The Monkey Lady Project
I received a call from a kind woman. Sadelle asked if I was still collecting stuffed animals. Her mother Sandy had a beloved collection of 300 monkeys. For over a year, Sandy’s husband waged a battle with cancer that he sadly lost. For over 28 years, Steve expressed his love for his wife with the gift of monkeys, chimps, apes and gorillas. They were wonderful gifts from his heart – for his wife whom he affectionately called his “pri-mate.”
The monkeys covered her couch and adorned her walls; he often surprised her for no special occasion other than a little thank you for the good times they shared as a married couple.
So this call was intriguing. Sadelle and her brother Jimmy had so many loose ends to take care of as they prepared to move their mother to Canton, Georgia. Within a couple of weeks, they had to empty Sandy’s Philadelphia home of a life-time of possessions, and attack the humdrum tasks of cleaning, sorting, and discarding from the many rooms of the house. And also, they had to transition their mother to a new apartment quite a distance away.
And what could they possibly do with the 300 treasured monkeys? All in perfect, brand new, hardly touched condition.
Parting is never easy when you care about something – and Sandy cared deeply about all of her affectionate monkeys. She regaled us with her love story with an exciting beginning, middle and end with Steve.
I was not planning on taking any more donations. For three years, my recreation room was the storage area for donations of 10,000 stuffed animals. The menagerie of stuffed animals covered my couches, the pool table and were on top and under the ping pong table. Not all at once, mind you. As each new herd of cuddly, huggable bulls, lions, tigers, chickens, pigs, frogs, kittens, bulldogs, pigeons, snakes and bears arrived, I delivered them to lonely souls; people stuck in hospital beds and folks who needed to know that somebody cared – to many people who still used the old expression, “You’re full of soup.”
They found welcoming arms at nursing homes, retirement facilities, AIDS hospices, veterans’ medical centers, and recovery houses – the stray animals were a vehicle for spreading sunshine. They filled a need for comfort for people who no longer had family and friends that visited them.
Kids doing community service for Mitzvah and Confirmation projects collected them. Hundreds of people donated furry critters after reading my Craig’s List requests. Nine-year-old Jessica asked her half-dozen birthday party guests to bring a stuffed animal, in lieu of gifts, so she could donate 6 animals to the Stories for Seniors Project.
The people who felt homesick for their old lives locked their arms tightly around the animals. The homesickness melted at least for a few minutes when they hugged a warm-hearted pet. It is a lovely sight to see residents looking into small faces and sparkling eyes of a stuffed animal.
Sadelle called lots of community groups and thrift stores but had no luck finding a new home for the grand primate family. A couple of the apes were life-size – bigger than Sandi.
“It is so hard to give them up. I know that they are going for a good cause. And I can’t take them with me to Atlanta. I can only take about eight with me,” said Sandi in a delicate whisper. She kept one that she favored. Justin was a special monkey that was enroute to Georgia.
But I wondered about Max who sat leaning back proudly, on a favorite chair in her living room. He was the very first one- – the head of the large primate clan.
Steve gave her the first primate for her birthday – a life-size chimpanzee that she named Max – short for Maximum and the second ape was named Minnie – short for Minimum since she was smaller. And she named all 300 of them. They were all tagged with names. There’s Justin, Lolly Pop, Biscuit, Lindy, Bonkers, Bascha and others with unique nicknames.
Sandi is heartbroken. Her beloved husband is no longer with her. She hopes that the monkeys being given to others will keep Steve’s goodness and memory alive. Steve and Sandi’s spirit will be in the hearts of the strangers that they touch – the symbol of their love is within the furry critters and will carry joy to people wherever they go.
When Sandi sent greeting cards to her adult children and grandchild, she signed them- With love from Mom and…..attached was a neatly typed sheet of paper with all of the Grand-Kids or Grand-Monkeys listed by name….all three hundred of them.
As my mother offered comfort to Sandy, we carried bags and bags and bags of monkeys to my car. I wasn’t sure about asking for a photo but thought that she might like that. We had to make two trips, each car filled to the top with Sandy’s babies.
We placed Big Max next to Sandy. Her small arms tried to circle his huge body. She moved closer and closer to him. She lowered her arms and placed her hands on Max’s face.
It was the moment of farewell to the monkeys who gave her comfort when she was feeling lonely during Steve’s illness – to the apes that slept by her bedroom window and sat on her kitchen chairs. For years, Max sat in his lounge chair inches from Sandy.
Her eyes filled with tears, as she looked directly into his eyes. She quietly touched his face, and said, “Bye, Max. I am going to miss you.”
It was as genuine as saying goodbye to a beloved child, a loving husband or giving up a foster child. Max was a part of her, part of her relationship with her husband and it was a true parting of the ways.
Today, I put Max in the passenger seat of my van. I drove to New Jersey and all over Bucks County doing errands. Max sat there in all of his glory, on active duty. Max made people smile. A few mothers and kids petted him. He made a group of seniors at a nursing home point and laugh. A dad with kids in tow had fun talking to Max at a red light.
I have a feeling Max is going to be awfully busy as an ambassador of love and laughter. He looks like a hugger – ready to richly bless the new people that meet him.
And what will I do with Max and the other 299 colorful characters – the primates? (The are a wonderful and close-knit primate family!) Only time will tell but I was struck by an idea.
I would like to go on the road with all of the exotic critters. I would like to raise awareness of what everyday people can do to lift the spirits of people who do not have families to visit them.
And I would like to bring Sandi’s collection of treasured monkeys to nursing homes that I can visit between Philadelphia and Atlanta.
I would like to drive to Atlanta, Georgia. I think it is time to bring Max down there to live with her again. Because, I can see it in Max’s eyes. It’s been a few weeks since he saw Sandy. He misses his Mom.
Max and Sandi – they have a long history together. Geography cannot separate them. Steve wouldn’t want it that way.
I think that Max and his family have a new angelic role to play – they will have new adoptive grandparents to talk to, listen to, help and care for….just like Sandy did for Steve and her great monkey collection!
This is a flyer for the program that I will offer to senior living communities as I travel from Philadelphia to Atlanta. (With a special off the beaten track stop in NYC.)
The two ladies pictured with the hats are Sandy’s daughter Sadelle and a friend Anne.
The You Tube video of the man is not mine. It is some kind of unsolicted advertisement that appeared on my site and I do not know how to remove it. It has nothing to do with me or my projects.