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Rabbit’s Teeth

Kenneth’s May 8th post about the food adventures and brilliant improvisation aboard HMCS Sackville this past weekend sparked more than a few chuckles and family food stories in our house.

Since this is a week in which we’re celebrating the recent IPPY award for my father’s story… and since we’re coming up on Mother’s Day, I think it’s only appropriate to share one that involves both my father and my mother.

Let me start by saying my father was extremely easy to please when it came to food. There were things he couldn’t eat because he had two-thirds of his stomach removed after having a gastric hemmorhage when I was two years old. But his tastes were simple and he was more than happy to eat the same thing day in and day out. Kenneth is very much like him in that regard.

He did have a few favorite meals, though. For instance, he loved a ‘feed of rabbit’ and he particularly liked to pick at the rabbit’s head. So when he and my mother were still very much newlyweds, she decided that she would surprise him with this particular meal. (He was working as a ship’s engineer at the time and would be away for days at a time.)

Now anyone who knew my mother probably realized that cooking was not her favorite activity, but she was determined to prepare a special meal (including the rabbit’s head) and have it ready and waiting for him when she heard his footsteps on the stairs coming up to their small apartment overlooking St. John’s Harbour.

But she faced a terrible dilemma. How on earth was she going to deal with the teeth?

To put this in perspective, my mother had survived a year in a sanitorium and tuberculosis. She had studied nursing when that was a 24/7 proposition involving equal measures of work at the hospital and classes, with only a few hours each day for sleep. She was an intelligent and strong woman, and she could handle a crisis like few others. But the rabbit’s teeth, well these all but defeated her.

As the story goes… sometime during the meal preparation, after exhausting all the ideas she’d come up with for how to remove the teeth, she had a brainwave. What do you do when you have issues with teeth? Well, you go to a dentist of course. So she did. Took the uncooked rabbit’s head out of the apartment and to the dentist’s office.

If only this had been in the days of smart phones, we’d undoubtedly have a video record of what transpired in the dentist’s office that day. Someone would have had to pull out a phone and press record; the YouTube potential would have been too tempting to pass up.

Alas, because this was the early 1950s, we can only imagine the look on the dentist’s face when my mother walked in with the rabbit’s head to explain her problem, and the look on hers when he said, “Ah… Mary… you don’t take the teeth out… you leave them in.”

“You leave them in?” she didn’t believe him at first.

“Yes Mary, you really do.”

So she left and finished cooking the meal, and had it ready for my father when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. Of course, being my mother, she obviously had to tell him about the trip to the dentist. At which point he laughed and laughed and laughed, so hard in fact that eating had to wait until long after the rabbit had gotten cold.

I’m guessing he swept her up in his arms too, but the story… told many times at family dinners… always stopped with their memories of their laughter.

Which I think is just about perfect.