One morning last May, I stumbled into the kitchen, past the back door, stopped, backed up, and gazed through the glass. In the backyard staring at me, was a visitor. Then my son Joey, walking with his eyes closed, strolled into my back.
“What are you looking at?” He asked.
“We have a friend in the backyard,” I said.
Our visitor was a rabbit. He sat there staring at us, nibbling on grass, as patient as the dew.
“Hey Bunny,” said Joey. “Can I have pancakes for breakfast?”
Now, I know that the world can be dull and commonplace, so I have taken it upon myself to add some wonder and high adventure wherever possible, so that my son does not take for granted the thousand little miracles we see every day. I decided to provide our lupine guest with a more personal history.
“You know who that is?” I asked. “That may just be a rabbit, or it might be Swamp Bunny.”
“Who is Swamp Bunny?” asked Joey.
“Who is… What do they teach you in school? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. When I was your age, in the fourth grade in Tennessee, all our history lessons began and ended with some story about General Nathan Bedford Forrest. We even named a high school after him. General Forrest was a great military leader but a loathsome individual. Of course, I didn’t find out about the loathsome part until Ken Burns Civil War series.”
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Joey. “Now about those pancakes…”
“I was trying to make a point,” I said. “In Tennessee in the 1960s, all history lessons began and ended with the Civil War. My home county had some personal connection to General Forrest, although I don’t know exactly what it was. They said he was only surprised in battle once, when he found himself outnumbered with Union troops in front and behind him. His subordinate said ‘What do we do general?’ And General Forrest replied ‘Split in two and charge both ways.’ They did, and he got away. Now, some people would say he slinked away…slank? Slunk?”
“There’s a point to this,” I said. “And I’ll look up the principal parts of the verb slink later. I find it hard to believe that your school has not told you the legend of Swamp Bunny. He was the original superhero, and he never slinked or slanked or slunked away from danger. He faced danger straight on, hopped right into it! It has fallen to Swamp Bunny to protect us from gutter rats and gully snipes. I have to say he’s done a great job. When was the last time you saw gutter rat or a gully snipe?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one,” said Joey.
“And now you know why. There was even a song about Swamp Bunny. It goes like this:
Swamp Bunny, Swamp Bunny, running through the grass,
Swamp Bunny, Swamp Bunny, kicking lots of ass,
Bad guys get all runny, they don’t think he’s funny,
Swamp Bunny, Swamp Bunny… You never heard that song in school?”
“You just made that up,” said Joey. “I think I would remember a song like that.”
“One line needs work,” added my wife.
She was right! Swamp Bunny wouldn’t run through the grass. He’d hop! And so it became my task to sing the Swamp Bunny song again and again and again. Over the next seven days, whenever we heard some good deed done, no matter how small, we agreed it was the work of Swamp Bunny. I created an elaborate back story for him, how following a personal tragedy (coyotes), he wandered up this way from somewhere down south in the 1950s. He has a sidekick, Slick the Squirrel, a character of dubious repute who will, when the situation is to his benefit, assist Swamp Bunny. But nobody trusts Slick, and Swamp Bunny always keeps an eye on him.
I suppose the legend of Swamp Bunny would have been forgotten if it were not for the middle school’s Spring Music Extravaganza. Joey told us about it only 30 minutes before he was supposed to be there, so after a hasty dinner, we sat breathless right in the center of the auditorium, waiting for the music to begin. The kids were great, and we had a wonderful time. Until the end. The middle school music teacher stood at the podium waiting for the applause to die down, then addressed us all.
“Folks, we have a lot of talented kids in chorus this year. I can’t recall a time when I’ve had so many students who were so motivated. In fact, before we end, I have a special treat. One of our students has taught his classmates a song, an original song. So let’s give them our attention as Joey leads his classmates in an inspiration tune about courage.”
“What song did he write?” asked my wife.
“I really don’t know,” I said. When Joey took the microphone, he winked at me, and I sat numb, confused.
“Hello everybody,” said Joey, painted red by the attention. “My dad has told me the legend of Swamp Bunny, and I didn’t know anything about him, but now I do. We all do. So we’ve been practicing the Swamp Bunny song and we’d like to sing it for you.”
There was mild chuckling from the audience at the mention of swamp bunny. I heard a lady in front of us say something along the lines of “A song about bunnies. Isn’t that the sweetest thing?”
“Did you change that line?” demanded my wife.
“Um…I changed A line,” I replied weakly.
Then they began to sing. The harmony was quite lovely, although there was an audible auditorium-wide gasp at the second line. My wife had disappeared, slinking (slanking? slunking) down the aisle and into the comforting darkness.
I wanted to follow her, but being the husband, I was also terrified to follow her. So, like the trooper I am, I waited until the song ended, and went to the stage to gather up my son, now something of a hero to his classmates. The music teacher glared at us both, so I made a mental note to get him something really good as an end of the year present. He left the school system in June. I heard he was selling insurance now, in Hartford.
As we walked across the parking lot, I reminded Joey that he had not written the song, I had, and I wrote it with no intention of sharing it with the outside world.
“You should have told me before we posted it on Youtube,” he said. “40,000 hits as of last night. Is that my music teacher following us? Where did mom go?”
It was the music teacher, and we both knew that mom had gone to the car. As we crossed the parking lot, I could see her through the fog, standing with her arms crossed, waiting for us. Behind us, the music teacher’s shoes clicked like a metronome.
“She doesn’t look happy,” said Joey.
“No. No she doesn’t,” I replied.
“The music teacher doesn’t look happy, either.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
I could have gone straight to the car. That was the bold move, the kind of direct approach to a threat that swamp bunny would appreciate. But I took the General Forrest approach. I gave Joey the keys, nudged him in the direction of the car, and turned around to walk home. The music teacher followed me, but I lost him on Maple. It was about 3 miles and foggy, but I wasn’t worried about the world.
Swamp bunny would protect me, up to my back door at least.