Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Rescued Rabbit

My father used to have many expressions that he would use. They were always strange but after you heard them enough times they became familiar and just part of who he was. When my siblings and I were younger he did not like to swear much in front of us. If he hit his hand with a hammer he would just shout “Bears!” Other times you would hear him say things like “Damn Sam,” or “Hell’s Bells.” Whenever Dad was getting in the car to play poker, and we wanted to go with him, we would ask, “Where are you going, Dad?”  He’d say “Europe. It’s very far.” My father also had odd expressions that he used to show disdain with you or to praise you. One night when we were out chipping ice off the driveway and I complained that it was too cold, he called me a “lily liver.” Another time, when I spent the day working with him to rehab the standalone garage at our first house when we moved back to Chicago, I heard things like “You’re cooking with gas, Tom,” or “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”

My Dad wasn’t around a lot when we were kids. He worked all of the time and traveled frequently. Even so he did the best he could to spend time with us. He made sure that we did Indian Guides and Princesses. He was always there on weekends. He took off a few weeks every summer so that we all could go somewhere on vacation together as a family. As we got older and he had more flexibility in his job, we saw him all of the time. He became very dedicated to his family. I had a similar experience in my own life as I got older and work was less important compared to my family. Following in the right footsteps, I guess.

Whenever we went on vacation we drove in our station wagon. My older sister, Melissa and my brother would sit in the far back, and my younger sister, Stacia, and I would share the middle seat. My mother was a big fan of the buddy system and so my older sister and I were essentially assigned one of the younger kids, who we were supposed to keep an eye on. I took that responsibility very seriously.  I would read books and let Stacia sleep, curled upon the vinyl next to me.

Stacia and I have always had a very special relationship. As a young man I was very self-involved and even selfish to some degree. (Some say I still am.) When it came to people I cared about though, especially my little sister, that all melted away. My older sister, Melissa, is one of the most compassionate and caring people I have ever known and has always been my friend. She took care of me a lot. She taught me how to take care of someone else. I always took care of Stacia.

One afternoon, when I was in high school, I was reading in my room and Stacia came running in. “Tom, come quick,” she yelled. I leapt up. “What’s the matter, babe?”  She grabbed my hand and pulled me out into the front yard. “Those morons across the street just threw a rabbit out of the window.”  In those days we had awful neighbors that lived across the street. They drank and partied a lot. They were young adults, just kids really, who lived in a house that their parents had abandoned to them. I said, “What are we going do, Stacia?”  She didn’t wait. She ran across the street, crawled into the bushes and then brought back to me a trembling white rabbit.”  I got a box and we wrapped her up in a blanket. We placed some lettuce and carrots in with her. Stacia, just shaking her head, said, “How could someone do that?”

My sister, Stacia, has always been partial to animals and has owned many of them. I remember one time, when she was very little, catching her throwing rocks at a tree. I asked her what she was doing. She said, “I’m trying to scare away the blue jays. They’re stealing eggs.”  I threw rocks with her.

The night we rescued the rabbit, my dad came to me and said “Let’s go for a ride.”  I asked him where we were going. There was a vague sense in the back of my mind that I was in trouble for something. When we were in the car, he answered. “We’re going to buy a rabbit cage and some food. You know she is not going to let go of that.”  I nodded my head. He said, “She already has too many animals in her room. Would you mind keeping it down by you?”  I lived in a room on the lowest level of our house that my father had built for me so that I could have some adolescent privacy. I replied “Sure, Dad.”  He patted my arm and said, “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”

My room became the rabbit’s playground.  Stacia and I both used to let it loose so that it could run around safely without the dog bothering it. Some nights I would take her out and let her sit on my desk or whatever book I was reading. My friends at first thought it was strange that I had a living rabbit sitting on my shelves but after awhile they came to love it too.

Stacia and I weren’t always on the same page.  As a young man I got very self-involved and selfish about the things I was involved in. When Melissa went off to Illinois, she told me that I was the one that would have to now take care of the younger ones like she always did. I said, “This is my senior year.  I just want to have fun.” She smiled and said, “It doesn’t work that way.”

The first time my parents went out and I had to sit with the siblings, Stacia and I got into a heated argument and she put a pencil into my hand. I got very angry, picked her up, and tossed her into her bed.  She was in junior high at the time, but she has never been anything but a small woman. I threw a copy of Catcher in the Rye into her room and locked the door. I told her she couldn’t come out until she read it.  My skills with young adults were not exactly refined at that time.  A few hours later she picked the lock with a bobby pin and came to find me. She bandaged my hand. She sat close to me on the couch where I was watching an old movie. “I like what I read of the book, so far,” she said and went to sleep against me.

The first time I came home after leaving to follow Melissa to Illinois; I went to our high school because my friend, Ross, told me he would be there.  I walked into the choir room wearing my boots and a long camel hair coat.  I had long hair and a beard. Despite that he was in the middle of a rehearsal, the director, who is a nice man, nodded towards Stacia. She ran down off the risers and wrapped her arms around me.  It was the first time I had seen her in make-up. She looked beautiful.

I kept that rabbit we rescued outside my room until I moved to school for good. One night when I was home for a visit, my Mom came to me and said, “You know she is getting older.” I thought she was talking about Stacia. I said, “No matter where I am, Mom, I will always take care of her.” My mom smiled and put her hand on my face. “That’s wonderful T.S. You’re a good brother, but I’m talking about the rabbit. It will be soon when she has to go live at the circus.”

Stacia is now in her forties and I am fifty. Even though I don’t have to take care of my little sister anymore, I still cherish her. She is a talented and beautiful woman. Just as kind to animals and people as she ever was. Stacia and her husband, who I happen to like very much, and who she gave me the privilege of checking out on their first date, have two wonderful daughters. Both girls have high voices like my sister, so I always call them my squeakers.  They are both still young but when they were very little they liked that when they came to visit me, I’d take them both in my arms, buckle them into the van for their ride home and say, “I love my nieces to pieces.”  I did same thing for Melissa’s twins, who are both now in college. 

On certain days, when Stacia is not working, we go to lunch. Our favorite is to share a plate of Reuben rolls at Quigley’s, the Irish bar in the town where I live. We laugh a lot and sometimes we cry about the people we both loved and lost…mostly our parents. We enjoy each other’s company. I noticed the other day that our relationship was so different now than what it was before. Whereas once I always took care of her, we now take of each other. I know that there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her and I know there is nothing she wouldn’t do for me. She frequently does.  There have been times when the world went wrong and she has always been there for me.

While it is nice to have a rescued rabbit in your life, and I miss her, having a little sister, like Stacia, who is willing to rescue rabbits, like me, is a whole lot better.