Rabbits are okay. They’re cute and furry. I don’t have a garden so I don’t worry about them eating my vegetables. But I don’t love rabbits. Well, at least I don’t love rabbits anymore.
See, back in the 1970s I read Watership Down. Then I read the book referenced in Watership Down: The Private Life of the Rabbit . Then I visited Watership Down (along with Stonehenge and Oxford) when I visited England the following summer.
So, my sudden fascination with rabbits caught the attention of folks who cared about me and for a few years I was given rabbits as gifts.
I’ve kept a few —
This is not a rabbit, but it has rabbits on it. Jeremy found the bit of white rock (it could have been from the White Cliffs of Dover as we visited those that trip too. It has interesting indentations that suggest it is a fossil of some sort) and painted Watership Down on the side along with a couple of rabbits..
Then there is the green soapstone rabbit. I don’t remember where this came from, but I am pretty sure it was a gift.
I’m pretty sure I bought this one for myself. At least it looks like a rabbit.
Finally, I must have really liked the rabbits snuggling in bed, because I bought (or someone bought me) another rabbit from that line of pottery.
When Dean first came to my apartment shortly after we met, I had all of these figurines (and more) sitting around. He must have really liked me to look past the bunnies everywhere and decide I was worth keeping.
These guys are going back into the knee-wall from where they’ve stayed for the past decade or so. Although, I kind of like the green one. Maybe he can stay out for a while.
So I was watching Downton Abbey Sunday night and heard Lady Grantham mention the town of Thirsk. I wanted to hear the rest of the dialog, so didn’t exclaim to Dean, “Thirsk! That’s where the All Creatures Great and Small author lived.” After the episode ended, I didn’t think it important enough to tell Dean — and he would not have cared anyway. I guess I knew that Downton Abbey was located (but not filmed) in Yorkshire — and mention of York later in the episode made me even more certain, but I wondered where exactly it was supposed to be.
I read on Downton Abbey Wiki that in some episodes a sign in the fictional town of Downton points to Ripon (9 miles one way) and Thirsk (6 miles another way). So I located Ripon and Thirsk on a Google map, printed it out and drew a 12 mile wide circle around Thirsk, with Thirsk being the center and did the same with Ripon, only making that circle 18 miles. The circles crossed in two locations, so I’m thinking that the fictional town of Downton is either located in the tiny hamlet of Gatenby or Pilmoor, North Yorkshire. Because Easingwold, according to the wiki I mentioned earlier, is also mentioned in Downton Abbey, I think Pilmoor is more likely the location.
This is not the first time I have scoured a map to find a location from a fictional source. In fact the first time I did it was after reading the All Creatures Great and Small series. Because I’d spent some wonderful weeks in Yorkshire and the All Creatures Great and Small series took place in Yorkshire, I wondered if I may have been in the town where it took place or even crossed paths with the author. I asked Jack Burgoyne, my boyfriend’s father and a librarian, if he knew where the books took place but he didn’t know — however he did know that James Herriot was a pseudonym and Darrowby, England was not a real place. When I returned to the United States after visiting Jeremy and his family, I pulled out a map of England and noted the real places mentioned in the books (which, when I search the book now, not many other than Leeds and York are mentioned) and tried to figure out where “Darrowby” was. I was never successful, but the search was fun. The last time I visited the Burgyones as Jeremy’s girlfriend, Jack alerted me to an article in the newspaper about James Harriot, aka James Alfred Wight. It seemed that he’d been awarded the OBE and the London Gazette gave away his real name and the Evening Post (Leeds?) gave more away stating — the town was Thirsk, in North Yorkshire. I now knew that I’d never been to the town where the books took place nor was it likely I’d crossed paths with the author.
One other time I scoured a map for a real location from a fictional source was when I was reading Steven King’s Christine. Dean and I were living in Pittsburgh at the time and Creepshow had just been filmed in and around Pittsburgh. Placenames in Christine reminded me of places in around Pittsburgh, so I pulled out a map of the area and pinpointed where I thought the town where Arnie Cunningham lived — Murrysville, Pennsylvania. I figured that since King wrote this book, in part, while working on Creepshow, he may have very well set in the area. Something I read later, I think, made me think that my hunch was pretty close. (And Wikipedia confirms it: “Stephen King’s 1983 novel Christine takes place in the fictional suburb of Libertyville, Pennsylvania, which is adjacent to Monroeville. The Monroeville Mall is mentioned repeatedly.”)
So while I don’t always hit the nail on the head when sleuthing for real locations of fictional places, I come pretty close. The internet is a big help these days, since people often do the work for me, but I get a strange pleasure out of doing it myself.
This is another of my writings from Creative Writing 101. I still have the figurine which looks slightly different from the description, but I probably was writing about it from memory. My English professor was quite kind in his words about this one too, although he had some doubts about the analogy of my anger and a volcano — I guess he didn’t know me that well.
The Birthday Present
Last Saturday I woke up so late that I heard the crunch of the mail truck on the gravel in front of our house before I had even finished breakfast. As it is a race at our house to bring the mail in, I jumped up and ran to the front door only to see Bob, my cousin, coming from the direction of the mailbox carrying several white envelopes of various sizes, a colorful postcard and a small package. Seeing the package made me forget the lost race as I yelled, “MY PRESENT!”
My birthday, a month before, had been accented by a telephone call from Jeremy, my boyfriend in England who informed me that my gift was on its way, but had to be sent sea-mail because he didn’t have the money to spend to send it by air, having just returned from America. Since I enjoy looking forward to a present, almost as much as I do getting one, I waited quite patiently — the first week at least. After that, I began to become anxious for its arrival. In one of his weekly letters, Jeremy hinted at the identity of the present. He hinted so thoroughly that I guessed what it was — a ceramic figure. Jeremy also said that he hoped it wasn’t broken. I wasn’t worried about that though — he always took the greatest care when wrapping a gift to be sent through the mail. Now the present had arrived.
The small brown package, tightly bound with the sort of tape with nylon strings in it, was addressed to me. The return address was Jeremy’s. As I struggled to open the package, dented due tot he horrendous treatment the postal system gives mail, and empty feeling began to form in my stomach. My heart began to pound as I turned the parcel upside down and small bits of white plaster fell to my lap. My blood pressure surely rose as I tried to rip off the top of the box. All this time I was saying, “Oh it’s broken; oh no, it’s broken, I know it!” — not daring to believe that it truly was, assuring myself that the plaster chips were from the bottom of the figure or the box. After much effort to break the tape, Bob offered the use of his knife which I angrily, but thankfully, accepted and proceeded to cut the bindings. From there the task was simple. I opened the inner box and unwrapped the tissue paper, exposing the figure — with two horrible chips. The anger and disappointment which had been working its way up from the pit of my stomach suddenly erupted with the violence of a volcano; awful accusations, like red-hot lava spilled from my mouth as my temper reached its peak. I re-wrapped the gift, ignoring my family’s remarks on how cute the figure was, and placed it back in the box.
Later that day, after doing the dishes and eventually cooling down, feeling guilty as a result of my dreadful scene, I removed the figure from the box and once more unwrapped it. Tears stung my eyes as I recalled how terribly I had acted. I hadn’t even thought of the love that had been sent with the gift. The figure, which I had neglected to even admire before, was of two small rabbits cuddled under a black and white polka-dot quilt. One rabbit was soundly asleep, while the other had one eye open, looking at its partner. A black cat was curled behind the knees of the sleeping bunny — just where my black cat sleeps. The chips, less serious than I had previously thought, were on the same side, but at opposite corners. Part of the fluffy blue pillow and a whole bedpost was missing. Luckily there was plaster of various colors, shapes and sizes at the bottom of the box. Without further thought I found my Elmer’s Glue, plaster filler and watercolors and set to work to restore my birthday present.
Although the figure still isn’t “good as new” and anyone can tell it was broken, I wouldn’t trade it for a perfect one. Too much emotion — on both sides of the Atlantic — has gone into this small ceramic figure to be dumped as worthless trash.
The following bit of writing was the piece that made me realize I could actually write. It was written for my Freshman college creative writing course and the teacher wrote “A very effective reminiscence. Well detailed writing with strong focus.” He also asked me to share it aloud with my fellow students, some of whom said it made them want to cry. I could tell that my classmates really liked the story and it made me feel proud. It is not 100% accurate — I actually lived on Chapel Street in Elgin just after I was born, but everything else rings true.
Memories of a Mountain Street Apartment
The first five years of my life were spent at 324 Mountain Street — the upper floor of a two-story, green and white wooden apartment house with a screened-in front porch. Especially memorable is the small pink room where I slept. I used to place all my stuffed animals on either side of me when I went to bed, alternating them each night which one would sleep next to me so no one’s feelings would be hurt.
Once I was playing with my mother’s friend’s son, Mike, while our mothers gossiped in the kitchen, which was on the other side of the wall from my room. I had acquired two new cans of Play-Doh and we were seated at the little wooden table with matching chairs, making red and blue Play-Doh cookies. We shaped them into round, flat disks and put them into the make-believe oven to bake. When they were “done” we would pretend to eat them. But Mike, being two years my junior, thinking that these were real cookies popped a red blob of Play-Doh into his mouth. I screamed, bringing both mothers into my room. A second scream and Mike was being held upside down to extract the Play-Doh from his mouth. I was happy when the mass of Play-Doh and saliva was on the table, not because I was particularly worried about Mike, but because I was glad my Play-Doh was safe.
Another memory of that house was my portable, striped red, white and blue three-speed phonograph. I had about two dozen yellow 78s from such shows as The Mickey Mouse Club and various Walt Disney movies. I used to sit, all day, listening to both sides of each recording, sometimes making the voices slow down so they sounded like Alfred Hitchcock. Many of these records are still in my possession and, scratched up as they may be, I still have fun listening to the sounds of my childhood.
Finally, I remember our black Cocker Spaniel, Archie. He had black curly ears that looked like he had just been given a permanent and a long black tail that, along with his ears, flip-flopped as he ran, which he seemed to be always doing — up and down the back steps and around the back yard — his ears and tail, flying in the wind. I can still picture my father and me chasing Archie and laughing all the while. Archie’s special trick was to run down the long flight of stairs to pick up the mail and paper and deposit it at my father’s chair. Once, when I was sick, a free sample of pink Princess Dial soap was left by the mailman, and Archie, with a little coaching from my father, brought it to me. I was positive Archie did it to make me feel better. One afternoon I heard my mother calling Archie to come up the back steps. He was sitting at the bottom with large frightened eyes, whining, unable to climb the stairs. My mother wrapped him in his old tattered blanket and we, along with my father, drove to an animal doctor. My mother and I waited in our red Buick while my father and Archie disappeared into the brick building. A while later, my father re-appeared, carrying Archie’s blanket, but no Archie. I was later told that Archie had hurt his back and had been put to sleep so he wouldn’t suffer. I waited a long time for Archie to wake up again so we could play and he could get the mail and paper, but I learned, too soon, that when doctors put animals to sleep they don’t ever wake up.
Through the five years of my life at 324 Mountain Street many incidents occurred, some vivid, others not so clear and others practically faded away or completely gone. Some memories are happy, others sad and some just memories. Childhood is the most impressionable time of life. Memories, such as the ones mentioned here will be with me all of my life.
There was a time when I had very few ornaments. Now we have far too many to actually put on a Christmas tree, but there are two that I’ve had since I was a child that always grace the tree and will always do so as long as I have the strength to decorate a tree. They are also the ugliest ornaments we own. And truth be told, one is not really an ornament.
The first ornament was, at one time, the angel that sat on top of the tree when I was a child. I loved that angel. It was beautiful. It had the softest, whitest hair I’d ever seen. To me it was Christmas — or the promise of Christmas.
One year my parents gave into my begging to take the angel to bed with me. I held her tight and slept with her all night long. In the morning I awoke to a bright red itching rash on my face, neck and arms. At first my parents didn’t know what was wrong, but eventually figured it out. The beautiful angel’s hair was made of spun glass and while I slept, bits of it must have broken off and pierced my skin, leaving the rash.
I still loved the angel, though, but never asked to take it to bed with me again. As the years went by the angel lost much of its beauty, including most of its hair and both wings. When I moved out on my own my mother gave me the angel for my tree and we always put her near the top of the tree just before we add the Christmas Fairy to the very top.
The second ugly ornament was, at one time, a fluffy duck with googly eyes. It was the first thing my brother ever gave me. He didn’t know he gave it to me because he’d just been born. My father picked it up in the hospital gift shop so I could have a present from my baby brother. I must have played with it a lot through the years, it must have meant a lot to me or why else would I have kept it once the eyes fell off and the bill wore away?
This ugly ducking is always one of the first decorations on our Christmas tree each year and, like the rash-giving angel, will continue to be placed on the tree for as long as I am around.
I love most of my Christmas decorations, but these two will always have a special place in my heart.