Sepia Saturday #351: Creepy People and Rabbits

I admit it. This is the first time this year that I couldn’t find a card-photo connection. I’m honestly stumped! Apparently, one, if not more, of the people in this Sepia Saturday photo prompt are not alive. I vote for the old guy with the weird Lurch expression on his face and possibly the young child standing in front of him. I have no family photos of dead people. Thank goodness for that. And nothing in this photo prompt inspired me to write a story, no matter how long I stared at it and studied the minute details.

So, that means I’m going even more off the rails with this post and out into the field with the rabbits. After all, it’s my blog!

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The color pink is prominent in the cards for this week. However, the first card from Aunt Sadie’s Shirley Temple Scrapbook features a white rabbit. I’ll be exploring white rabbits later in this post.

“This cunning little bunny, With bonnet gay and new, Brings special Easter greetings, Dear Little Girl, to YOU!” This white rabbit’s bonnet is decorated with two blue birds and a big yellow bow. She’s popping out of a striped hat box. The rabbit is wearing a pink frock with a frilly undercoat. Grandma Repsher sent this card in 1942.

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The next card features a pink stuffed bunny with polka dots. It’s wearing a blue bow and is shown in different parts of the card. It’s a birthday card for two-year-old Sadie sent to her in 1938 from Kitty, most likely soon-to-be Aunt Kitty. The saying inside reads, “Gay little two-year-old cunning and dear; God bless you and keep you full of good cheer; And may you have birthdays for many a year!”

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The next card features a brown, long-eared rabbit answering a telephone. Her arm moves so she appears to be picking up the receiver to bring it up to her ear. Her bonnet features a yellow flower. This card was sent by Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean in 1943 for Sadie’s seventh birthday.

Rabbits are supposed to “taste just like chicken.” I’ll have to take other people’s word for it. I’ve never had rabbit or hasenpfeffer stew. I’ll refrain from posting any cute bunny pictures just in case someone does have rabbits as pets and not for food…

As a young man, though, my dad raised rabbits in the 1950s to supplement the Strait family’s meals. He had 20 or more rabbits at any given time out in the back of the house on 43 Lincoln Place, Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey. The rabbit hutches, the shed/workshop, garden, and the greenhouse were all in the same area.

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Greenhouse behind the house at 43 Lincoln Place. Circa 1950s.

The rabbits lived in raised hutches with wire bottoms. Occasionally, the rabbits would decide to collectively thump their back legs on the wire and would cause quite a racket. Dad isn’t sure why they did this. Maybe to warn away some sort of predator lurking about? The wire bottoms allowed for the poop to fall to the ground and Dad would collect it to spread as fertilizer on the nearby garden. According to Dad, “Rabbit poop comes out just the way it goes in the other end. In round pellets.” The rabbit feed was purchased from the feed store located behind the old train station where Spring Street and Sparta Avenue meet in Newton.

The hutches also had small compartments for the rabbits to get out of the weather and a safe place for baby rabbits, called kittens, to be born. The female rabbits, called does, would usually have a litter of two. Every once in a while, a doe would have a litter of three or four or five kittens. To keep the rabbits from being too inbred, Dad would purchase a few new rabbits, both does and bucks (mature male rabbits), each season and introduce them into his stock.

Since these rabbits were intended as food, they were not given names. That would imply pet status and who wants to eat their pets!? The rabbits weren’t allowed to get too old before they were butchered; no more than two or three years old. Ancient rabbits make for some tough meat and extra chewing. Dad didn’t have a set time for butchering but did have to make sure he wasn’t picking does that were already breeding. A couple of times a year, he would pick out four or five rabbits to butcher. Rabbits are fairly easy to process and the back legs are the meatiest part. Dad’s mom, Beatrice, would use them in all the same ways that chicken could be cooked. They were fried, stewed, roasted, and boiled.

Mom’s dad, Albert Westra, also took a turn at raising rabbits for food. Mom remembers that her dad kept his white and black rabbits in hutches out in the back part of his woodworking shop in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. She remembers being in grade school at that time. Mom recalls her cousin Florence Tolsma coming from either Panama City, Florida, or Little Falls, New Jersey, to visit the Westra family on Townsend Street in Newton. Florence was the daughter of Gus Tolsma and Eelkje Harke Westra, Albert’s sister. During one of the meals when Florence was visiting, rabbit was served as the protein. It must be true that it tasted like chicken because no one told her it was rabbit and she didn’t seem to realize it.

Memory is a fluid thing. I personally seem to remember that we had white rabbits at Merriam Avenue when I was a young girl. However, an independent polling of both parental units at different times indicates those are false memories on my part! Neither Mom nor Dad recall us having anything to do with rabbits there. Bees, yes. Rabbits, no. That said, I must have incorporated their childhood stories about raising rabbits into my own recollections.

So, there you have it… No creepy dead people, just some memories of rabbits.

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo (originally #300, 10 Oct 2015): Rabbits

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