Tale #5 – “Hare Today”

GRANDPA’S TALL (TRUE) TALES

The wagon wheels scored the soft earth as the old Furgeson tractor pulled it to a stop in the hillside corn field. It was November and a bit cold but not unusually so for central Ohio this time of year. As I recall, my school district was not holding classes that day so I had no teaching responsibilities. Our children were in the nearby Utica schools or the younger ones were home with their mother. I don’t quite remember the circumstance. .

Be that as it may, my dad and I were together on the old farm. We had decided to take the wagon with its sideboards up into the field to “pick up nubbins” as Dad referred to the small ears of corn the picker had missed as it passed down the rows. Sometimes the small ears would roll off the elevator as the picker fed the ears to it making their way up and into the wagon. Dad was too frugal to let them lie in the field all winter since they would make good feed for his forty head of white-faced cattle.

In the corner of the wagon lay “Old Bellerin’ Betsy” Dad’s Winchester twelve gauge shotgun. A cartridge was in the chamber. “We might kick up a rabbit,” Dad mused to me,” so, since they’re in season , we’ll see if we can get a shot.”

After about only five minutes of walking around in the soft corn field, we had our chance. The stubble of the corn stocks and a few weeds here and there offered a little cover and we knew in some of that cover there might be a rabbit. As we bounced some of the ears of corn into the wagon we spooked a nearby rabbit. from his squat. The speeding hare darted between us. Dad yelled out our characteristic response we had used so many years in hunting: “There he goes!” He lunged for the shotgun.

To my right just a few feet away was a ground hog hole. Mr. Rabbit disappeared down the hole in a flash. Dad whirled around with “Bellerin Betsy” but knew he didn’t have a shot–to close to me and too late!

“Well, he got away,” I called out in disappointment. Dad. standing there in his old “blanket-lined wamus,” as he always called his blue dungaree jacket, brown cap pulled down with the bill just off the middle, had a twinkle in his eye. He took a couple of steps toward the ground hog hole and began to look around.

“Oh, not necessarily,” he mused in reply to my disappointed call. “Let’s see, ground hogs always have two holes,” he offered quietly, and began to circle the hole into which our furry friend had disappeared. After a few moments he called to me as I stood watching, “Here it is over here by this little bush.” And, sure enough, there in a rough place around which Dad had plowed, was a pile of rocks and earth barely betraying the presence of the other hole.

Dad took a couple of steps and reached down with both hands and picked up a good-sized boulder, nicely bigger than the hole. He leaned around and plunked it down over the hole. He raised up and in ceremony scuffed his hands together. “That takes care of that,” he said as he made his way back to me and toward the other hole, our rabbit’s escape route.

I was mystified. “What’er we goin to do.” I asked as I saw the ornery look coming on to Dad’s face. His reply startled me.

“Let’s dig him out,” Dad said with a laugh. I shot back, “You can’t do that!” He instantly replied, “Why not, he’s not goin anywhere,” he chortled as he reached for the three-pointed shovel he always had on the wagon. I remember shaking my head and smiling with some satisfaction.

So began our dig. The soft earth turned easily as we began at the open hole into which “Peter Cottontail” had disappeared. We threw the dirt back to our right and the pile began to mount at once. Taking turns on the shovel and chuckling as we went, our breathing created twirls of condensation rising away from the scene.

After a while it became evident that we had taken on a challenging task. Deeper and deeper we shoveled into the moist autumn soil. Pausing occasionally to survey our work, we saw the hole deepen to surprising size. Finally I said, “… seems irreverent, what we’re doing doesn’t it?” I smiled at Dad. He smiled back and offered: “Yea!” And we dug on sounding as giddy as a couple of schoolboys.

Now the dirt pile had taken on the proportions of an oil drum. We dug on, pausing only as we traded the shovel back and forth for a few moments’ rest. The hole was getting ridiculously big and we were getting tired. Now it crossed my mind that it would take us some time to fill the hole back in once we got the rabbit. If we did! I was pretty sure Dad had never dug out a rabbit before and I knew I hadn’t. I wasn’t quite sure how we would know when we were about there. I soon found out.

Our hole now seemed the likely burial plot for a good-sized piano. Still no rabbit. Just then Dad pushed my hands back after I had turned a shovel full of dirt. “Wait!” He stooped down and carefully watched the dirt in the hole for a moment. Suddenly, a small portion of the dirt moved! Dad reached down with his right hand as he hovered over the hole. In a moment he plunged his hand into the dirt and with appropriate fanfare swung Mr. Rabbit up to his left and to me, with a tight grip on his ears.

“You can do the honors,” Dad chortled to me, bringing back memories of our many rabbit hunts when I was a kid. He meant, “I have him, take him by the hind legs, turn him down and whack him with the back of your hand to break his neck.” I did. The kicking bunny breathed his last. Our hunt was a success. We knew the answer to our question: “Can you dig a rabbit out of a ground hog hole? Yes, you can!” I tossed the cottontail up onto the wagon and turned to begin filling in the hole. Later that afternoon, Dad skinned him and committed him to freezer for future reference, namely a nice meal.

Somehow, this experience seemed to remind me of a joke my niece, my brother Bill’s eldest daughter, Diana, had told the family a year or two before. I remember her smiling face as she related the joke, part of which she sang:

“Uncle Ken” she said, “Little Rabbit Fo Fo, walkin’ through the forest, grabbin’ all the field mice, bashing ’em in the head. Along came the Good Fairy, and she said: ‘Little Rabbit Fo Fo, if you don’t stop bashin’ the field mice, I’m goin’ to turn you into a goon.’ I’ll give you one more chance.”

“Then came the next day: ‘Little Rabbit Fo Fo, walking through the forest, grabbin’ all the field mice, bashin’ ’em in the head. Along came the good fairy, and she said, ‘Little Rabbit Fo Fo, I told you yesterday to stop bashin’ all the field mice. Now I’m going to turn you into a goon. And she did.’

“Now the moral of that story is: ‘Hare today, goon tomorrow.'” Reminds me of our rabbit in the holed: “Hare today, gone tomorrow!”

I suppose I’ll always remember that crazy fun day with my dad so many years ago on the old farm. I love you, Dad, I’ll never forget you.

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