Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Maria and the Lapins

Lapins by Theodore de Banville

Lapins Rabbit
Les petits lapins, dans les bois,
Folâtrent sur l'herbe arrosée
Et, comme nous le vin d'Arbois,
Ils boivent la douce rosée.

Gris foncé, gris clair, soupe au lait,
Ces vagabonds, dont se dégage
Comme une odeur de serpolet,
Tiennent à peu près ce langage :

"Nous sommes les petits lapins,
Gens étrangers à l'écriture,
 Et chaussés des seuls escarpins
 Que nous a donné la nature.

Nous sommes les petits lapins.
C'est le poil qui forme nos bottes,
Et, n'ayant pas de calepins,
Nous ne prenons jamais de notes.

Et dans la bonne odeur des pins
Qu'on voit ombrageant ces clairières
Nous sommes les petits lapins
Assis sur leurs petits derrières."

Little bunnies in the woods,
Frolicking on the watered grass
And, as we the Arbois wine,
They drink the sweet dew.

Dark gray, light gray, milk soup,
These vagabonds, which emerge
Like a scent of thyme,
They take a little like this speech:

"We are the little bunnies,
Strangers to writing,
And like stockings to the shoes
That nature gave us.

We are small rabbits.
This is the hair that makes up our boots,
And, having no notebooks,
We never take notes.

And in the sweet smell of pine
Seen shading by these clearings
We are small bunnies
Sitting on their little behinds. "

The other day, Joan told the story that follows about her mother Maria and the rabbits. The poem has little to do with the story, but I thought it set the mood. But, before I tell the story of Maria and the rabbits, a little story about how Maria came to live in Kansas.

Joan and Mary's mother was Maria Llabres. She was born in 1895 in Sóller, Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands that lie off the southeastern coast of Spain. Maria's parents ran a small hotel whose name is lost to posterity. (A hotel, the Fonda Llabres can still be found in Sóller, but there is no known connection.)

Photos of Fonda Llabres, Alcudia

This photo of Fonda Llabres is courtesy of TripAdvisor,

Sóller is the real thing, a popular tourist destination and quaint Majorcan town near the sea, embraced by the Tramuntana mountains and surrounded by dense woods. Then, it was an out of the way seaport that exported wine, the island's main crop. The 1890's experienced a devastating disease that devastated the vineyards. Likely because of this, the family would move to Bone, French Algeria.  Maria grew up and in the early 1920's met a young oil worker from Kansas by the name of Frank Miles. They married, lived in Algeria for a couple of years. A son, Charlie, was born. But soon the young family returned to El Dorado, Kansas. Frank worked on the oil fields until he retired. In the meantime, Joan, then Mary, were born.

Joan's Story - Maria and the Rabbits.

The family of five lived on a small farm along Haverhill Road. It was four miles to Leon, the closest town. Joan and Mary grew up during the worst years of the Great Depression. Times were tough.

Living on a farm, Maria's English never became polished, and even 50 years later, when I met her for the first time she still spoke in broken English with a French word thrown in here and there.

The story that Joan told was about Maria and the rabbits, or in French lapins. Being French, Maria loved to hunt rabbits. Rabbits were a welcome addition to the dinner table. Lapin a La Cocotte - rabbit stew with a bit of bacon, some onions and parsley, bay leaves and thyme for seasoning is a tasty fair. Add a little red wine to the stew, which Maria loved and it was heavenly. To hunt rabbits Maria took her shotgun into the fields. One day Maria brought home a pair of rabbits, brown and grey, and plump, just right for a rabbit stew or a rabbit pie. Maria had brought the rabbits into the kitchen and she was preparing to skin them when there was a commotion in the front yard of the farm. An old Ford pickup truck screeched to a halt. A thick cloud of dust followed the farmer who got out of the truck and angrily went to speak with Frank. It seems that Maria in her rabbit hunt had accidentally shot through an open window of the farmer's house. The shotgun blast had come within a whisker of the crib where his infant child was peacefully sleeping.

Frank was able to eventually soothe the anger of his neighbor and send him on his way. As for Maria, she would continue to hunt her lapins, only not so close to the neighbor's house.

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