The Salem News
---- — Whether you love, loathe, or are indifferent to sock monkeys, I want to tell you a story about how I think my family may be responsible for its present ubiquitousness.
Once upon a time, say 50 years ago, most people had never seen a sock monkey: in a toy store, on a calendar, in a child’s arms. When my son was born, I imagined him someday, when he was a toddler, carrying around a cute stuffed animal or maybe a small, soft blanket. I never dreamed he’d be going off to college in 18 years with a baboon in his knapsack.
Let me start at the beginning. After he’d accidentally thrown my teddy bear (that I was sharing) out the car window onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my Aunt Katy gave Lance a primate made of gray socks with red heels, that, when someone followed a pattern, conveniently fit where the animal’s mouth and butt were. I think Aunt Katy got the socks and pattern from the Sears catalog. She stuffed the toy with remnants of old nylon stockings.
Because she was my godmother and made it herself, I accepted it gracefully, without saying that it was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. For some reason, despite the red butt, no one but me seemed to think it was a baboon, so it became, in our house, simply “monkey” — until, after listening to my recording of “Man of La Mancha,” Lance named it monkey hoe-tee (as in Don Quixote; his stuffed donkey was donkey hoe-tee). This is what happens in a child’s literal mind when he hears a record instead of seeing a video.
Lance eventually accumulated many stuffed toys, but monkey hoe-tee was the love of his life and went everywhere with us: in the car, on the train, in airplanes, from Navy bases in California and Greece, finally here to Massachusetts.
When Lance was 3, we lived in Long Beach; and once, after we’d visited a nearby shopping mall, we discovered at bedtime that the monkey had been left somewhere. Thinking that our son might have put him down to play with something more attractive, our first call was to the large, famous toy store.
Yes, the store had him and would keep him for us. The next day when we went to pick him up, he was nowhere to be seen; the manager told us that they’d had him sitting near the counter, but so many children clamored for him that they had to move him to the office until we showed up.
Keep in mind: as a constant companion, he was dirty and ragged. Children wanted him anyhow, though their parents resisted as I would have, given a choice. I have long assumed that this store then went looking for a company that could reproduce him en masse, because eventually we started to see a product called Sock Monkey in stores and catalogs.
Even so, probably because many parents said no to the clamoring children and bought teddy bears instead, sock monkey didn’t catch on in a big way until fairly recently. (I’d guess he started selling when baby boomers had kids to whom they rarely said no.)
Meanwhile, my own boomer son carted his still-rare piece of wildlife off to college with him, where he (the monkey) was a chick magnet and attracted girls who patched the holes through which the nylon stockings were slipping.
After Lance graduated and moved out West, I lost track of monkey hoe-tee; Lance tells me he stayed at U-Mass Amherst for graduate school. Then, a few years ago, my granddaughter became attached to Socko, a modern sock monkey she received as a gift from Santa (certainly not from me).
And then, somehow, I got caught up in the sock monkey craze. Was I nostalgic for my son’s childhood (and teenhood and collegehood)? Or, perhaps, did I want my grandchildren to live in a world partly populated by soft toys, not just electronics? Maybe, ubiquitous-wise, it’s just an easy choice of Christmas gift.
First, I bought my son and his wife a sock monkey flannel sheet set for their waterbed. Then, to draw my grandson into the game, I bought a flying sock monkey that could be launched like a rubber-band slingshot — Aidan said it traveled a full block. Last year, I bought a 4-foot sock monkey named Max, which I’d seat behind me when we video-Skyped, then denied was there as my family insisted they could see him. Later, Chip helped me stuff Max in a box to be shipped for Christmas.
This year, I’ve bought Lance and Mary matching sock monkey pajamas, while Maya gets a sock monkey pop star girlfriend for Socko.
Realizing that next year the twins will be teenagers and this could be a last “childhood” Christmas, I also bought a monkey for Aidan, though it’s a different kind that will sit on his shoulder and do guy things like burp. I heard that it’s all the rage with preteens in Europe. And this is the end of the sock monkey story.
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.