Just as George Orwell used a farm of animals to allegorize the invidious Communist philosophy, I see a farm of animals in a completely different light. While I have never really liked animals very much, except maybe to eat, my life seems to have been influenced a good deal by their visual and symbolic content.
First of all, I never had any pets. I won a goldfish at a birthday party when I was seven. A week later he became a floater because I did not know how to care for him. Years later, our babysitter got us an aquarium with several colorful fish. The heater was defective and they all were fried. More floaters! I also heard the story off my brother-in-law from his childhood. He had several goldfish, which he proudly took care of. His younger sister thought they needed to be cleaned. So she washed them in the sink and then dried them on the radiator. More fried fish!
Withe the sole exception of a neighbor’s dog, whom I would secretly feed from time to time, I have never had much luck with animals. But I shed a tear when Brandy died after knowing her for years. I have had at least three birds get into our house and one wild turkey that almost did. In trying to extricate them, I killed two of them accidentally. We have had moles, voles and squirrels invade our property for years. Big dogs frighten me and I will walk out of my way to avoid them.
In high school I was known as the Impala, not because of my speed or grace on the football field but because my cleats were a size too big and every time I made a cut, I tripped and fell on my face. When one of my nieces was born, she was very sickly and did not laugh at any of my adolescent antics. When she was six months old, I had this thought of a high school chum, who often entertained us by waddling like a duck. I did my best imitation of him and from that moment on, I was all the nieces and nephews, Uncle Duck.
On our many trips home and abroad with my wife’s sister and her husband, the three of them usually hung together in any discussions we had since New Yorkers were outsiders in their neck of the woods. The sister started calling me Willie Penguin in mock honor of the sacrificial penguin who would be picked or bumped into the ocean to see if there were any sea lions around. If he was not some lion’s dinner, the rest would join him in the water. She even sent me a postcard once of one such penguin.
When my grandchildren were born, I did not want any of the usual names, such as grandpa, dad or papa. In my wife’s Southern tradition, I was known simply as Daddy B. After a while, it became merely B. One time I found a note from my third grandchild that had called me Daddy Bee. I liked the idea of having a animal symbol. It fit perfectly since now I had an emoji and my initials are BB.
Somehow my youngest child got the idea to address me lovingly as Popapotamus, a named I was originally not too happy with. On a trip to New York City this year, we went to the Metropolitan Art Museum. Near the end of the museum visit, he took me to an exhibit in the ancient artifacts section to show me this colorful blue Hippo in a glass cage. This Hippo had a name—-William. Later he gave me a smaller replica from the gift shop for my very own. It now sits proudly in my family room.
As a longtime sports fan, I know how important animals have been to many teams. There are the Cardinals in both baseball and football, The Chicago Bears, and the Toronto Blue Jays and so on. Though none of my schools had an animal mascot, the Bulldogs of Georgia, the Missouri Tigers and Michigan Wolverines reign prominently in college sports. This is not to forget football’s Detroit Lions. Lions have had an important, though bloody impact on the early Catholic Church. Many of our martyrs went to meet God thanks to the jaws and claws of these ferocious animals.
Recently I read about a small Catholic school, Alvernia University in Pennsylvania, whose teams were called the Crusaders, the same mascot as my Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. They are dropping the name, not because of fear of not being politically correct, so they say, but to get more in touch with their patron saint, Saint Francis of Assisi. O.K. I can understand that.
St. Francis counted many of the birds, bees and deer. So what are they today but the Golden Wolves. At first I thought that a bit strange until I learned of the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio who was eating the townspeople’s livestock. He had also killed several shepherds and guards as well.
The mayor had his emissaries seek out St. Francis. After serious prayer he went to Gubbio. The next morning he encountered the wolf in the forest. The wolf started to stalk him until St. Francis beckoned his Brother Wolf to come to him. After his animal uncertainty had subsided, he approach the future saint and sat down and listened to him. The wolf answered his question about why he was killing people. It was because he had an injured leg and preferred deer and rabbits but could only catch goats and sheep who could not run fast. As for the humans, he had only killed in self-defense.
Francis took the wolf to the townspeople and told them if they would feed him he would have no need to terrorize them any more. So St. Francis had brought peace between the animal kingdom and human beings, a great allegory for mankind in the manner of George Orwell. Despite the fanciful nature of this story, it does impress us to be kinder to animals. But I still would not try to pet a wolf or have a scorpion as a pet.
But I see a larger issue. How many people who know that Alvernia is a Catholic University will understand this switch. In my opinion it is a subtle switch to excise an important part of their Catholic identity. The same thing is more dramatically happening at Holy Cross. There is a strong element among the student body, faculty and alumni of what I call America’s Blue Guards that want to strip this country of all the vestiges of religion.
The Crusaders offend our Muslim brothers and must be sent to America’s enlarging memory hole. This is not only dishonest, but it is blatant rewriting of history. But you say they only want to eliminate the Crusader mascot and not the Holy Cross identity. But I say the Crusader is merely the nose of the camel. But the real target of this radical crusade or should I say jihad is to eliminate the Holy Cross from our memories.
The Cross reflects the essence of Catholic life. To remove it as similar people are doing all over this country is to force the Church out of society and back into into the sanctuary of its catacombs. That is what is at stake here.
I have had a heated exchange with a classmate from 1965, a former newsman I believe, who seems to have lost his interest, if not his faith, in the Church. When I answered his objections to some of my statements in a reasonable manner he answered with a screed that attacked my intelligence and more importantly my religious faith. I would wager that George Orwell would see the truth in my experience in this new kind of animal farm.