When I think about my fondest childhood memories, I think of my sock monkey "Grape E. Good." She reminds me of those magical moments and adventures that helped shape who I am today.
My sister Kay and I grew up in Northern California in the 1960s, on the Salmon River in a bend in the road called Cecilville. We enjoyed a simple childhood in this rural community where most homes had no electricity or running water. The population averaged 35 and isn't much larger today. The town was so small that the school district needed a teacher with two or more children because the law required at least seven to keep school open. My sister and I were considered real assets to the survival of the school when my mother was hired as the sole teacher. Unfortunately, the little white one-room school closed in the late '60s.
Of the scattered cabins in the region, only eight had phones that all belonged to the forest service. They were the old wooden crank type that would ring simultaneously in each home. To distinguish whom the call was for, there were eight different combinations of short and long rings. This was the original party line and most people possessing a phone listened to all conversations.
Our new friends arrived in the spring of my 11th year. One afternoon, Kay and I returned to the two-room cabin we called home to find our mother making magic. With the humming of the treadle sewing machine and the air thick with kapok fluff dust, I knew something exciting was brewing.
With my chin in my hands, I sat mesmerized, watching my mother create the first monkey from a pair of socks. Kay, being the older sibling, claimed this chimp naming it "Chumpertina Lynn." As I helped polish off the final stitches of the tail and then the button eyes, I christened the second one "Grape Elizabeth Good." I then scrambled through an old box and found a little purple dress for her.
We not only dressed these monkeys, but also gave them voice. Grape and Chump became major attractions for friends and family. Chimp chatter included general conversation, storytelling, music and dance.
More than just toys, they represented the impish chimp-like quality in all of us. Without TV or radio, our creative fantasies were vital for our entertainment. These sock critters ignited that inspirational spark that allows imagination to create the impossible. From that rural village, I was able to dream and stretch my vision beyond the river borders to a grander world that called to me. To this day, I am still living out those adventures.
Over the past four and a half decades, I have given life to more than 150 sock monkeys, dispatching them throughout the world to create their magic. They live in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and beyond. They are a part of my mother and grandmother that I have given to current and future generations.
With all the challenges we are facing today, I find it helpful to have a few sock monkeys on my desk. They help me reach back into the simple life my grandparents pioneered during the great depression. They remind me to dream, to believe that all things are possible and not to take my daily tribulations so seriously.
Across America, many old "chimps" loiter about, inhabiting attics or storage boxes that represent lost hopes and dreams. If you encounter them, please get them out, dust them off and allow them to disperse their timeless magic.