All creatures great and small

4 October 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — St. Francis of Assisi Day.

You know me, dear readers, I’m a great friend of the animals.

As a toddler, the first creatures that caught my attention were cows. Forget dinosaurs. I thought cows were the most interesting animals that ever lived. So, by the way, did Father Jack Andrews. Jack, as a child, had his very own pet cow. Her name was Buttercup. But Father Andrews grew up in the rural town of Berkley and I grew up in the big city of New Bedford. One simply did not keep a cow on the second floor of a tenement building. 

Deprived of a cow of my own, I had to make do with the occasional Sunday drive through the countryside. I had barely learned to speak, but I could identify a cow pasture from miles away. Riding in the back seat of my parents’ car, I would start getting all excited while we were still miles from the nearest cow. I was over the moon, one might say. “I smell a cow!” “There’s no cow anywhere around here,” my parents would advise their little boy; but I knew. I was a natural-born cow whisperer. It’s a gift.

While other kids wanted rubber cowboys and Indians and a Lincoln Log fort for their birthday, I wanted farm animals (especially cows) and a barn. 

I was in second grade when my parents bought me an aquarium. They figured it was more practical than a cow. My first fish tank contained a school of guppies, a catfish, and a couple of black mollies. It was fine while it lasted, but I was too young to know how to care for an aquarium. One afternoon, while I was off at school, my mother decided to clean the fish tank for me. She used Clorox. The fish tank sparkled. The fish died. It was a sad day but not devastating. I really just wanted a pet cow anyway. 

Once we moved to “the country” (north end of New Bedford, just beyond the mills), we were at last able to have a dog. During my childhood, there was a procession of various mutts. My favorite, a black Lab mix, ran out into rush hour traffic one afternoon and was struck by a passing car. He did not survive. Another, a collie mix, was sent back to the pound for some reason I never learned. I was developing a history of bad luck with dogs. 

Since I was so fond of animals, I decided to take the name Francis of Assisi when Bishop James J. Gerrard confirmed me. 

As a young priest in Buzzards Bay, I had a close encounter with cats. I had the unfortunate task of having to visit a parishioner to inform the poor woman that her husband had died unexpectedly. She lived in a mobile home with her 17 Siamese cats. The cats immediately took a shine to me. They began purring and crawling up and down legs. I learned then and there I am allergic to cats. (Scratch cats off my list of potential pets). With all these cats hanging around, I started to tear up. So did the grieving widow. Although I never met her late husband, the woman concluded her husband and I must have been great friends. I hadn’t the heart to tell her it was the cats. Some things are better left unsaid. 

lurch

I also had an experience involving a bird while assigned to South Yarmouth. At the end of my first Sunday Mass in that church, I raised my arms in the classic posture of blessing. At that very moment, a bird flew out from its hiding place in the baldachinum over my head and made a beeline down the main aisle and out the door. Some people said it was the Holy Spirit but it looked like a pigeon to me. 

In North Falmouth, I became interested in learning all about backyard birds. I got myself a pair of binoculars and a “Bird Identification for Dummies” book. Wary of those wily squirrels, I bought a bird feeder that attached by suction cups to my second floor bedroom window. I had outsmarted those rascals. But wait, there’s more.

Late one night, I was awakened by a mysterious thump on my bedroom window. It happened again the following night. The third night, I waited for the thump and then threw open the shades. I was face to face with a beady-eyed flying squirrel. Who knew squirrels could fly? Bummer. 

During my assignment in Marion, I decided to forget about fish, birds, cats, and even squirrels and go back to dogs. It worked. My current greyhound Lurch is dog No. 10. 

I may not be another St. Francis of Assisi, but I do believe I’ve found my niche in the animal kingdom. 

“All creatures great and small, the Lord God made them all,” goes the old hymn by Cecil Alexander.

I have no problem with that. It’s just that I happen to prefer greyhounds. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.


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