Twice this past week, I’ve waited in an office and finally departed, ready to bite someone’s head off, like I used to do with my animal crackers. Talk about a zoo.
Instead of spinning a Tin Collector’s Tale about animal crackers, I hardened my heart and collected grievances. Never mind that I prayed for some of these same people a month ago, I now ranted (in my head) against the harried workers who specialize in incompetence, the country that cares more about its delinquents than about its old and sick and poor, and the world that gawps for a minute in fascination, as if we were curiosities in a circus act, before moving on.
The old nursery rhyme whirled around in my head: “I went to the animal fair, The birds and the beasts were there…” Our lives lately seem as wacky as “the big baboon by the light of the moon…combing his auburn hair…” because half the population act like animals, and the rest are going crackers.
It’s so easy to judge, though. I’d better let God separate the sheep from the goats—after all, I can’t even tell a horn from an antler or a jaguar from a panther. Good thing Nabisco labeled the creatures portrayed on their animal cracker containers.
Sorry about all the cookie posts. This won’t likely be the last, but I’ll rest the subject for a while after this one, I promise. It’s just the “Barnum’s Animals” tins happen to rate among the earliest in my collection, dating from pre-collecting days.
And for many of us, animal crackers appear in our earliest childhood memories. What is it about these little goodies that makes us crack a smile and drool?
For one thing, the packaging is so cute. Though animal crackers were born in England before 1870, in 1902 Nabisco put their snack-size red box with a string handle on the market, bringing an end to crackers sold in bulk from a “cracker barrel.” How fun! And my tins copy the original design.
Then, there’s the classic vanilla taste, spiced with a pinch of nutmeg and mace. My Downeast grampie used to sprinkle oyster crackers on his chowder, but Shirley Temple got it wrong in the song, because I don’t want “animal crackers in my soup”—since they’re sweet not savory.
Nowadays they come frosted and chocolate dipped too, but how can you beat that perfect cookie-sweet cracker-crunch? It’s all in the mix of mild and crisp.
Back in 1982, while studying Spanish in south Texas, I bought a tin of animal crackers almost weekly for no more than a few dollars (worth $15-25 apiece today). Who is to say whether Baby Daughter #1 or her young mother ate more of them?
Occasionally, I scolded myself for not being as health-conscious as the mom who fed her daughter cereal bits (most assuredly unsweetened) in church. Or zwieback toast (ugh!) Even then, the verdict on cookies was ambiguous. But I decided to lean toward psychological health and happiness. The mix, again.
All Creatures Great and Small
“Animal crackers and cocoa to drink, That is the finest of suppers, I think. When I’m grown up and can have what I please, I think I shall always insist upon these.” –Christopher Morley
Last but not least, we love the animals too. Nabisco has developed 37 different kinds over the years, the most recent a koala, chosen by popular vote in 2002. (Did you see the recent news story about a koala rescued from a forest fire in Australia?)
While I’m not a great animal lover, many of my books feature a love affair with the created world, so I get the fascination. And I’m sensitive to the many lessons God’s animal farm can teach us:
- A pod of dolphins changes Melissa Travis’s life in Destiny at Dolphin Bay.
- Pursuit of the Pudú features a herd of pudús—the world’s smallest deer—as well as a flock of migrating flamingos.
- The seahorse is one of several motifs in the First Mate’s Log series.
- Huemules—Andean mountain deer—and of course black-necked swans play a role in the Swan Island Secrets trilogy.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
“Barnum’s” monkey was the only animal ever to wear clothes. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but if the baboon can brush his hair, maybe the monkey can put on his pants. ? And that reminds me of…
George Orwell’s political satire/allegorical novella, Animal Farm, which many of us read in high school. The way I remember it, the animals rise up and take over management of the farm from its irresponsible owner. So far, so good. But eventually the animals end up in a worse situation than before, under the dictatorship of a devious and domineering pig.
I’m not calling names here. As a friend recently pointed out, many of Chile’s current troublemakers are drugged, drunk-and-disorderly youth because they’ve been neglected—even abandoned.
They’ve missed the joy and wonder of childhood. Instead, they’ve taken to imitating the childish behavior they see in others. Criminal copycats.
I can’t excuse them. But don’t you suspect a lot more kids should have been brought up on milk and cookies and stories? Instead of on stale bread and booze and soap operas?
The Lion, the Lamb, and the Leopard
The Nabisco “Barnum’s” circus-train animal crackers package was originally intended as a Christmas tree ornament. Adorable. Joy to the world and peace on earth.
At this season, animal symbols in God’s word remind us that the Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) is the same Lion of Judah will rule the earth as King of all (Rev. 5:5-6).
In the midst of a world of chaos, “…can the leopard change its spots?” Perhaps not at the zoo, and “neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer.13:23). But in God’s eternal kingdom, yes, a thousand times yes.
Could the koala be saved from the fire? Yes (Jude 23), and “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard…with the goat, the calf and the lion…together, and a little child will lead them” (Is. 11:6).
When I suggested that Daughter #2 not return to a Chile like this—a Chile under nightly siege from vandals and hoodlums—she quietly replied, “Why not? Isn’t that what I’m studying for—to reach those very delinquents?” For her, it’s always been the children of Chile.
Those kids trapped not in cages, but in brutal cycles of poverty and ignorance and violent rebellion. God can rescue them from the fires. He can tame the animal savagery. Heal the cracked hearts. And we can pray for the bad guys as well as the good.
So I am rebuked. God, soften my heart. Quiet my snarl. Retract my claws. Stop up my mouth when it flows blessing and cursing from the same fountain. Hope exists, if we all “…change and become like little children…” (Mt. 18:2).
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
And P.S. The panther is a leopard…without spots.