Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Animal crackers

When I was a kid, someone came up with the idea of giving each child his or her own box of animal crackers at the start of a journey, for good luck, they said, making it a special gift and not just a snack. Each little box was designed to look like a circus wagon used to transport animals, and we spent much time alternating between playing circus wagon driver and deciding which animal to eat next, not to mention which parts to devour first: head, tail, leg, whatever. (Children can be such beasts... :)

We might have outgrown this, but ours was a superstitious family as well as a fun-loving one. Somehow or another even after we were full grown when we were about to head out on a long trip someone might hand over a box of animal crackers for good luck.

I know. I know. The originator of this tradition probably merely meant to provide something to keep the wee ones entertained so the older folks in the car had a chance of arriving sane at the destination, but it did morph into a bon voyage tradition.

So. The neighbor's son and his wife and her mother are all going to Texas, where the wife has a nice job waiting for her. They are using my neighbor's home as the staging area, having moved out of their place already. We have been treated to yard sales and much activity of late. So. Today I went to the grocery store, and made a point of adding a trip down the cookie and cracker aisle.

Yes, knowing full well it was perfectly silly to buy grown-ups animal crackers, not to mention doubly silly because I really don't know these people except in passing, I bought three circus-style boxes of animal crackers, one for each person who was moving. I was counting on the travelers' good sense of humor, if nothing else. And, besides, I didn't know what else to get them for a bon voyage gift. (Food is always good, right?)

When I got home, the moving van and pickup truck were still there, but no one was in evidence. Not wanting to break up a last-day-together meal or something, I kept peeking out the window now and then, hoping to catch the son coming or going - and, having second thoughts, half hoping I wouldn't catch a glimpse of them before they left, so I didn't have to run the risk of looking foolish, handing over dumb gifts that somebody might not understand.

Finally, when I went to move the lawn sprinkler I saw that there were people, lots of people, moving at a good clip back and forth, carrying stuff to the moving van and pickup truck. It had a feel of a last push. I saw the son, who I know somewhat better than the others, and know to be good-natured on balance, and good-humored, too. With some trepidation I popped back inside, gathered up my three little circus wagons full of snacks, forced myself out my front gate, and ambled down the sidewalk keying in on the son. He looked up from rolling something into a tidy package on the lawn, and grinned. He looked at the animal crackers and looked surprised. No turning back left to me now, I leaned over their waist-high front fence, held the animal crackers in front of me, and said that in the family I grew up in, it was traditional to send people off on long journeys with animal crackers.

People stopped what they were doing and looked at each other in a very funny way. They had that look that people get when they're trying to decide who should be the group spokesman and say something. I was beginning to feel I'd done something incredibly foolish, and in front of a crowd, no less. They looked horribly surprised, which seemed all out of proportion to me. I knew that what I was doing was silly, perhaps odd. I didn't think it was astonishing.

And then the son's wife, who I barely know, started bouncing up and down with delight, and laughing. She said I simply had to come look - and ran to the pickup with me in tow. Looking in, she decided that we couldn't see well enough from the sidewalk side, so she dragged me out in the street (we don't get much traffic, thank goodness), and from the passenger side of her truck she. pulled. the. largest. container. of. animal. crackers. I've. ever. seen.

She also takes animal crackers on trips. She loves animal crackers. She thought someone bringing her animal crackers for her move was too fantastic for words.

So did everyone else.

Sometimes a lady gets lucky.


Amanda Witt said...

Oh, that's neat!

Michelle said...

Yeah, that's really cute. It's funny how the most foolish seeming thing can turn out to be the most perfect.

Just think...maybe ten years from now they'll pack up their household and move somewhere else and say, "Do you remember when that woman brought us some animal crackers when we were moving last time?"

Barb, sfo said...

That's so cool! We always stick our neck out when we share a tradition--how nice that yours was appreciated by your neighbor.

Kathryn Judson said...

Hey, Everybody, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It did turn out to be fun. They were handling the stress of moving pretty well it looked like, but I definitely sent them on their way with unexpected good cheer. (Unexpected for me as well as them!) I don't know if it means anything, but for the most part the ladies were laughing and the guys were shaking their heads in disbelief.