I love my mother’s story of Judy the spider monkey. It’s a story that radiates with joy and idiosyncrasy. So much so that when I tell it—with flamboyant dexterity, as if it were my own—people insist I’m pulling their leg. My mother was in elementary school and my grandparents—Ida Jean and B.L. Littleton—had had four of the six children they would have: Tawana Rue (my mother), Bryan Lavoy, Tammy Lou, and Tonja Sue. They were living in a new subdivision that her father and his partner, Floyd Stone, had developed. The family would live in a finished home until its sale, and then move into a newly completed home until it sold (insert Bluth family reference, AD-philes).
While the Littleton’s were occupying the second finished home in the Wake Village subdivision, her father attended a cattle auction on a Saturday in Linden, Texas. In between the sale of prize bulls and heifers, a spider monkey was brought on stage for auction. Not a soul bid. Twenty-year-old bricklayer, Wayne Honeycomb, who worked with B.L., had accompanied him to the auction. My mother interrupts her story to say this about Wayne:
“He was a greasy perp who seriously belonged in jail. That’s another unfortunate story you don’t want to know (she will, however, most definitely share). I thought he was really gross. You could always see his crack above his ‘fruit of the loom’ when he bent over to lay bricks! I hated him.”
Wayne happened to wave at an acquaintance across the auction tent and the auctioneer entered the salutation as Wayne’s bid. The young man, whom my mother so vehemently despised, had little use for a pet monkey. So it was B.L. who ponied up the cash, and brought home a new pet for his four excited children.
|Not my mother's monkey, but super cute, right?|
With a little wooden house warmed by a heated bulb, a long chain attached to a collar around her neck, and a chain-link fence, Judy had free rein of the backyard. Judy’s hands and feet resembled that of humans’ and the four children would watch her swing from branch-to-branch and tree-to-tree.
The Littleton’s had a cocker spaniel named Mitzi. Judy would ride her around the yard like a horse. My mother gave Judy a small plastic hand-mirror and Judy passed hours and hours staring at her reflection. She would climb onto the heads of my mother and her siblings and pick through their hair; the children sat still as statues. “We were afraid that she might bite us if we made her get off,” my mother explains of the beloved pet that elicited equal amounts adoration and fear.
When the house serving as the Littleton’s residence sold, they moved across the street to the next one. At this home, my grandmother put up a clothesline. Judy would walk it like a tightrope, nimbly swinging from trapeze-branches, landing perfectly on her hand-shaped feet, dancing across the clothesline. The children found great amusement in Judy’s new routine, but my grandmother’s patience began to wear thin after Judy learned to remove the clothespins from the line, leaving a trail of crumpled, drying clothes in the grass below as an audience.
The children returned home from school one afternoon to find that Judy had pried her last clothespin from the line; their exasperated mother had called the Texarkana Zoo to retrieve the pet. They missed her, but she seemed happy in her new home, which they visited frequently for the next several years.