Mostly a true story



Pet rabbit

When I was seven or eight, my father caught a rabbit.  As in, saw it by the side of the road one winter evening, stopped the car, and chased it down.  I don’t know what possessed him to do this.  He’d been drinking and we were poor; presumably he saw it as an opportunity to bring home a pet for my younger sister and me.  Also, he liked a challenge.  This was a man who swam in the winter, in the Adirondacks where winters (and lakes) are frigid. He believed swimming in icy waters kept him from catching colds.  I don’t know if that was true.  It is true, however, that he is still alive and 82 (though he no longer drinks or chases rabbits or swims in winter).

My sister and I were happy to have the rabbit.  A rabbit is soft and cuddly, and lives longer than a goldfish — especially our goldfish, which we had not had much luck keeping alive for very long.  My sister kept wanting to hold hers; I kept forgetting to feed mine.

But this is not really about rabbits or pets or fathers who chase wild rabbits through the woods until they catch them.  It’s about memory, and the illusionary nature of what we think we know.

What I thought I knew was this: my father chased a rabbit through the woods, caught it and brought it home.  We kept the rabbit in a pen in the yard.  I came home one day from school, or from playing, and learned that the rabbit was dead, which was bad enough, but then later sat down to a dinner of rabbit.  Our rabbit.  I am still traumatized by the memory.  Especially after toting it around in my bag of recollections for so many decades.  (It’s a wonder I am sane.)

After rummaging through my memory recently, I decided to fill in the gaps of this particular story.  I called my sister, first.  She remembered the rabbit incident.  The neighbor’s dog killed it, she said.  They gave us a black bunny to make up for it.

What neighbor, I asked?  I didn’t remember the dog-as-rabbit-killer bit, or the black bunny replacement.

The people who lived next door, said my sister.  An old couple, they drank a lot.  I think his name was Bill.

Even with a nudge, I can’t remember the people who lived next door to us. I can vaguely picture the house — it was smaller than ours — but in my mind it always sat empty.

Okay, but Mom cooked the rabbit for dinner later, I said.  I remember that.

I don’t think she cooked it.

She did!

Maybe.  I suppose she could have.  I remember eating rabbit when we were kids.

Then, I called my mother.  Remember when Dad caught that rabbit and brought it home?

I think so, she said.  We built a little pen for it.  We went somewhere for the day and I forgot to leave it water until after we got home, and by then the rabbit was crazed from being so thirsty.

Is that how it died?  Amy said the neighbor’s dog killed it.

I don’t remember how it died.

Did you cook it?

(I asked nicely.  Not the least bit accusatory.)

No.  Someone would have had to skin it.

Finally, I called my father, the man who caught the rabbit.

Our rabbit, I said.  Amy claims the dog next door killed it.

No.  The dog that killed it belonged to the family who lived on top of the hill. Your brother dated their daughter in high school.

Did Mom cook the rabbit?

There wasn’t much left of that rabbit after the dog got through with it.  The people felt so bad they gave you ducklings.

Amy said we got a black bunny as a replacement.

Could have been, my father said.

So, there you have it.  Mostly a true story, except for the rabbit being cooked. For the life of me, I don’t know where in my psyche that piece came.  A bad dream, perhaps, fused with the memory by virtue of proximity in time.

To this day, though, I will not eat rabbit, nor will I ever as long as I live.

That part is completely true.






38 thoughts on “Mostly a true story

  1. Lovely piece on how we re- (and de-) construct memories.
    I am storing a few memories from my childhood that might make for interesting reading — but I’d have to assume a pen name to get them out there…
    Are you really, absolutely, certain that you will not eat the Lapin à la Cocotte that I plan for your next visit?


  2. Mary… it’s funny what our mind does to the truth. I have funny\interesting memories of pets and food and growing up. Thankfully I grew up, though there are times I wonder if I’m grown up at all. I love your stories. I have eaten rabbit once, it was in France and it was good. But never again after seeing them for sale in the street markets of Paris. I have also eaten tripe twice, once on purpose and once by accident – but it was hubris that made me eat it both times. But, that is another story. Take care and enjoy spring. It is finally here.


    • Clay, if we are very lucky, we remain kids at heart. Even in France I wouldn’t eat rabbit. My husband did, and liked it. I don’t eat duck, either. We did have ducklings, my sister and I, and I remember that a dog got the only one that survived. I vividly remember coming home and seeing feathers everywhere. Seems we didn’t have much luck with pets.


  3. Beautifully written, Mary. You hit the memory issue right on the head. This makes me want to begin writing my memories down, or perhaps draw them. But, right there with you on eating bunnies. Never, ever, been comfy doing that. Well done, woman, well done.


    • Thank you, Barbara. I cannot tell you how many disagreements my siblings and I have had over memories, especially with there being so many of us and each of us with our vantage point.

      I could see you drawing your memories — your artwork has always had a dream-like quality to them, as though images you culled from your subconscious. There’s a project for you!


  4. Mary, this is a great story, and a wonderful illustration of the elusiveness of memory and “truth.” I experience this with my own sister, in conversations where she says, “Remember when you…” to which I reply, baffled, “No, I never….” We no longer have anyone else to apply to for input or resolution, so we have to let it go. (But I know I’m right! Besides, I’m older and that makes me the authority.)


    • Yes, Lee, exactly the kind of conversations I have with my siblings all the time. I’m older, too, but I guess not quite as accurate as I thought I was.

      I question the whole of history, now. Memory and “truth” is subjective, it seems.


  5. Mary,
    I so love your stories. And it is so true about how we remember (or not) and how each person’s recollection can be so very different. My sister and I have stories that we share like that. It’s so weird what she remembers and I don’t or vice versa.

    What’s also interesting about your story is my dad did something similar. He went rabbit hunting and shot a rabbit but only slightly wounded it and he brought it home alive and showed it us. Then he skinned it and mom cooked it! Imagine all the howling from two little girls. I have no idea what he was thinking and come to think of it, I don’t think he ever went rabbit hunting again…


    • Cathy,
      Thank you. It’s so nice that you like my stories.

      It’s funny, because, before my mother said that “someone would have had to skin it,” it didn’t occur to me that, of course, my father wouldn’t have been able to do that, and my mother flat out wouldn’t have. Simple details.

      But, oh! How sad that you lived the most traumatic part of my “memory.” Your mother really did cook a rabbit that your father brought home. My dad used to hunt deer when it was in season, but he never actually got one. I always suspected that he didn’t have the heart to shoot one.

      P.S. I don’t eat deer, either. I’ve seen Bambi! 😉


  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this, Mary–you just gave the gift of your story that could have been mine. I read once that memories aren’t real–but the reconstruction is.

    I must tell you the memory it triggered for me. My daddy used to say that putting salt on a bunny’s tail would help me catch him. You have NO idea how many afternoons were spent with a salt shaker in the woods looking for my next pet. The fact that your Dad caught the rabbit in the first place has me completely green with envy 🙂


    • That’s so funny – salt on a bunny’s tail. You would have to catch the bunny to put the salt on it’s tail in the first place! My Dad was quirky. He brought home a dog one day that he found at an animal shelter because he believed the dog was my grandfather reincarnated. That’s another whole story . . .


    • I don’t think anything is absolutely true. So much of truth is perception. Finding out how much of this particular memory was inaccurate, has made me question so many others . . . .


  7. in my family, we always tease my sister about exaggerating /enhancing stories … only she knows how her memory works.
    I read through the comments and wonder that my reaction was so different. I have to confess that from the first sentence, I worried about that rabbit. I don’t know why … I just knew it wouldn’t end well for the rabbit.
    I’m sure I wouldn’t eat rabbit either


    • The photo is a snowshoe rabbit, because that is the kind of rabbit I remember my father bringing home. Though, I didn’t include the specific conversation on that aspect of my memory, no one else really remembers what kind of rabbit it was, so it might of have been a snowshoe, or just a regular rabbit. Now, I’m not sure. Definitely an interesting experiment.

      You don’t want to hear the story about our pet duck, then . . .


  8. Oh I just love this. I suspect more than half the things I remember so vividly from childhood are misremembered at best. Your rabbit stories remind me of every time I ask my mom or brother about something I think I remember. It sounds like the rabbit met an untimely end, but at least you (probably) didn’t eat him. I’ve never eaten rabbit, I don’t think, and I wouldn’t like to.


    • Still, my sister and I did agree that, even though it may not have been our pet rabbit, at some point rabbit was served for dinner in our house. She liked it. I didn’t.

      Also, I am sad to say, all our pets met untimely ends. Which is probably (now that I think of it) the reason I don’t have pets now.


  9. Pingback: Thank You All! « LargeSelf

  10. Poor Mary. I wonder how many of my own memories are true? Like the time I inadvertently walked into the middle of a liquor store hold-up. Or that plane that would have crashed when the entire crew came down with some kind of stomach virus and I was sitting in first class, right next to the cockpit and seemed to be the only one aware of the danger we were in….


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