By Gregory Clark, January 9, 1926
“What is a snake for?” asked the heir to my millions.
There are some things a child of four cannot solve by reasoning. A snake is one of them.
“What a question!” I parried. “What a question!”
And I attempted to change the subject by introducing a little wrestling bout. But it was no use.
“Now tell me what a snake is for?” he asked, after wrestling had been carried to its furthest usefulness.
“Well, sir, snake is a very useful little creature. It eats mice and wicked insects.”
“Are mice wicked?”
“Well, you know what they did to your little mattress up at the summer cottage.”
“Did God make snakes?”
“To eat mice and insecks?”
“And did He make mice and insecks too?”
“Now, son, theology is no subject for little boys.”
We have a private understanding that when I put on certain grave and solemn air and screw my face up horribly, he does not ask the obvious and next question, which, in this case, as you can see, would have been – “What is theology?” It is a cowardly device, but I can’t help it.
“Well,” said he, “why didn’t God make snakes pretty?”
“I think,” I said, “that he made them pretty to begin with, but after they had been eating mice and wicked insects for a long time, they turned into the sort of looking things they are now.”
The boy’s grandmother, who has already commenced teaching him a few Bible stories, went –
“Ahem!” She signalled me, sternly, for this tale of mine would be sure to conflict with the Adam and Eve story, to which she would be coming one of these days. She finds it hard enough, as it is.
“Did God make everything pretty?”
“I am sure He did.”
The boy sat studying the problem earnestly.
“What,” he asked, “does Mrs. Tootum eat?”
Mrs. Tootum is an elderly friend of his grandmother’s, who has the misfortune to be somewhat unprepossessing in her later years because of an absence of teeth.
In the silence that followed the question, Grandmother got up and left the room. We could bear her crying as she walked up stairs. At least, we thought it was crying. Her face was very red.
The boy came over to me with a rather horrified air.
“What does Mrs. Tootum eat, Daddie?” he whispered, confidentially. “Does she…. does she eat……?”
And be nodded his head suggestively.
“My boy,” said I, “what might be true of snakes is not true of men and women. Some of the nicest people in the world God made – well, not pretty.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, God made birds pretty, because they sing. He made chocolate eclairs pretty because they taste nice, He made Mamma pretty because she is my Mamma, and He made snakes ugly because they eat mice and insecks, and toads ugly because they hop, and motor trucks ugly because they run over. That’s what God does.”
“It doesn’t always work,” I said, profoundly.
Pondering the question, he went upstairs, and I heard him say to his grandmother very sweetly.
“When is Mrs. Tootum coming to dinner again?”