The ridiculously small, wide-eyed creature above is Pepper, or Peper in Dutch. He’s just nine weeks old, and a few days ago, he came to live with us here in Haarlem. It’s early days, but I can say with confidence that he is a very welcome addition to life in the Slachthuisbuurt.
Now, this isn’t my first feline rodeo. For years, we had a cat named Pearl. We moved her to about 10 different places around Boston and beyond during our years together, including all the way to El Salvador and back. Late in Pearl’s life, we had the opportunity to move to Brussels, and although Pearl would’ve loved the seafood options (the damage she could inflict on shrimp was savage), we figured she’d had enough of the international jet-set lifestyle, so we found a nice home in Dorchester, MA where she could live out her days in peace. We hated to do it, but it was the right thing for her.
I never got to say goodbye to Pearl. About 10 days before we were supposed to pack out in Boston and begin the move to Belgium, I got stuck in the UK at a conference. Why? That unpronounceable Icelandic volcano (like there’s one that can be pronounced?), Eyjafjallajökull, decided to erupt. Flights across Europe, and from Europe to the United States, were disrupted for two weeks. While I kept trying to get a flight home, my wife had to do all the packing herself…with a four-year-old in tow. She managed it somehow (a debt I am still repaying to this day, I assure you), including dropping Pearl off in Dorchester alone. My wife and daughter were on one of the first flights out of Boston to Europe after the volcano ban was lifted. I took a train from London to Brussels and met them there. That’s why I never got back to say a real goodbye to Pearl, and believe me when I tell you that it still haunts me more than a little bit. Pearl and I were best buds. I once jumped out a ground floor window, wearing only boxer shorts, to retrieve her during one of her attempted escapes. Also, I knitted that pillow for her in the picture (not).
After Pearl, we weren’t sure about getting another cat. Our daughter never expressed interest in having a pet, and at some point I discovered—through one of those needly allergy tests they give you—that I wasn’t just allergic to cats, but extremely allergic to cats. I’m sure that caused moments of extreme discomfort living with Pearl, but I never minded it all that much. The pros always outweighed the cons. And there was always Claritin and Benadryl, right?
Then, before we even found out about moving to the Netherlands, my daughter started wondering about getting another cat. Now, telling a very social 12-year-old that she has to move is never easy, but telling her she has to move overseas, and probably for the duration of both middle and high school, is very tough. When we moved to Brussels, she was four, and it was enough for her that there were castles where you could spend the night (we did that, yes). But 12 required a bigger bribe. And that bribe, which eased the flow of tears significantly, was the promise that we would get a Dutch kitty.
Nine months and thousands of excuses later, my wife and I finally made good on that promise. One of my daughter’s friends at school had a cat who, unexpectedly, had kittens. And that’s how Pepper managed to finagle his way into our lives. Our initial understanding was that Pepper was a she, and her formal name was to be Mrs. Pepperpot, after the Norwegian children’s book character. But when we went to pick her up, she had suddenly become a he, and we decided the name Pepper would work just as well. It sounds good in Dutch, too. Peper, like <PAY-per>.
As I’m the one who is home most of the day, Pepper and I are quickly becoming, you guessed it, best buds. He already sits on the chair next to me while I write, giving me a little shout out every once in a while when he wants a treat or some attention. The little guy also talks very loudly in his sleep, which cracks me up. I’m happy to say that no dreadful allergies have kicked in yet, although I have a bucket of drugs on-hand if they do.
Like us, Pepper is here to stay, and I’m confident that he will become a recurring character in these Slachtuisbuurt sketches. Watch this space for updates.
You can get all the latest updates on Pepper and the Slachtuisbuurt delivered directly to your inbox…