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Dad's Wooden Rabbit

By Sue Spitulnik

Wooden Rabbit

There's a fireplace in my family room with a long wide mantle. Family pictures fill most of its space along with two old oil lamps. And in the middle, stands a wooden white rabbit. People ask why the rabbit gets such a place of honor. My answer is blunt and quick, "It's all I have left of my father."

To appease their questioning looks I explain at the time of my father's death in 1992 he was married to a lady I didn't care for. Sometimes when I saw her she was wonderfully nice and the next time she was cold, and calculatingly mean so I learned not to trust her. Before he married her, my father owned and operated a large antique shop in North Cohocton, NY, called The Mousetrap. The shop took up the whole of the two-story house I was raised in. After their marriage, Ann helped run it and they had a "small house" added on the back of the big house for personal living quarters. Roberta Mitchell, who we all called Bertie, was a part-time employee who did the dusting and her brother, Peter, managed the shop when Dad was out buying or sleeping. I should probably interject; my mother had passed away in 1970 so my Dad had been a bachelor for a time before remarrying.

The kitchen table in the big house was where everyone sat to visit. When Dad felt good that's where he was, cleaning and pricing new items that he had purchased at an auction, writing up sales tickets, drinking coffee and talking, to anyone about anything, often other AA members. Sometimes when I would visit and Dad was asleep, Ann would say, "Imagine, this place is going to be all mine." My thought, how dare you say that out loud when Dad is still alive. What a bitch. I found out soon enough it was an accurate statement on her part.

Once Dad admitted he was sick, Peter was there full time because Ann was gadding about acting like she had no responsibilities to my father or the shop. Anyway, that's how I saw things. On the days I stopped in and she wasn't there and Dad was asleep I would chat with Peter about our school years as we both graduated from Wayland-Cohocton Central; me a few years ahead of him. He became a close friend and would tell me the truth about how my Dad was really doing health-wise.

It became apparent at the beginning of 1992 that the bone cancer was winning the fight. Dad started home care hospice at the end of February. When the hospice nurse told Ann Dad had about a week left, she invited us four girls to gather on Sunday, March 15 to say our final good-byes to him. He was coherent, but weak and emaciated. We went one by one into his bedroom to have a private moment. Our family was not one that hugged, or freely shared emotions so this event was difficult. I can say in retrospect I am glad that it took place.

Tuesday evening, March 17, I was out with a friend in Rochester, enjoying live, St. Patrick's Day music. When I got home, there was a message to call my sister. She told me Dad had passed away while I was out partying. It made me feel guilty for some time. I was living in Livonia, NY, at the time, 45 minutes from the antique shop. My sister said there was no reason to come to my father's house that evening, as there was nothing we could do, but to arrive in the morning to discuss plans for Dad's funeral.

I got to the little house around 10 am. When I walked in the door I had the shock of my life. There wasn't a single trace of my father left. His favorite chair was gone along with his ashtray, and the wooden rabbit that Bertie had made for him after they had had a long conversation about his disappointment he no longer had any pets. The hospital bed was gone. All of his clothes, coats, and boots were gone. Even his favorite coffee cup had disappeared. Ann made it known she was in charge. My sisters and I sat there in a daze. How had she made everything evaporate so quickly? She told us he didn't want a funeral but did want a big party to celebrate his passing. That was no surprise. The following Saturday there was a gathering at the "little house" I still talk about. On one side of the large open floor plan room, there was a table with any kind of booze one could imagine and some of us imbibed. On the other side of the room, separated by a table of food, stood the AA members who often sat around Dad's table. To me, it was enlightening as to who was in the group because I knew a lot of the faces.

So that was that. There were no mementos of my father. For that matter, the drawer that held all the family pictures had been emptied so we didn't even have those to go through. My sisters have told me they each got a box from Ann that had things in that she thought were theirs including pictures. I didn't receive such a thing.

A couple of weeks later my phone rang. It was Peter. "Ann has gone to Buffalo for the day. You need to come see me."

"Okayyy?" I extended the second syllable to become a question.

"I have your father's rabbit. I hid it."

"My God. I'll be there in an hour."

Sure enough, though my sister Joanne was with Dad when he died, she was at a loss of how to intervene while Ann did her "thing" of removing his presence from the house. Peter had grabbed the wooden rabbit Dad cherished and hid it to give to me as soon as he could.

Years later when my husband and I bought our home we had a party so my older sisters could come to see our new digs. There were exclamations when they saw the rabbit in its place of honor. "How did you get that?"

"Peter snatched it for me. It's mine!" I spat so there would be no discussion of it belonging to one of them.

They agreed without argument that Peter had done a good thing.

I look at that wooden rabbit and remember how many times I have heard from people how my father helped them. I remember how many pets our house was filled with when I was growing up, I think of Bertie and Peter Mitchell who made my father's last days more pleasant, and I feel a bit of glee that Ann wasn't able to make the rabbit disappear like she did the rest of him.

Footnote: my sister got a sympathy card from my father's longtime poker-playing buddies apologizing for not appearing at his final party. The reason they gave was they wouldn't attend any function Ann had her hand in, even for George. We understood.





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