Article 25

So the Animals Shall Speak

In Uncategorized on 01/24/2016 at 3:00 pm

Christmas Story

Timing is everything

By Renée Henning
There is an old Christmas legend about talking animals. According to the tale, cows, donkeys, and other farm creatures were present in the Bethlehem stable when Jesus was born. The beasts, taking pity on the homeless baby, tried to warm and comfort him with their gentle presence and soothing sounds. As a result, Jesus gave all animals the gift of speech. They can talk like people, but only while the clock tolls 12 times for midnight on Christmas Eve.

When I learned of the legend, I was charmed – and skeptical. As a lark, I decided to test the story through scientific observation. My experimental work occurred in New England in the 1960s and 1970s on three Christmas Eves. Now, having realized that I will never resume this important research, I have decided to publish my empirical results. Your job is to figure out from what follows whether the legend is true.

The First Christmas Eve

On the first Christmas Eve, I was a teenager. My plan was simple. I would observe the research subjects at midnight on Christmas Eve and memorize what, if anything, they said.

The research subjects were my pets, Mitzi and Moo-cha-cha. Mitzi was a bouncy Belgian sheepdog with papers certifying her to be pure German shepherd. Moo-cha-cha was a queenly mongrel cat. The dog and cat were opposites in most respects. However, both of them were party animals who loved family gatherings and hated being banished to the basement at night.

The research subjects, my relatives and I had a wonderful Christmas Eve that year. My family feasted, played silly games, sang Christmas carols danced, and read the biblical account of the birth of Jesus. Suddenly at 12:05 a.m., too late, I remembered my forgotten scientific experiment. Well, they say all scientific advances involve some trial and error.

The Second Christmas Eve

The second Christmas Eve turned out to be Mitzi’s last Christmas Eve on earth. It also turned out to be full of surprises.

I was better prepared this time around. As the research subjects and my family partied, I kept an eye on the clock. At five minutes before midnight, I got ready to observe the subjects. But there was a problem – to my surprise, I could not find them. Mitzi and Moo-cha-cha, who had been celebrating with us all evening, had vanished.

I walked through the house calling them repeatedly, with no response. This was the second surprise. Although Moo-cha-cha had been known to hide smiling while someone nearby went hoarse calling her name, Mitzi typically responded to calls with happy yelps.

Quickly I organized a laughing search party to comb our three-story Victorian home. My family finally located the research subjects, too late, at 12:02 a.m. For the third surprise, the subjects turned up in the basement to which they hated to be banished.

The fourth surprise was what was occurring there. Mitzi and Moo-cha-cha were sitting companionably near each other, facing each other. Mitzi was panting and had a huge doggy grin, and Moo-cha-cha was purring loudly.

“Did you talk? Did you talk?” I asked excitedly.

Unfortunately for science, neither animal would say.

The Third Christmas Eve

The third Christmas Eve, which came some years later, was my first as a bride. My husband and I were guests that snowy night at his parents’ New England home. Staying with us in our bedroom was the new research subject, the household’s pet dog.

Scampi was a miniature schnauzer. He disdained other dogs, thought he was a short person, and pined whenever he was away from people. Something of a sophisticate, Scampi particularly enjoyed the cocktail hour, for the company and the cheese. Clearly, if he was going to speak at midnight, it would be to a human, not to an animal. Furthermore, according to my reasoning, if Scampi did talk, it would most likely be to his soul mate, my husband.

My preparations were more advanced than on the two earlier Christmas Eves. As midnight drew nearer, I watched the clock, the research subject and the door, which was closed to ward off any escape. I also had a laboratory assistant, my husband, to serve as a second pair of eyes (or ears) in the experiment. However, there was one last thing to do. I needed to brush my teeth.

At 11:50 p.m. I left the bedroom. After propping my watch over the sink, I checked the time repeatedly while working on my teeth. I brushed, brushed and brushed. I just did not want to see what I expected – Scampi without the gift of speech.

At 12:03 a.m. I walked into the bedroom, where my husband and Scampi were sitting in companionable silence near each other.

“Did Scampi talk?” I asked hesitantly, dreading the answer.

My beloved husband gave me an answer about what transpired in that closed room at midnight that snowy Christmas Eve. That 1976 statement is all he ever was willing to say on the subject in our many happy years of marriage.

My husband responded, “Scampi told me not to say.”

 

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