My mother was a patient woman.
I know, because I was the lucky recipient of her calm, sensible approach to life in general and child rearing in particular. I suppose it could have been otherwise, since I was an entirely unplanned late addition to our family circle, coming along when mom was pushing 40 and my dad just four years away from the big 5-0. As family legend goes, dad came home one night after work to find mom standing at the sink, sobbing as if her heart was breaking.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
She gave him the unexpected news. She was pregnant. With me.
My dad was never, ever what you would describe as a smooth talker, but that time, he got it just right by assuring his worried wife that he was absolutely delighted. That things would be just fine. That it was, as he told me years later, "another chance to have some fun."
So I came along. And that's when all the trouble started.
Unlike my older sister, who was patently smart and sweet, or my big brother, who was both good looking and funny, I was a querulous little wretch, always willing to complain, doubt, and question almost anything anyone told me.
So it was probably no surprise to anybody when I announced--at a relatively tender age--that the Easter Bunny and I were quits. Now, that did not mean I didn't expect a bountiful basketful of jelly beans, malted milk balls and foil-wrapped chocolate rabbits awaiting me on Easter morning,
It just meant that I was suddenly and stubbornly doubtful about the idea that a pint-sized, furry, toothy, long-eared fur-ball could be responsible for the creation and delivery of said beans, balls and bunnies.
'Where would a rabbit get eggs and candy?" I demanded. "And how in the world would one little bunny get all that stuff to all those kids?"
With Santa Claus, it was different. After all, he was a real, full-sized guy. Plus, he had elves to help with production. And reindeer for the heavy lifting. And Mrs. Claus, even, to keep it all straight.
A rabbit, on the other hand, could hardly be expected to handle the whole "every-kid-in-the-whole-wide-world" thing with the aplomb of the amazing Mr. C. Mind you, I wasn't quite sure where all that Easter loot came from or how it got to me and all those other kids, but I had serious doubts that one, itty-bitty bunny was up to the monumental task.
My mother addressed and deflected my endless queries with skill, tact and wisdom. Like all the members of my family, she had pretty much learned to ignore me unless I was, say, choking on a chicken bone or had somehow mysteriously set the cat on fire. In this case, her only words on the subject were simple.
No, she didn't know where the Easter Bunny got all that stuff, either. And yes, how the bunny delivered all those baskets was a real mystery, wasn't it?
Of course, I wanted more. I wanted her to break down and confess that it was all a shameless, adult-driven ruse devised to make kids be good an extra time every year. But she just smiled and refused to say more.
Finally, it was the night before Easter. Mom and I drove the several blocks to the Galva business district to see my dad, who was working at the pharmacy he owned. The store was always open on Saturday nights, at least until nine o'clock or later, just like all the retail businesses around the downtown square in those days. It didn't make any difference that it was the night before a holiday. In fact, it was probably even a little more busy than usual, with folks making last-minute purchases for the special day. I never minded going there. He was always glad to see me, no matter how busy he was, and there were comic books to look at, people to watch, and one of those hot peanut machines that you used to see in drug stores, soda fountains and candy shops.
Finally, it was time to go home. It was full dark as we drove down our narrow street and into the long, long driveway that led to our house and the huge yard behind it. Our headlights lit up the backyard as we rolled to a stop.
There was something moving back there, but I wasn't quite sure what it was.
Then I realized what I was seeing.
Dozens of them. Hundreds of them. Maybe millions, even.
More rabbits than I had ever seen in one place. Some were hopping aimlessly around. Some were sniffing other rabbits or scratching their long, floppy ears. And some were just sitting there. It was like they had all gathered and were just kind of waiting for something. Like those anxious few moments at the beginning of a junior high sock hop, right before someone gets up the nerve to dance.
I was afraid to look away. Afraid that, if I did, they would all be gone in an instant.
I risked a glance at my mother. There was a small smile on her face, and a sort of special glow in her eyes.
"I guess he's got all the help he needs," she said.
I nodded silently and watched and watched until all the rabbits slowly hopped away into the darkness.
I knew then that I would always remember that night.
And I do.