Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monkeys R Us

Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”
-Charles Darwin

Where most families practice serial pet ownership with dogs, cats and the occasional hamster, my mother’s family had monkeys. It sounds exotic now, but it was fairly common in Florida where my grandmother grew up. Her sister took in a monkey said to have been a stowaway found on the banana boats docking in Sarasota. My grandmother most likely thought a poodle paled in comparison and brought back her own monkey with her to North Mississippi where she had since set up house. This was the 1950’s and 60’s when worrying about the consequences of trafficking a wild tropical animal to Tupelo was as ludicrous as worrying about your daily pack of Virginia Slims and happy hour Martini during pregnancy.

By the time I was born they were on monkey number three, and most of the more infamous monkey incidents had already taken place. But I do have a faint memory of my grandmother’s back yard; a large expanse of green that always seemed impossible to traverse. My mother says that when I was a toddler, learning to walk, the monkey would follow me and wait until I struggled victoriously to a vertical position then grab the back of my diaper and jerk me down to the ground. I thanked her for this information and said my future therapist would appreciate it also.

The family cat faired much worse. He became the object of unrequited monkey love which no restraining order could have put asunder. The cat had quickly learned that the normal evasive feline moves used in dog pursuits were not effective against a primate with a prehensile tail. If the cat went into a full throttle run the monkey caught up with it in three bounds, if the cat climbed a tree the monkey was already swinging to the top branch waiting to greet him. So the cat did what any self-respecting descendent of the majestic Tiger would do, it slowly tried to slink away without the monkey seeing him. The monkey would blithely let the cat tiptoe a few steps to freedom, then grab the end of the cat’s tail like a rope and reel him in to a crusher bear hug. There the defeated cat would hang limp until it was released for the game to start over all over again. It was all very Pepe le Peu.

When the monkey got bored with the cat there was always human entertainment to be had. One holiday he fished my grandfather’s dentures out of the glass on his bedside and ran up a tree where the family gathered to coax the monkey down so my grandfather could eat his Thanksgiving dinner. When an old friend looked up my grandparents for a visit, the monkey got two eggs from the refrigerator ran up the back of his chair and cracked them on his head. The man screamed so loud that the otherwise potty trained monkey lost all bowel function on the spot. We now own dogs.

Copyright Mimi Holland Lilly 2007

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