Sitting in the pew of my country church one Sunday, contemplating life’s big questions, and also creating a shopping list for the evening’s dinner, Father McCully caught my attention as he started to tell a story about truthfulness. Father McCully lived in a modest house behind the country church, along the Sacramento River. He was a dog enthusiast, and as a boy growing up in Ireland, a dog was always by his side. He owned two beautiful, metal gray colored, 30 inches tall, sleek and slender, greyhounds named Storm and Gracie. They thrived out in the wide-open fields behind the church, where they could run off-leash and stretch their long legs. During Sunday sermons these two large dogs took their places at the alter, framing Father McCully like pillars in a cathedral.
The Father’s neighbor, a farmer with a wife and two school-aged children, Sam and Carrie, were taking a long weekend vacation to visit relatives in the Bay Area. They let Father McCully know that they would be out of town and if he saw a teenager around, not to worry, it was their niece feeding the farm animals. The kids were always getting something new for the coops and corrals; chickens, baby lambs, bunnies, and the occasional kitten that found it’s way to their farm and the children’s open hearts.
That Saturday evening after dinner and before it got too dark, Father McCully let his greyhounds out for their nightly run. He fixed himself a drink and retired to the porch to enjoy the beautiful summer evening. He sat watching the dogs running, sniffing around, chasing the occasional bird, and just being happy dogs. The phone rang and he went in to answer it, and after the call, he returned outside to whistle for the dogs to come home.
As he waited for them to head home, Father McCully took in the deep aroma of fresh cut grass and he listened to the hypnotic sound of the sprinklers. Storm came bounding up the porch, eager for a biscuit cookie he knew he’d received from the Father’s pocket. Father McCully reached down and gave a scratch behind Storm’s ear and held out his palm with the cookie in it. He called out for Gracie, and she came around the house, slowly, carrying something in her mouth. What in the world is she brining home now, he thought, as he squinted to get a better look. Gracie had a tendency to find and bring home the odd item found in the creek or once in a while a dead critter. He reached behind him and opened the door to let Storm inside. The last thing he needed was to have the dogs fighting over this dirty package. Gracie, come here and let’s see what you have there, he cooed. Slowly she moved towards the bottom of the porch steps. Father McCully met her there and asked her to drop, what looked like up close, a dead animal. Oh, my, Gracie, where did you get this? he quietly asked her. Come on, let’s get you inside while I take care of your little friend.
He went into the house to get a plastic bag to pick up the animal and dispose of it. When he brought it up for a closer look, he noticed that among the wet and caked with dirt fur, there were patches of white soft fur. Bunny fur. Not fur from a wild rabbit, but the fur that has been stroked by little hands. His neighbor’s children’s bunny fur. He looks up quickly as if peering into the dark will give him the answers. What in the world? How did Gracie get this rabbit out of the cage? His first thought was that the teenage niece probably didn’t latch the cage properly, and given an open door, the bunny and maybe bunnies (Oh, Lord) had hopped out. And now here was a dead one on his porch, killed and brought home from his dog. Now what was he going to do? The children would be devastated. Quickly he picked up the thing and took it around the back of the house to the mud room. He laid it on the counter and before he knew it, he was turning on the faucet and cleaning off the little guy. Sufficiently washed and toweled off, he sighed and gently shook his head. Was he crazy cleaning up this bunny? He took a few minutes running through all the ways to explain this to the kids. Finally, he decided on a plan: to put the rabbit back in the cage and when the children got home and saw it, they hopefully would think it died naturally, like having a little heart attack. But first, where was the blow dryer?
A couple days later there was an insistent rapping on the Father McCully’s front door. He could see through the glass pane, the farmer’s wife, Dolly, looking in a state of panic.
“Dolly, goodness, what’s going on?” he asked her.
She took a deep breathe and trying to sound calm, “Oh, Father, the most awful thing has happened! We are all so upset about it and I need your advice!”
“Yes, yes, of course. Please come in and sit down. Can I get you something to drink?” he guides Dolly over to the kitchen table to have a seat.
“No, Father, thank you. I just don’t know where to begin!” She sniffles and her eyes start tearing up.
Father McCully reaches across the table and lays his hand across hers. She was shaking and her bottom lip was quivering. “Okay, Dolly, take a deep breath and start at the beginning.”
“Well, you know we left for a few days to go visit my mom. And when we got back the kids went to do their chores, you know, feeding the chickens, checking the water for the dog. All of a sudden I heard a scream from Carrie. I dropped the bag I was holding and ran to where she was, standing in front of the rabbit cage.” Dolly dropped her head in her hands and starts to breath heavily, trying to control her emotions. Father McCully pulled his hand back into his lap, swallowed hard and tried to stay calm.
He had a lot of experience talking about the cycle of life, and he knew what was coming and how to soothe Dolly’s anxiety so she could be strong for her children.
“Go on, Dolly.” he nodded for her to continue.
When she looks up and meets his gaze, her eyes change from sadness to wide eyed terror. She leans forward, pounds the table and says, “Father, some SICKO dug up our dead bunny, cleaned it up and put it back in the cage! The rabbit had died a week or so ago! The children said prayers, we talked about life and death, we gave it a burial and they were moving on from their sadness. Now this!!!! Oh, my God, they are so upset and I don’t know what to tell them.”
Shocked, a thousand different thoughts racing through his mind, Father McCully gets up and walks to the window. He knows the right thing to do is to tell the truth, but at this exact moment he freezes.
He takes a deep breath, turns to Dolly and says, “There once was a dog.”