“Sunbathing with Peter” (or) “Pot and Stew: A Child's Story”

Having pet rabbits isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for third grade Joyce Gibbs.

Joyce Gibbs is a hunter, metalsmith, gardener, a good friend and great a listener. She is a fantastic wife. Without her it’s possible Tell Us Something may have ended before it began. She continues to grow and learn from the opportunities presented to her by all of her many occupations.

This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on December 8th, 2015, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 8 storytellers shared their story based upon the theme “Illumination/Revelation”.

Today’s podcast comes to us from Joyce Gibbs and is titled “Sunbathing with Peter (or) Pot and Stew: A Child’s Story”.  Thank you for listening.

Transcript : Sunbathing with Peter

So I came home from school in third grade, and I told my parents, “I want a pet rabbit.”

I had just come home from Frankie and Deena’s house, and they had a lot of pet rabbits. And we had a pet rabbit in third-grade as well. We had one in the classroom and his name was Peter, and he was off in the corner. And we got to feed him, and water him, and clean his cage, and that was a responsibility in third grade.

And so my dad says to me, “Well, Joyce, you know that the Bible says that we have dominion over all of the fishes in the sea, and the animals on the land. And you also know that every animal has its own purpose. If you want a dog, your dog you may be able to take hunting and it will protect your castle, but rabbits are for food. And so yes, Joyce, you can have a rabbit. You can have two rabbits. There’s going to be one male and one female, and we’re going to breed them, and we’re going to eat their young.”

It’s a true story, and being who I am and how I was raised and the elk and the meat that I helped prepare after we butchered them. I was like OK I get two rabbits.

So we went to the store and we got one white rabbit and one black rabbit, and a book on how to raise rabbits. And then we went to Frankie and Deena’s house, and their dad got us this really cool cage that was three separate compartments. There were nesting areas in the back, and there was also this system where you could raise the partitions in between so the rabbits could co-mingle.

And so we put–my father said,”I highly recommend that you do not name these rabbits, but if you do we’re going to name one Stew and one Pot.”

So we put Stew and Pot into their separate apartments and then after a couple of weeks we raised the barriers so that they could co-mingle.

And after a couple of weeks my dad said, “I’m not really seeing a lot going on here.”

So we go back to Frankie and Deena’s dad, and he says, “Yeah, you know those store rabbits, they might not be that great. So, I’ve got a doe for you and she’s a good breeding doe.”

And he brings out this long haired, lop eared rabbit who is this big. And Stew and Pot are like this big. But thankfully–thank you–thankfully there were three different apartments in the hutch. And so we brought back–we’ll call her Stella. It turned out Stella was really mean too.

But about two weeks later after they had all co-mingled my dad said, “I think we’ve got something here.”

So a couple weeks later Stella -– it’s my job in the morning to feed and water the rabbits -– and one morning Stella is in the hutch in the back, and she won’t come out. And I finally coaxed her to come out, but I kind of know that maybe she’s had her bunnies. And so I go around quickly to the back and I raise up the hatch, and there are four eyeless, hairless, squirmy, baby rabbits. So squirmy in fact, that one of them squirms out of the nest, and falls to the ground at my feet, and it kind of does this crying noise. And I just pick it up really fast and I stuff it back in the hutch, and I close the hutch and I go to school.

And I tell everyone, “My rabbit had babies, my rabbit had babies!”

And when I get home from work–from school–Stella’s just kind of hanging out in her cage. And so I’m like I got to check out my babies. See what -– if they grew hair, and so I opened up the back of the hutch, and there’s no babies. And so that evening my parents explained to me about my foreignness to Stella. And that Stella had eaten her young.

And so the next spring when Stella had another litter I was just very patient until I saw the little babies come out. And they were super cute, and super fuzzy.

And a couple weeks after that, maybe a month my dad says, “It’s about time to harvest those rabbits” and he says, “If at any point you want to not be involved it’s OK.”

And I say, “This is what I signed up for. I got three pet rabbits. We’re good.”

So we got some pine trees that are really close together, and he nails up a plank in between–ties some rope down from them.

And he says, “Bring me a bunny.”

And I bring him a bunny, and he ties up the bunny from the hind legs. And he takes the ears that are hanging down and he cuts off the head, and he puts the head in a five-gallon bucket. And then he skins the rabbit, and guts the rabbit, and he hands me back this headless skinless piece of meat. And I bring it into my mom and she cleans it, and wraps it, and puts it in the freezer. And we have meat and rabbit stew. And after the day is done we hike the five-gallon bucket up the woods–into the woods–and we leave it for the coyotes.

And now it’s summertime -– and I’m running out of time so I’m going to tell this part really fast. It’s summer time and someone has to take care of Peter the rabbit from third grade. Remember him, he was a pet rabbit in third grade. And the two weeks that I have are in a July-August situation, in the middle of the summer. And since Peter is so different, because he’s a pet rabbit I decide that Peter would like to come sunbathing with me. So I take him out and I lay him in the sun, and I’m there with on my blanket. And he’s there, and he has his bottle of water with the little metal ball at the end. And he’s drinking water and we’re sunbathing and I’ve got my book and my radio.

And then I decide that I need to go inside, and I go inside to cool off. And by the time I get back outside Peter is dead. He has drunken all of his water and he expired from sun exposure, and once again I am shocked and ashamed. And then I have to call my third-grade teacher and say to her that I killed Peter the rabbit. And then I have to call the next kid in line who’s supposed to take Peter the rabbit and tell him that I killed Peter the rabbit. Me who–I’m able to raise my own rabbits.

And then fourth grade starts, and Stella has another litter. And we butcher the litter and we walk up the hill with the five-gallon bucket, and we leave the remains for the coyotes.

And on the way down the hill I tell my dad, “I don’t want to raise rabbits anymore.”

Thank you.