Well, not too many sheep, although lambs do figure, but the many other animals, flesh and wooden, that provide me with so much amusement, beginning with the tender pink and blue dyed chicks—they couldn’t have been more than a few days old—we were given when we were children. The dye didn’t agree with them and they rapidly died (meaning no one would have to be bothered with raising them into smelly hens and roosters), an early lesson in the dangers of sacrificing health to beauty. The yellow ducklings that sometimes came along with the chicks in Easter baskets fared better; no one could improve on their golden color, and their loud squawking seemed to announce their determination to survive, which they did, growing into bad-tempered ducks who did not cool their mood in the tin wash basin of water which is all they had for a pond.
As for lambs, they would not have turned up at all except that our aunt had a farm with the lovely name of Harmony Landing (visiting friends from New York complained, however, “No fun on the farm”) and the ewes that gave birth every raw early spring to twins were said to be unwilling to nurse them both, perhaps another form of savage warning. Either the orphan lambs would starve or they would be delivered to us, to be hand fed with bottles of warm milk at all hours of the day and night—another harsh message from Reality. They grew up from being adorable to being unruly and were finally disappeared, it was never revealed to what fate. Beware, oh mortal girl, of no longer being adorable.In Florida on spring vacations I saw chameleons in the palm trees which were sometimes sold in dime stores, with tiny golden collars and leashes that we were allowed to pin to our tops to see how long it took the chameleons to change color. They usually died before that happened.
The cruelty involved in this misuse of God’s creatures didn’t seem to bother the adults, and only slightly bothered me, but the lessons learned were fearful, and essential: do not wear a collar and leash—even if made out of gold—do not have more children than you are willing to feed at all hours of the day and night and perhaps most important, do not agree to be dyed.
Good lessons for a girl growing toward adulthood.
Now I satisfy my animal hunger with my beautiful, well-treated shelter dog, Pip, a little annoyed at me this morning because he hasn’t had his walk, but about to go to sleep peacefully in the sun on my Navajo rug.
Oh, and I delight in the company of the wooden animals in my Noah’s ark, carved several years ago by a New Mexico craftsman. I bought it, supposedly, for my grandchildren, but since they grow up much faster than I do, it seemed best to keep it for myself. I like grumpy Noah and his stolid wife—the other woman must be his sister, taken aboard grudgingly-and I’m especially fond of the stately giraffe and the cunning skunks. I have to get over my distrust of the whole concept of two-by-two to enjoy the ark and its travelers, but I am helped in doing so by remembering (also an aide to sleep) one of my father’s favorite limericks:
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair it has turned very white,
And yet you incessantly stand on your head
Do you think at your age it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure my brain,
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
I do it again and again.”
Finally, there’s the lamb that often appears in crèche scenes, kneeling with small hooves tucked underneath at the Christ Child’s manger. The lamb always seemed to me the only animal white enough and innocent enough to have a place reserved there.