My family has always had a multitude of pets. I grew up with dogs, cats, turtles, rodents, and more. We even had a very special Siamese rabbit named Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Normal people have bunnies named Peter, but, hey, my little sister was only five when she found him in a New Jersey parking lot. Christmas was a New Jersey street tough masquerading as an adorable bunny. He spent ten happy years terrorizing the family Labrador and several cats while eating the antique Italian Provincial dining room set.
I loved Christmas, but I opted for cats when I had my own place. My Chinese-American husband opted for big dogs. When my in-laws arrived, the dogs made friends immediately. The cats hid.
My mother-in-law was insulted. “I call ‘kitty, kitty,” and sometimes the big one, he will hold still for a minute, but then he runs away. The little cat! Pah! She wants nothing to do with me!” Sunny continued to make overtures, which Commando Cat eventually accepted. He’s the not-so-smart cat.
About a week into my in-laws’ visit, when Jay badgered me about using my computer for video poker for the hundredth time, I deflected him with, “Why don’t you pet Commando Cat?”
Jay refused at first, but eventually he approached Commando Cat’s scratching post and gingerly tapped the cat. Commando Cat purred.
“In China, you eat cat,” Jay announced.
I laughed, sure that Jay was messing with the white girl. And then I saw that his tapping looked like German hausfrau squeezing a melon for ripeness. I snatched Commando Cat away. He yowled at me and tried to return to his new friend Jay.
I told you he was the stupid cat.
“These are my PETS,” I informed Jay.
Jay shrugged. “In China, you eat dogs, too.”
“Yeah, well, here we go to the Olive Garden.”
Jay nodded at one of our dogs, curled up next to the desk. “How old is Fey?”
“Why do you want to know?” I countered, not about to give anything away to a potential Canine Connoisseur. The Cantonese are known for eating everything except the dinning room chairs. Maybe eating puppies in China equates to eating veal in America. (And don’t be getting all judgy about other cultures’ food, meat-eating American readers. Your favorite In-n-Out burger was once a sweet baby cow with big brown eyes. The bacon you had for Sunday brunch? That was adorable little Wilbur the pig, more social and smarter than most dogs. Most of us just don’t take pigs on walks and snuggle with them. Makes it easier to eat bacon in peace, doesn’t it?)
My mother-in-law joined us, asking what we were talking about.
I told her that Jay wanted to know how old Fey was. Sunny and Jay conversed in Cantonese while I carted the Commando Cat to our bedroom and shut the door. When I returned to the office, Sunny was telling off Jay.
“No, no, you fool! That’s not what you do!”
I cheered my mother-in-law on silently. Go, Sunny! You tell him what’s what here in America, where we make a distinction between food and pet.
Jay barked again in Cantonese.
Sunny shook her head and even stamped her foot as she yelled, “No! I tell you, the saying is that you eat young dog and old cat! Not the other way around!”
Wait, what? My in-laws were arguing over the proper age of canine and feline cuisine, not whether eating my pets was allowed. Jesus. Fey and Woofie were young dogs, barely a year old. The cats were eleven and eight. If Sunny was right, they were all aged to perfection. Then sanity returned. Surely even in-laws as intrusive mine wouldn’t roast our pets.
Jay proclaimed, “Fey would be good eating.”
To my eternal shame, I unthinkingly argued, “No way! Fey’s too skinny! We’d have to eat Woofie, he’s much fatter!” Then I slammed a hand over my mouth.
“I didn’t mean that! Woofie, I’m so sorry!” I sat on the floor and rubbed Woofie’s tummy. His meaty tummy. Damn it, now I was thinking of pets as livestock. Ugh. “Didn’t Andy have pets growing up?”
“Andy had Bunny,” Sunny replied. “Somebody gave him rabbits. We kept them in the backyard.”
I relaxed. “Really? We had rabbits, too.”
“Yeah, and Andy have boy and girl and then oooo! Suddenly we get even more rabbits! And even more rabbits! And I tell Jay, ‘we have too many rabbits!’”
Uh-oh. I suspected the story of Bunny was not going to be a happy one – at least not by WASP standards.
But Bunny’s story must have been hysterical by Chinese standards. Sunny giggled as she related how she and Jay decided that a rabbit belonged in the stewpot. They picked Andy’s favorite, because Bunny was the fattest (probably from being hand-fed by Andy – oh, the irony).
Now, while Jay and Sunny planned to efficiently emulate their agrarian ancestors, they grew up in the city of Hong Kong. Neither one had any practical expertise in slaughtering animals.
“So Jay says ‘Get a bag, put in the rabbit, and I’ll get a stick,’” Sunny told me. She grinned, not at all discouraged by my appalled expression. “I got the rabbit in the bag, Jay told me to hold the bag, then BAM! He hit it with stick. But not hard enough and the rabbit screams, ‘eeee, eeee,’ so Jay hit it again. But we opened the bag and the rabbit is still not dead!” Sunny paused to laugh with fond remembrance at their ineptitude, “So, ha, ha, we have to take Bunny to my mother’s apartment! Where she killed it for us, ha, ha, ha!”
Sunny laughed for a full minute. Even Jay cracked a smile.
When my in-laws looked at me expectantly, I swallowed hard and asked, “Did you, um, eat Bunny?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Po-po, she made him into good stew.”
I fled the room.
I held onto the faint hope that my in-laws were pranking me.
But no. When Andy got home, he not only confirmed the story, he even chuckled as I told him how his mother laughed. Apparently, my husband was less traumatized than I was.
I eventually steeled myself to ask what happened to the remaining rabbits.
Andy hesitated. “I don’t think you want to know…”
“How delicious they were?” I finished for him. “It’s okay. Plenty of people eat bunnies, instead of keeping them as pets. I get that the choice to eat an animal versus make it a pet is a matter of tradition. Or culture. I just…wasn’t prepared. Not for the rabbit-eating.”
“Well, we didn’t eat them. A neighbor’s dog did after it got loose.” Andy offered me a box of tissues.
I waved it away. “Thank God.”
“What? No tears, even though you had pet rabbits?”
“Please. Compared to beating and torture, a quick death by dog was the best thing that could happen to those poor bunnies.”
The next time Andy and I visited my Ex-stepmother, we met her latest pet rabbit, Rascal. Rascal was an ill-tempered rabbit. He bit me twice. Andy offered to put him in the stewpot. I scolded him. Rascal was still a pet. Thereafter, every time we moved Rascal’s cage, Andy did his best impression of Hannibal Lechter licking his chops.
I’m pretty sure he’s just screwing with me.
For those worried about our pets, fear not. They all survived. Sunny even sang the dogs to sleep while petting them: “Sleepy time, Fey, go to sleep, sleepy dog.” And Fey would close her eyes, never guessing that, but for time & geography, she might have been dinner.
Wily old Bat Cat, however, stayed under the bed until my in-laws were gone.