IT is with extremely mild excitement that I learn P. T. Barnum's animals are endangered species. This makes me think of Joshua Slocum and second-cousin-once-removed Milly Thompson and the little white farmhouse with green blinds that stood not far from the road. And animal crackers, about which I was always lukewarm.
Take notice, please, that animal crackers are now Barnum's endangered animals, that the circus-wagon package has been replaced, and that Nabisco has joined the welcome effort to save the beasties.
Fairhaven, Mass., was the town where Joshua Slocum rebuilt the sloop Spray for his one-man voyage around the world. Fairhaven is the town where second-cousin-once-removed Milly Thompson taught school. Second-cousin-once-removed Milly Thompson used to come to visit us, and she always brought animal crackers, which in those days were not endangered. I know, because one day my mother found a zoo of Cousin Milly's animal crackers on the floor behind the living-room drapes, and she instituted an investigation as to a reason for this.
We were four, of sibling ages, and we lived happily in a jolly house of high-cookie culture. Our mother baked 'em all. She kept three cookie jars on her pantry shelf, and we were privileged at any time we felt the need of a "between." There were fat molasses cookies, thin sugar wafers, and the noble cry-babies with raisins between. You name it, and it was in my mother's rotation. She made cookies known as Gramma Lane's Kind, Mrs. Curtis's hermit, the Leigh Snaps, the Boomhouse Buster, and even Derry's Dingle Delight, which had pink frosting. The last thing we needed at our house was a second cousin once removed bringing cookies from Fairhaven.
My mother learned that our younger sister, not caring for animal crackers, would take one when offered from second-cousin-once-removed Milly Thompson, and then would slip it on the sly to the dog, Faunce Rothschilde Two. Also not caring for animal crackers, the dog would add each to the pile he had behind the drapes. And second-cousin-once-removed Milly would bring more.
Cousin Milly became a legend in Fairhaven, and was accounted a teacher of unequalled ability. We, not living in Fairhaven, got a sample of her talents when she would come to visit at our house in another town. She would bring us books she had salvaged from the throwaway pile. As long as they could be repaired, books were kept in use, but those beyond recall were to go to the incinerator or the dump.
Then second-cousin-once-removed Milly Thompson would look them over to judge if relatives and friends might like this one and that one. Our house had many books rubber-stamped as of Fairhaven, Mass.
Best of all, though, was our recollection of the way Milly first read them to us, with her trained schoolmarm voice, the expressions, and what was then termed the "movements" of the public speaker. The little white farmhouse with the green blinds that stood not far from the road was full of Uncle Johns and Deborahs who were poised to take us picking apples and baking pies, and - well, making cookies. May we hope that Fairhaven, today, has many elderly citizens who relish memories of a Miss Thompson who read to them, in their primary days, about the little white house with green blinds?
We can doubt very much if Barnum's animals, now protected so carefully by the Nabisco public affairs foundation, are anywhere near so endangered as are the old-time maiden schoolmarms.
The "pitch" seems to be that whenever a good little boy or girl buys a package of Barnum's animals, which are bar-coded on the box so I don't know the price, National Biscuit Company will donate five cents to a wildlife fund to protect endangered animals and their habitats. The total is limited to $100,000. I apologize, folks, but I have just turned away for a moment to wonder what Faunce Rothschilde Two would accomplish behind Mother's drapes with $100,000-worth of Barnum's animals.
But the intent is noble and the purpose is inspiring. Specifically, to make everybody rest happier, we are well in control of the global threat to the Asian elephant, the Bactrian camel, the black rhinoceros, the blue whale, the Chinese alligator, the giant panda, the Tasmanian kangaroo, and nine other dwindling friends in great need.
In his time, Henry David Thoreau visited the wilds of Maine and made pertinent remarks. He quoted his Indian guide as saying, "The caribou is afraid of stumps." Translated for cookie purposes, this means that in harvesting the forests, the men with axes had felled the trees on which a certain moss flourished. This moss was the sustaining food of the herds of caribou that roamed the Maine wilderness. Those caribou didn't move out of Maine because they were afraid of stumps; they migrated up into Canada because they were hungry.
Foolish man, hoping to reestablish the caribou in Maine, twice fetched some Canadian caribous back and turned them loose. But nobody did anything about restoring moss, so the caribou returned to Canada.
Up in northern Ontario, the herds of caribou migrate seasonably so the trains lay by for hours to let them pass, and if you sit in the railway coach and listen to their conversations as they rumble by, you may hear an occasional caribou say, "Eyeh, it was some old goo-ood back there in the old days, but...."