Along with having seduced both a Chip and a Dale (unfortunately, not at the same time), my most gripping claim to fame is that, at the age of seven, I was fed my pet rabbit for dinner.
Snowfur didn't come from a pet store-she was bred on a farm as chow. Every few months, Dad would ring the farmer, and the family would load into our 1976 Chevrolet Impala station wagon with the Crate of Death in tow. This homemade box, assembled from scrap lumber and chicken wire, kept the animals in check on the ride home and ensured a discreet entrance upon arrival.
It sounds unconventional, but, for us, slaughtering livestock in the basement was a financially prudent and perfectly sensible means of replenishing provisions. Mom and Dad grew up in rural Italy, where gutting your dinner was part of the daily grind, and like many immigrants, they brought the "old country" ways to our working-class, inner-city Vancouver neighbourhood.
Chickens were the usual victims. If there was a rooster in the batch and my parents didn't "process the order" that day, the neighbourhood got a disconcerting wake-up call around 5:30 am. And every Easter, a spring lamb got the axe at Uncle Angelo's. Fortunately, unlike Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, I don't wake up in the dark and still hear it screaming.
My favourite animal, best served with Mom's potato gnocchi, was always pigeon (or "squab," as the aficionados call it). I assured classmates it was meatier than quail but just as tasty. None of them appreciated my gourmet savoir faire, and I quickly grew weary of accusations that Mom hung out in Stanley Park with bread crumbs and a baseball bat, looking for dinner.
Eventually, my homeroom teacher asked me to refrain from sensationalizing my parents' killing sprees. I was giving fellow students the creeps and I'd become too weird to befriend. At home, my teenaged sisters were too focused on Billy Idol, Corey Hart and Platinum Blonde to notice me. I was left with an emptiness in my life and concluded that, no matter how weird you are, pets give you unconditional love. So, one evening on our drive to the farm, I asked my parents the inevitable question: "Can I keep one of the bunnies?"
Thus was Snowfur begotten. On the way home, I gazed at her fondly over the back seat. Eyes agog with fear, she was crushed in the crate with several mates whose future was far more ominous. She was the only one with a pure white coat, so I jabbed her through the chicken wire and promised to love her forever.
After the other bunnies met their maker, Dad converted the crate into Snowfur's new mobile home and set her up with some prime, west-facing real estate in the backyard. My biggest responsibility, aside from the usual feeding and cleaning, was to tow the crate into the shed at night. This, my parents assured me, would keep Snowfur safe from harm should a stray dog trespass while we slept.
At first, my days with Snowfur were breezy and beautiful. I fed her lettuce and carrots from Mom's vegetable garden. I tied a string around her neck and dragged her around the block. I still cringe, though, when I recall cleaning her and the crate simultaneously: I'd set the nozzle to "hard spray" and hose them both down from a distance of five paces. Back then, I was multi-tasking. Today, I'd be jailed for animal cruelty.
Snowfur's novelty wore off after a few weeks. I became neglectful and the yard began to smell like rabbit shit. But I was still distraught when I awoke one morning to discover the crate empty.
I confronted Mom. She gently broke the news that, as predicted, a dog had mauled Snowfur in the night. Apparently, I hadn't put the crate in the shed. I could neither confirm nor deny the accusation since I was fulfilling my duty irregularly and half-heartedly by this point.
Nonetheless, something didn't add up: the crate sat unscathed and there was no sign of a struggle. A mystery was begging to be solved, but I had cartoons to watch and a tricycle to ride. So I washed my hands of this improbable incident, muttered a quick eulogy for Snowfur and went on with my day.
Mother's hands, however, were slick with deceit. In her defence, several factors cinched Snowfur's demise. For starters, the smell of rabbit shit was making the neighbours gag. Secondly, school was starting, which meant winter wasn't far behind, but there was no way in hell a rabbit would be allowed to cocoon in the house. Finally, my parents needed the crate for their next batch of victims. There was only one option.
You'd think I'd notice the irony of rabbit stew hitting my bowl the following day, but I didn't learn the truth until well into my teens. I don't begrudge my parents for what transpired. Theirs was a feasible, farm-inspired solution. The same logic went into the tragic climax of Old Yeller, and everybody loves that story.
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