THE BLOG
11/25/2013 06:33 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The Death Of Peter Rabbit: A Tale From The Shire

Smithshire is a town born of a railroad from a prairie bog, less than a town but more than a crossroads, in fact no road crosses in Smithshire, but there is a blacktop. Being from the Shire I am often asked are there Hobbits? We are much akin to Hobbits, but usually wear shoes to hide our hairy feet. My Shire is a great place to farm; it is truly in the middle of nowhere. From my perspective the Shire is equally accessible in any direction to anything of note to the important peoples of the world. Shire folk generally prefer any direction that leads them home.

One of the most notorious characters of the Shire in my youth was Peter Rabbit. Ole Pete's notoriety did not result from some great crime. Ole Pete, while not a civic leader was an essential person in the Shire's disproportionately large assemblage of true characters. Pete had an inability to bound his actions by legal definitions, he truly seemed to live with his own ethic. Pete mostly hunted, fished, and loafed in the Shire's favorite loafing spot, the gas station. Pete occasionally worked as a day laborer for various farmers. My father had known Rabbit as he was often called because he had hunted and fished as a boy. Most men of Pete's age pursued more regular forms of employment and were not down at the creek during the day. So Pete worked at our farm on many occasions and had dinner with us. Dinner is at noon, in case you are among those in our society who have been misinformed about proper usage.

People would sometimes say about Pete you know he's really a smart guy. Intelligence was a somewhat unclear quality when I was a Shire boy. Intelligence was credited as a quality to the not quite normal people who were often viewed with a certain amount of suspicion or derision. Rabbit really excelled at two activities in life, drinking and petty thief. He was reputed to be good at hunting and fishing, but they seemed only corollary skills. Old Pete was usually drinking when out in the field, and his hunting was done out of season, on land without permission, lacking license or tag. The historians in the gas station said Pete once worked for the Santa Fe. A reliable employer once you had some seniority with a section gang. The story was he had lost his job over some theft; his drinking was an issue, but not a career ending habit. It was commonly understood wisdom he should have made it to twenty years and then spent his life drinking and fishing. Our lives would be greatly eased if we adhered to the common wisdom of others.

In the time I knew Pete he was one of our most pursued criminals. Every month or so I would hear adults discussing Pete's eluding the hot pursuit of the police or occasionally a conservation officer. He was reputed to be able to do the tests better drunk than most people could do them sober. He could stand on one leg and touch his nose without a miscue. This was a time before breathalyzer tests. Rabbit knew every road, lane, and travelable path in the township. He would turn down one to elude pursuit, drive out into the woods. Often he would then walk the 3 or 4 miles home and go back to get his car while hunting the next day. Pete had many a candy bar from the gas station, but may have never paid for one. Even though the owners tried to watch him, after he left they would be one candy bar short. We didn't have security cameras in those days either. If Rabbit had a candy bar, he was likely to give it to a kid. He often didn't really want food; whiskey was his protein shake. I don't know when I learned that Peter Rabbit wasn't his real name. Garnet Wilkerson ran the telephone exchange; you turned the crank and asked Garnet to connect you. Garnet was Pete's wife, so at some point I asked about his name and learned the story. Even, his first name wasn't Peter. As a boy he and two others broke into a country schoolhouse a couple miles west of town. The teacher who lived nearby caught them; she wanted to know their names. He came up with names from the comics for his two companions, but when stating his own name the only name he could think of was Peter Rabbit. So Lee Wilkerson became Peter Rabbit for the remainder of his life. Sometimes when doing day labor for a farmer his check was written to Peter Rabbit and was cashed at the gas station without question.

Even in the Shire, youth ends and new choices come along. So at 18, I went to college. It was a public university not too far away from the Shire, a drivable distance. We had a cowherd and needed to work with a neighbor who also had a cowherd. So after the first week at college I came home to help get the cows from one place to another. It required tromping around the timber and hills in some of the same places that were Peter Rabbit's domain. Afterwards as everyone was visiting around the pick up trucks, someone mentioned Peter Rabbit. As I listened I realized they weren't relating some new escapade of poaching or avoiding a DUI. They were referring to Old Pete in past tense. Peter Rabbit had died, and of course I didn't know because I was no longer wholly a part of the Shire. I had become one of the others who were away. So the death of Peter Rabbit has always marked the point I realized my life was separating from my youth and the universe I had known. It was a moment when I realized nothing lasts forever. Whether it is your own childhood or your children's, appreciate the time you have. Your lives will become separate soon enough. So that is the Shire's version of Peter Rabbit, a time and a man not likely to ever exist again.