further and deeper than that of a child’s story book.
Some thought there to be great religious and political overtones, or perhaps it was an allegory for Virgil’s tale of the Aeneid or Homer’s Odyssey— yet Adams has always denied such.

When our son was little, I wanted very much to read him the story as I had enjoyed it myself.
Each night before our son was to go to sleep, he and I would read together. Or actually I’d read, and he’d lay there intently listening. He’d have taken his bath, donned his pjs, always hunkering down under the covers, as I’d start the evening ritual of reading. His favorite stories being Polar Express, Robin Hood, James and the Giant Peach, and Dinotopia.Being an only child, his imagination was most keen.
He’d listen to whatever tale we’d be wading our way through, staring at the glow in the dark star stickers covering the bunk bed over his head–with the wheels of imagination churning.

Yet there was something about Watership Down that troubled my son. Maybe it was the rabbits as he imagined them with their homes and lives coming under a cloud of great peril, maybe it was the disturbing images from the visions the main character rabbit would see within his mind or maybe it was how vicious some of the rabbits could be to one another— no matter what the reasoning, he asked that we no longer continue the story. When I thought that maybe he’d enjoy seeing the video of the movie instead of hearing the story, he’d have none of it.

To this day, at the ripe old age of 25, if he ever sees or hears of the story, he immediately turns up his nose.
I don’t know if it had anything to do with our own rabbit tale, or that we as humans have that odd habit of personification..casting humanness on any and all things which exist in our realm or our desire to anthropomorphize animals–making them most human–possessing thoughts, hopes, joys, dreams, and woes just a real as our very own.

And I suppose that’s what we’ve all done at some point in our young lives with those stuffed animals of our childhood—we loved them until they become most real in our hearts. How many of us as grown ups, who, upon rummaging through attics and basements or the far recesses of long abandoned closets, coming across that now boxed up and most worn stuffed animal from our youths, are not overcome with a sudden wave of nostalgia? Pulling our long forgotten friend close to our face, smelling that oh so familiar scent of all that was of an encompassing world of security, love and acceptance?

As thoughts of PeterCotton Tail, the Velveteen rabbit and time past with a now grown child raced through though my mind, my small visitor made himself quite at home in the yard.
I suppose St Benedict is correct, welcome those who come calling, you never know what gifts their visits may bestow upon one’s memory and heart.

“Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly” or The life of the little stuffed bear

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

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He didn’t always look this way.
At some point, very long ago, the stitching was still attached forming the mouth. There was a small bell in the right ear, the one that now has the hole, which tinkled each time he was moved. The neck was not so floppy as there was not the gapping tear. And of course there was the fuzzy fur.

I don’t know when he came into my life, or who had given him to me.
I don’t remember life before him because he was always present.
He just always was.
His name was / is Cubby. I suppose the name was intended officially as Cubby bear, but I simply recall “Cubby”

When do these sorts of things disappear from one’s life?
How is it that one day they are there, ever present, acting as the sentinel guard to one’s very being, then oddly, years of a lifetime pass-by without their ever vigilant presence–the keeper of one’s small soul, only being suddenly rediscovered, packed away in some musty old box buried amongst the debris of Life?
How is that?

And so it goes— my life with Dad which now slowly morphs into something else. Something other than. Something that was not what it is today. Something now odd, now strange, now challenging, now different.
The boxes which are now slowly being unearthed, as I work to clean out the house of what was–those boxes which have been entombed in the depths of a seemingly ancient basement and attic, all which contain the pieces of my life from back then.
“Back when?” you ask.
Back then, as in. . .my life before.
“Before what?” you ask.
Before I was who I am today.
Before I grew up to be 54.
Before I retired from the classroom.
Before I was a mom.
Before I was a wife.
Before my brother’s suicide.
Before Mother died from the cancer.
Before Dad had Alzheimer’s.
Before.

Before all of that, he was whole.
He had fur.
He was not torn, nor broken.
He was out living and not buried in a box.
He was ever present.
He was a constant in a life full of the flux of growth.

Each night as I readied for bed, Dad and I had a ritual. I’d climb in the bed and dad would be across the room over at the little baby doll’s bed which acted as the “day bed” for my menagerie of stuffed animals. I would call out a name and Dad would gingerly toss over the lucky recipient, of my heart’s desire, to my small waiting arms. The arms that would eagerly catch “a loved one” for the journey to dreams.
Cubby was always first.

I wonder if Dad remembers that?

There was the good night hug and kiss, the lights turned out as I nestled myself down into the covers and pillow with stuffed animals on either side acting as insulating protectorates as Cubby was held tight. Tiny girl prayers were said. “God bless, Mommy. God bless Daddy. God bless Humpty Dumpty (the other ever-present sentinel), God Bless Cubby. . .”

And so it went, or so it seemed, until one day, it all obviously changed and that person ceased being.

Life is funny that way. One day you’re a young person engulfed in the world of care and love—then poof, you’re now the one offering the care and love.

All of the “before” being long forgotten, that is until the box is found and opened.
Until the life that “was” is unearthed, resurfacing from the packed away Past.
Then, and only then, do the memories suddenly become the Present.
Time stands still.
It is no longer “now” but rather it is “then.”

The secrets told to the fuzzy little bear are magically recalled as instinctively you pull him close in your arms, holding tight to what was. The smell, his smell, it seems to linger. Is it real, or merely imagined?
He contains the countless tears of a little girl. They are all still there. He’s held them all, all these many years. He seems so small.
You bury your face against his face–just as you did so long ago.
He made things better.
He loved you when you were sent to your room for some slight indiscretion of youth.
He loved you when you had the fever, the chicken pox, the skinned knees, the black eye.
He loved you when it thundered.
He loved you when the lights were turned off.
He loved you when your grandfather, your “Pops”, died.
He loved you when you started school.
He loved you when you had your first crush
He loved you when you had your first heartache.
He loved you when you left for college.
He loved you while he waited.
He loved you.

Then one day, he went in a box.
He went away.
I went away.
Life grew big—almost too big. Overwhelmingly big.
Grown up life is not always cracked up to what children imagine—just ask any adult. Childhood has imagination and magic. Adulthood, not so much.
And just when things seemed big, too big— there he was, again.
Out of the blue.
Out of the box.
He looks sadly tired.
I look sadly tired.
But it is him and he is the same.
I am the one who has become different.
I changed.
He did not.
Thankfully, he did not change.

To anyone else, he is but a sad little stuffed old bear. He is torn, broken, ragged, ripped and furless—not even GoodWill material.
But. . .to me, he is beautiful.
He is REAL.
He is hope.
He is happiness.
He is safety.
He is who I was.

And today, I need to be reminded of that very thing—who I was.
And for that, I am once again thankful to the little brown, once fuzzy, bear who long ago held my hopes and dreams in his little imagined heart.
I would like to think that he still has a bit of room in that heart of his to hold a few more of those tears, those hopes, those dreams of mine. . .and because he has withstood the test of time and of a life well worn, and he doesn’t seem to mind the rips, the tears, the holes, the worn away fur–for in all of this is the hurt of becoming REAL. . .

God bless Cubby. . .