I have had several professions in my years here on earth. But my very first job was that of a rabbit feeder. My parents had lots of them. They were not pets. They were food for the many wild animals we had on our farm, animals about whom you can read here.
My job in the mornings, before I got dressed to go to school, was to go out into the fenced-in area behind the barn, where the rabbits were housed, and give them water and food. This was not an easy job, because there were eight pens, three to four rabbits in each. The pens were painted dark green. One half of the pen was open to the air and the sun, and the other half had a roof and sides, so they had a place to sleep and keep dry and warm. I would trudge out to the rabbit garden— that’s what we called it— at six o’clock every morning. Dressed in my nightclothes and boots, my hair still in tangles from sleep, I would give them a tomato can each of fresh pellets, a handful of alfalfa, and fill up their water dishes to the top. In our kitchen we kept a rabbit pail that we threw all the leftover greens into. I would take that out also, telling them that it was their desert. I would talk to each one of them as I fed them. I told them about the weather forecast for the day, and whom it was I was planning to play with at school during recess. I jabbered away about anything that came to mind. The job took twenty minutes and I don’t think I ever stopped talking.
Some of the rabbits were white, some brown, and some were grey. I tried not to have favorites, as that wouldn’t be fair. I gave them all equal love and affection, and each got scratched behind the ear, because I never knew who would still be there when I returned home from school in the afternoon.
When it rained, I wore a trench coat with a hood that I pulled up over my head. When it snowed, I added gloves and a scarf. Sometimes when it was very cold and their water froze, I had to crack the top of it off with a hammer. Every so often they had babies and I got to take them out, when they were old enough and had grown fur, and hold them under my chin and kiss their warm pink baby ears. Sometimes, in the summer, when I had lots of time, I made a run for them out of wire on the side lawn, where the grass was green and deep. I would stretch it out in a large wide circle and then, one by one, I would take them out and let them run and play and nibble. I would lie back on the lawn myself, with my hands behind my head, and look up at the sky above and think about my life and what I wanted to be.
When rabbits went missing from their cages, and they always did, day after day, I never questioned it. It never occurred to me, then, that it should be otherwise. It never hurt me then. It never troubled me, because it was part of life on a farm that was also a zoo. I was eight when I had this job, and I was paid a quarter a week for my work.