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A Peach, A Monkey, A Memory: One Texas Summer

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Tony Norris is a singer and storyteller.

I don't sleep well.

Sometimes in the darkest moments of the night, a pesky ball begins to roll down the Rube Goldberg machine that is my mind. It clicks through gates and valves and hovers in the murk till it drops in a cup and I am awake and beyond all hope of sleep.

Most recently a tiny wizened monkey carved from a peach seed showed up, its flowing tail curving up in front and into its mouth. Such figures were once commonly whittled by the old men of my childhood.

I crawled from my bed, went to the computer, typed "peach pit monkey" into Google and pressed enter. A picture leaped up, and I was transported to the summer of 1956 in Central Texas: Uncle Jim Yeary pulled his faded red pickup into the drive and unloaded a big basket of Parker County's finest peaches. We kids gathered around as Uncle Jim passed out the fruit. The fragrance made me weak in the knees. There are few pleasures greater than biting into a sun-warmed, dead-ripe peach.

Mama brought out a dishpan and Uncle Jim helped her peel peaches for a cobbler. I watched the sickle-moon blade of his pocket knife flicker through the tender skins. I listened as the sad-faced man gossiped and joked in his gentle voice.

Just a few years before Uncle Jim and Aunt Pearl had driven to Weatherford on a rainy night to see the Christmas lights. Their car stalled on the railroad tracks and Uncle Jim hadn't been able to restart it before it was struck by a Texas & Pacific freight train. Aunt Pearl was killed. Even as a child I could hear the sorrow in my uncle's voice.

Uncle Jim peeled the last peach and began to whittle on the blood-red seed; a tiny figure began to emerge. When he was done, a cunning little monkey lay in his palm. The long tail curved forward, up along its belly and was firmly grasped in both paws. Uncle Jim handed it to me. I could scarcely breathe. How could such a wonder come to be? And it was mine.

A year later Uncle Jim pulled into the darkest corner of the drive-in theater in the pickup and ended his life — while cowboys and Indians shot it out on the giant screen.

I don't know when the monkey escaped from the King Edward cigar box that held my childhood treasures, but one day I looked and it was gone.

So, recently, I followed a second Google link to an eBay listing for a "very old peach seed carving of a monkey biting its tail." There was my little peach pit friend. Bidding was at $6 and shipping was $5.

But I didn't need to hold it in my hand. The monkey had already taken me home.

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