The food was the best part about going to my grandmother’s house, but I didn’t like going to see her all that much. We’d sit in the tiny living room which always seemed to be sweltering hot while my step-dad made small talk with his parents.
This was the house where my step-dad grew up. A small living room attached to a kitchen that was attached to three bedrooms which were connected to each other by doors. There were no hallways. A tiny kitchen and a small bathroom completed the home in Ryan, Oklahoma.
My grandparents raised rabbits and chickens. They had a large storm cellar filled with shelves of canned goods. It was dank and musty, but it was fun to play in. There was an old bed in the middle of the cellar. It had a white blanket on top and I would imagine what it would be like to be trapped in there for days.
I had grown up eating rabbit that my grandmother had sent home with us, but I never gave much thought as to where the rabbit came from. One day when we were at my grandmother’s house dad said we had to butcher some rabbits. He got out an axe and a log and laid it near the rabbits cages on the fresh green grass. Dad was like a robot moving as if some unseen being controlled him. He did not seem to delight in this task and neither did I.
“Here, grab the rabbit by the ears and hold him tight” My dad said extending the rabbits head toward me. “Don’t let go. Hold him tight now, now hold his neck over the log.”
Fear and sadness gripped me tighter than I gripped the rabbits long soft ears. Dad pulled so tight on the rabbits legs that it could barely struggle but it shook and shook as if it were filled to capacity with electricity and was about to explode.
THWACK! The axe handle came down swiftly and on the first stroke the rabbit continued to shake. THWACK! THWACK! With that I felt that tension give way and the rabbit’s head was free in my hands. It’s wide eyes still open, blood on my hand.
Dad quickly strung the rabbit up in the tree and allowed the blood to drain from it’s body. He took a sharp knife and cut the skin away from it’s feet and then made a laceration between the legs in such a way that it allowed for the skin to be removed in one swift and clean jerk.
We repeated the process over and over until we had killed around 10 or so rabbits. We put the waste in buckets and carried the fresh rabbit meat into the kitchen where my sisters, mom and grandmother went to the task of cutting up the rabbits and then bagging them in salt water.
No one talked. The cramped kitchen seemed packed with not only bodies but a stifling misery. This was not how grandma’s house was depicted on TV. Little Red Riding hood would not have been skipping softly in anticipation if her grandma made her cut up dead rabbits.
My sisters and I sat in the backseat of the car as we left grandma’s house that day. A quiet sadness hung in the air like a heavy fog and no one uttered a word.
Before this gruesome ritual I had enjoyed eating fried rabbit, but after this I lost my stomach for it. I think we all did. Eventually my grandparents went into a nursing home and we took all the rabbits and chickens to our house and raised them – but we never killed them for food. Eventually we gave them all away and I was desperately thankful.
My grandparents place had never been a place of warmth, love and happiness. There were moments of joy: grandma’s hot homemade biscuits, fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, and there were times when we’d eat cake and ice cream, but when I look back on the memories of that place they are always speckled with a patina of darkness. There was always this knowledge that we weren’t grandma’s first set of grandchildren and that somehow we were never really good enough for her. 3 mixed children, their son’s third wife who was twenty years younger than him, it wasn’t something she seemed all lollipops and candy canes about. As much as she tried, I never really felt like she loved us. When I’d go up to see her I always felt stretched tight, pulled taught by hands of dread that gripped my head and feet. I’d wait breathless until we could leave and part of me envied those rabbits who no longer had to endure that terrible place.