The Truth, Mainly - 06/05/1995

Anthropomorphism rides again
by Leon Satterfield

We have baby robins in the nest atop one of the pillars holding up the roof of our front porch. Only they're not babies any more. In a little more than a week they've turned into teenagers.

My wife says I'm anthropomorphizing again.

When the mama robin's out hustling night crawlers for them, I stand on the porch swing so I can look into the nest and watch new developments.

The nest is in what you might call the casual architecture style: foot-long wisps of last year's pampas grass hanging down and blowing in the breeze, clumps of mud daubed here and there, robin droppings running down the pillar.

"Looks a lot like your desktop," my wife says.

"Looks lived in," I say. "Just because it's not neat doesn't mean it's not functional. I bet the mama robin can find the receipts for the pampas grass and the mud daubs with no trouble at all."

"Will you stop anthropomorphizing those poor birds?" she says. "Robins don't get receipts. Humans get receipts. Robins aren't human."

"Heck, I know that," I say. "I passed biology."

"Then act like it," she says. "Ever since our kids flew the coop and started having grandbabies, you've gone soft-headed watching Barney tapes and Disney movies. Now you anthropomorphize every squirrel, rabbit, and bug that wanders into the yard."

Ned, the one-eyed Beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, smirks like the hypocrite he is. He says it's just fine to anthropomorphize Beagles, but it's sloppy sentimentality to anthropomorphize anything else.

"You make it sound so tawdry," I say to my wife. "You make it sound like some sort of perversion. You ever heard of St. Francis of Assisi? His dying words were 'I have sinned against my brother the ass.'"

"That's another thing," she says. "You keep referring to our dead dog as 'St. Sherman' — like he's been cannonized. Dogs don't get cannonized."

"Oh yeah?" I say. "What about the Rapture Mug?"

The Rapture Mug is a gift from one of our kids. You drink coffee out of it at the same time you learn important religious lessons. On one side, it poses the theological questions, "Who shall be taken? Who shall remain?" On the other side are drawings of eight people, a dog and a cat. When you put hot coffee in it, four of the people disappear, raptured off to Paradise. The four who remain look confused and wicked.

But here's the kicker: The cat stays behind but the dog disappears with the other four saints.

"If a dog can be raptured," I tell my wife, "surely a dog can be canonized. What do you say to that?"

Ned wags his tail.

"Only a befuddled English teacher," she says, "would use something called a Rapture Mug as eschatological evidence. And I notice the four saints and the dog come back as soon as the mug cools off. What do you think about the theological implications of that, Mr. Aquinas?"

I have a ready answer and I give it to her.

"Theological implications give me a headache," I say, "and I choose not to think about them at all."

Instead, I lie down for a little nap on the couch. I have a soft-headed dream vision in Disney color. In it, I'm trying to warn the mama robin that bluejays are jackbooted thugs. But when I look in her nest, it's empty except for a Post-It note saying "Back in a minute."

There's a bluejay in the sugar maple wearing a little swastika on his wing and screeching unprintable racial slurs about robins. The mama robin is yelling at the neighbor's cat who is sneaking up on the robin teenagers fluttering around like junior high glue sniffers.

I call the Highway Patrol to restore order.

"Anthropomorphizing non-Beagles again, eh?" the trooper says when I tell him what the trouble is. "Robins and bluejays this time, is it? Sorry, but I've got to take you in."

He's a funny looking trooper. His nose is wet and a Beagle ear hangs out of his hat.

In the paddy wagon, there's a figure in the shadows.

"Leon," I say by way of introducing myself. "Lincoln."

"Francis," the shadowy figure says. "Assisi."

At the station, we step out of the paddy wagon into the bright glitter emanating from a chorus of Disney animals wearing cunning little clothes who've been joined by the mama robin, her four babies, the bluejay (who's taken off his swastika and is making a peace sign), the neighbor cat, and St. Francis' brother the ass. The're all singing sloppily sentimental songs about multi-species harmony.

The funny-looking trooper wags his tail and pours Rapture Mugs of hot coffee for all of us. On the count of three, we drink, our heads turn into marshmallows, and we all disappear.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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