Peter Cottontail hit the scene at our house in the very wee hours of Easter morning, coincidentally as I was returning home from a long night out. My parents actually considered naming me Peter, until they said my full name out loud and realized the burden that this would place on a kid at this time of year, or for that matter at any time in the grade school years. Pretty much every first name ending in "R" is out when your last name is "Abbott", though it did come in handy one summer when a 2nd cousin was able to get a litter of bunnies - sired by our rabbits Snowdrop and Brownie" - on a plane because the name "Abbott's Rabbits" on the side of the crate sounded like a legitimate enterprise.
Because the old rabbit gentleman was not at all sure he would be up when the children rushed downstairs at the break of day to see whether he had lifted their carefully dyed eggs and strewn them about the yard, he was going about his business beneath the brittle stars when I came home, eager to burrow down for a couple of hours much needed rest. In addition to "egg caching", the Easter Rabbit leaves a gumdrop tree at our house. For this reason, and this reason alone, my dear wife has condescended to permit our sole remaining forsythia bush to abide at the corner of the yard where the others of its kind were ruthlessly cleared to lay out our vegetable garden.
I have learned a thing or two from the Easter Bunny about the art of gumdrop tree fabrication. A bush with stiff, spiky branches about eye level to a three year old is ideal for transforming into an Easter Shrub, especially if it gets pruned annually and has hard tips. Forsythia are just about perfect, but I've seen blueberry and pin cherry pulling duty as a gumdrop tree.
The latin name for the product of this botanical metamorphosis is "Nutrimens lepi", or "Rabbit Food" tree, since the Romans didn't know from gumdrops. Besides, it wasn't very healthy for early Christians to indulge in scientific nomenclature that would overtly betray the sacred ritual of the Easter gumdrop tree. Fans of The DaVinci Code know what I'm talking about, here. You have to read the signs. The Easter Bunny recommends leaving rabbit droppings beneath the gumdrop tree to aid with the deception.
One must be very mindful of the weather, less the fog roll in from the bay as it did one memorable Easter morn in my youth and leave sad, sugarless lumps of gel glistening at the tips of every branch where gumdrops used to be. Likewise, the rabbit that foolishly leaves hard boiled eggs outside over night will be thanked only by ravenous skunks and raccoons come morning. It's best to do the deed as a bait and switch while the children are distracted by indoor goodies and before the shades have been raised overlooking the yard.
This Easter, I can add another piece of gumdrop tree advice. If the overnight temperatures are in the low twenties and it is unlikely to get above freezing during the day, it might be best not to set up the gumdrop tree at 3:30 a.m. The gumdrops were frozen fast to the branches as my dear children struggled without success to liberate them in the bitter cold. The gumdrops they collected often brought the tips of branches along with them, and we might have done better to just go at the bush with a pair of pruning shears and harvest our own gumdrop lollipops. Still, a memorable time was had by all, and another season of renewal and rebirth has been ushered in neath the candy-coated whimsy of Nutrimens lepi, the old gumdrop tree.