Friday, March 27, 2015

Pete, Grandma, and the Helms Bakery truck

One day, while playing in the backyard, I spotted a hummingbird perched in my mom’s bottlebrush. I was surprised that he was not darting about and drinking from the flowers. I figured he must be sick, so I gently cupped him in my hands and took him into the house. I showed Grandma the hummingbird, and she suggested I put him in one of her canary’s old cages. We took turns feeding him sugar water with an eyedropper. Soon he was ready to fly, but every time when I released him, he would fly back. I was afraid that I was not ready to take care of a hummingbird for its entire life, so my dad suggested that I trade the hummingbird to one of his junior high students for a baby rabbit.

Pete was about eight weeks old and satin red when my dad brought him home. Unfortunately for Pete, my dad decided to make the cage out of two orange crates. We sawed a hole for Pete to see through and covered the hole with chicken wire. I must admit, my dad and I thought the cage looked cool, even if it was small. But I soon learned there was a problem with Pete’s cage: his rabbit droppings built up quickly. Soon, my grandma started to remind me that I needed to clean Pete’s cage. I guess the newness of having a rabbit had worn off, while the responsibility of owning a pet had not sunk in. Grandma warned that Pete would die if the cage were not cleaned. One sad day, after school, Pete did not come out to play; his body lay rigid. Grandma was right.

I suppose death is the ultimate teacher, whose lessons cannot be forsworn. More disturbing than seeing Pete’s lifeless body, was the absence of Pete’s frivolity. I used to enjoy watching Pete race through the yard and jump up and kick his heels. It was pure physical joy.  Grandma did not criticize me for not cleaning Pete’s cage, nor did she say; “I told you so.” She knew I missed Pete and tried to comfort me by purchasing donuts from the neighborhood Helms Bakery truck. I selected a glazed donut, while grandma chose a “maple cruller.”

Pete, Grandma, and Dad are all gone now. I often reflect back and wonder about the efficacy of my own parenting. Did I teach my children the right lessons? Did I listen enough? Did I set a good example? I used to think I knew the answers to these questions, but now I think the answers do not belong to me, but rather my children,  who will ask these same questions about their own children.

I still have rabbits, but now their cages are stacked three high in an air-conditioned garage. I make sure to honor Grandma and Pete by telling my youngest daughter about the importance of cleaning the trays at least once each week. Some fifty years later, I still enjoy hanging out with my rabbits, and every once in a while, I remember Pete and Grandma and hear a faint bell from the Helms Bakery truck.