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Illustration by April dela Noche Milne

“What would you want to do first after COVID?” I asked my seven-year-old granddaughter on a recent socially distanced visit in our backyard. I loved it when my daughter Rachel brought Vida and her four-year-old sister Freya over to visit, but it pained me not to hold them. It still felt unnatural and counter-intuitive but I was glad that they didn’t live on the other side of the country or the world.

“I’d want to sleep over at your house with Bunny,” Vida answered, her blue eyes wide and hopeful. My heart sang.

Bunny has a special place in our family. A few years ago, my widowed mother was frail but feisty, her mind razor-sharp at 93. She was a hot feminist, fiercely engaged with the world who loved nothing more than to have “rich conversations” with us and with her friends. But her body was failing with pain from osteoarthritis, tremors and mobility challenges. And she was always cold. It hardly mattered what time of year it was or what she was wearing. She shivered. When she came to our house, she’d leave her winter coat on and ask us to turn the heat up. She was especially cold at night when she couldn’t get warm in her bed.

She wasn’t allowed to have an electric blanket in her retirement residence because of fire regulations, but we tried everything else. Thick mohair socks. Cozy nightgowns. A hot water bottle. Her duvet stuffed with the warmest down. Nothing worked. When she resorted to piling two winter coats on top of her duvet it was a bit better, but she was still cold. We joked and called her “the Princess and the Pea” because she was so sensitive. But it pained us to think of Mom alone and cold at night. We had to find a solution.

Finally, I set out in search of fur. My mother had never worn a fur coat – she’d had no interest in owning such an emblem of bourgeois social status. She chose coats made of wool and down, functional and plain. But, I reckoned, furs had kept our ancestors warm through icy winters long before there were insulated houses and central heating.

I called a couple of local furriers with fur blankets for sale but they were thousands of dollars – out of the question. I checked Kijiji in case they might have something. Finally, I went to the housewares department of a downtown department store. There, among the woollen and faux fur throws of various shapes, sizes and colours was a blanket made from rabbit fur. It was the colour of butterscotch, silken to the touch and soft as, well, a rabbit. The price tag was $240. I made sure I could return it if it didn’t work.

The next day, I went to my mom’s apartment at the retirement residence. Her white hair shone in the sunlight as she greeted me warmly.

“What’s in that big bag?” she asked expectantly. I pulled out the rabbit throw and put it on her lap. She ran her gnarled, blue-veined hands over the throw, then pulled it up to her face and across her cheek. “It’s so soft!” she exclaimed. I thought about how much we all need touch in our lives, never more so than when we’re old.

“Yes. And I’m hoping it will keep you warm tonight,” I said.

My mom called the next morning. “You won’t believe it! I was toasty warm last night with the rabbit fur. Imagine that!” My mom would never have to be cold in her bed again.

Vida called my mom “Ama.” When I took Vida, then aged 2, to see Ama, we would meet in the lobby of my mom’s residence. Ama would take Vida for rides in “Ama’s car” -- on the seat of her walker -- around the lobby and down the hallway and introduce her great-granddaughter to her friends and the staff. After the car ride, we would go to Ama’s apartment where Vida would head straight for the rabbit throw. Vida and Ama would snuggle up with Bunny on the couch to read a story. We all loved Madeline: “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines/ Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

My mom died in 2018 at 95. Vida was bereft. “But where did she go?” Vida asked. When my sister and I cleaned out my mom’s apartment, I took the rabbit throw home. I put Bunny on the bed where Vida slept when she came for sleepovers. Every night after her snack we would snuggle in the rocking chair with Bunny. Sometimes we’d talk about Ama. Often we read Madeline: “In an old house in Paris…”

Vida rarely slept over at our house during the pandemic. “I hate the coronavirus!” she says. But we’ve decided to expand our bubble. We’re finally hugging Vida and Freya again, holding their soft skin and drinking up their delicious smell. Vida will sleepover soon. When she does, we’ll make sure to pull Bunny out of the drawer for a long snuggle.

Tamara Levine lives in Ottawa.

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