When I was ten years old, after acknowledging my mother’s “Be home in time for dinner!” I set off with a PBJ sandwich in my pocket and maybe an apple. Sometimes I’d saddle up a neighbor’s horse and take off for hours, racing down the Pennsylvania turnpike bareback before it opened.
There was no bottled water in those days, and there wasn’t yet such a thing as helicopter parents. My playground was the farmers fields that surrounded our house; my parents had no fear of my playing “range free child” as author Lenore Skenazy describes in her book of the same name. Amber law? Never heard of it. Children, like today, despite the warnings of “stranger danger,” were most often molested at home by a relative.
There were favorite spots in the woods. One place that captivated me was an old abandoned well. I’d climb down to the bottom, which was scary and covered with dried leaves and twigs and some pretty creepy looking insects. I dared myself to climb down, challenging my fear, and was always glad to climb out, proving to myself I was fearless.
One day, climbing out of that well, as I lifted myself onto the ground, there was a baby bunny looking at me with a twitchy nose. All black, he stared at me as if to say “Where have you been?” He wasn’t afraid of me, coming toward me, curious.
Where was his mamma and siblings? How did he get here all by himself? Had a hawk gotten his family? Or had some kid had to drop him off in the woods because his mom wouldn’t let them keep him?
Offering a nibble of my sandwich, he didn’t protest as I picked him up. I immediately fell in love with him with the passion of a ten-year-old animal lover.
“Look what I found, Mom, he was all alone in the woods. Can I keep him? Please? Please? His name is Inky.”
She looked at me, looked at Inky, and said, “OK.” But you’ll have to build him a hutch and keep him outside.” I knew she was a softy.
Inky made himself at home, his nose in a constant twitch as he observed life around us. He got on well with our collie, Cleo. I got him a harness and walked the neighborhood, introducing him to the various neighbors and their dogs. Sometimes when he got quite large, I’d let him run loose, though always keeping my eye on him. He was cool—he’d let the dogs sniff his butt patiently. As he spent more and more time in my house, sometimes sneaking into my bed, he became housebroken and scratched to go out (and back in). Sometimes I’d just open the door and watch him hop away. If I didn’t see him when it was time for him to come in, I’d call and he’d come hopping.
One day a distant cousin brought her fiancee’ to meet the family. When he heard of Inky, who by now was a legend, he wanted to meet him.
I went to the door and called Inky and up he came a’ hoppin’. I picked him up and holding him by his bottom feet and his chest, went around the circle, introducing him to each person in turn. He twitched what looked like a smile at them.
When he came to the fiancee’ he peed on him!
Horrified, I ran out the door with him dribbling away.
They went ahead with the marriage anyway, but it didn’t work out.
For more on care and kindness for our animals (and fellow human beings) pick up my new book, The Global Kindness Revolution: How together we can heal violence, racism and meanness!