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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.