When I was a little boy, I heard a recording of the story of Peter Rabbit and the terrible Mr. McGregor who was determined to rid his garden of rabbits, even if it meant killing the little terrified hero of the story. After being chased round and round, Peter escapes the clutches of the villain, but not before losing his jacket and shoes. I confess that at the time, I paid little attention to Peter’s survival, but became wary of the Mr. McGregor’s of the world.
First, there was my dad, more of a fierce gardener than an actual gardener. True, Wally loved to look at Burpee Seed Catalogs and Jackson and Perkins Rose Catalogs. In the middle of winter, he would make his selections and await the arrival of the small packages from Burpee or the boxes from Jackson and Perkins. Once the stuff was planted, my dad liked to harvest what he grew, but he wasn’t as much a fan of tending the garden. That work was left to me.
I have written before about the time when I was about 10 and found that my dad had drown the bunnies in the little nest behind the garage. I had nightmares about being one of those bunnies and worried about him drowning me as well.
Two weeks before my father died, I met Paul who would be my beloved spouse for three decades. He favored other seed companies and Canadian roses, but each winter Paul would read catalogs and make his dream lists throughout the winter just like my dad. Unlike my father who planted seeds outdoors, Paul preferred to plant in trays earlier indoors under lights in our basement. He even bought small heating pads to put beneath the trays.
Also unlike my father, Paul never drown our bunnies, but he did fear them. Paul knew how to fret with the best of them. He could worry an idea until he was sleepless. That’s the way he was about rabbits in the garden. Unlike his hatred of deer – he called them “rats with hooves” – his feeling about rabbits was more akin to fear. He felt we could never be safe from them, never be able to thwart their cunning. One summer, he dug a one foot deep trench under our 420’ fence to lay a chicken wire barrier that would keep them from burrowing into the yard. There were also four-by-fours under the gates to assure that they would not limbo under them.
Often during the winter, rabbits could get over the lower rails of our fence as snow drifts in the neighbor’s yard gave them a ramp to do so. When Paul was healthier, he’d walk the perimeter and check our roses and other shrubs for rabbit damage. When he became reliant on a wheelchair, he’d ask me to go out periodically to check for damage. He’d watch from the window to make sure that I wasn’t shirking my duties and skipping some of the shrubs. When I’d get in from the frigid task, I’d get warmed by his grilling me for updates. Such was his fear.
This week as I write about fear, I start with these recollections of my father and Paul because in many ways they were quite fearless men. A few weeks before he died, my father was released from the hospital, having had yet another heart attack. He decided to forgo surgery because he would have about a 50 percent chance of survival. He said the surgery could be hard on him and on us all, so he would die having his life.
Over 30 years later, Paul would be in the same hospital with no surgical or medical options to turn down. His type of MS was not treatable and progressing at a galloping pace. He also came home to see the ballet one more time, then died four days later.
Funny how heart disease and MS got them in the end, given that the bunnies were so much scarier.