Joyce Whitis

(This is the rest of the story continued from last Sunday, March 1.)

Like the song, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget,” I chose to forget the pain the day Elvis left us and for a long time only the family and a few close friends have known how it all ended one summer afternoon. Only the similarity of a recent story in the news made me remember that day and prompted me to tell it. I decided to tell what happened to the little spider monkey I named Elvis after my favorite entertainer. The laughter, mostly the laughter is what I will remember about my life with Elvis, because he, Tom and I had some fun times for over eight years. The resident veterinarian with the zoo in Fort Worth had given me warning about a spider monkey’s change of personality when mature and advised me to have him neutered. I didn’t do it because I thought that in my case things would be different. Elvis loved us so much and we loved him. I never thought that would change.

For the first eight years there was lots of laughter.

I laughed when I remembered the time I decided to make a video of Elvis with a milk mustache and submit it to the television show, Funniest Videos. Tom and Elvis sat a table in the yard with glasses of milk and I filmed away. When we finished I got an ice cream cone for Elvis as a reward and one for Tom as well. Somehow Elvis thought Tom was going to get both cones and in the struggle, one ice cream landed on Tom’s head. Now that would have made a winning video, but I had already turned off the camera.

The first time I had any reason to worry about the pet spider monkey that we had raised from a baby was that he jumped on Tom when he went to feed him and bit my husband severely on the face and left hand. I usually fed Elvis but in this case I had gone to Houston for a few days to be with my brother who was dying of cancer. The Elvis attack was unexpected as Tom and I had raised Elvis together. In fact, it was Tom who suggested we take Elvis to Fossil Rim to see the animals. It was Tom who first made peanut butter and banana sandwiches like the human Elvis enjoyed for our little monkey. Tom built swings and a tree house for Elvis and held him in his lap sometimes as they watched television together. I decided that Elvis missed me and thought Tom was the reason I was gone. That must be why he bit Tom.

In the summertime I moved Elvis from his quarters in the barn to a big chain link enclosure under a large hackberry tree in the backyard. Tom put a top over the pen hung swings from the roof and made a bed from a plastic barrel stuffed with an old quilt.

One afternoon when our great-grandson was at our house, I gave him a bunch of grapes for Elvis. Seth was pushing big purple grapes through the chain link to the monkey as fast as he could pop them in his mouth when suddenly Elvis began screaming, viciously grabbed Seth’s bare foot and tried to pull the four-year old through the fence. I took hold of my great-grandson’s arms and there was a tug of war for a few seconds until I reached down and loosened Elvis’ fingers from Seth’s foot freeing him. Elvis had managed to bite the little boy’s toes enough to bring blood. Seth’s screams of fear seemed to excite the monkey which now jumped up and down on his house, chattering and all but beating his chest in glee at the excitement.

It became dangerous for anyone but me to get within arm’s reach of Elvis. I should say tail’s reach as well because his tail was prehensile and he could actually pinch a blood blister on your leg with that tail. I had to put a padlock on his cage door because he could open any latch I put on. Twice a day, I put his food on a tin platter and slipped with it into the pen. Sometimes I stayed with him while he ate broccoli and cantaloupe but mostly I set the food down and slipped back out.

I remember so well that morning. It was a beautiful warm day in early summer. The hummingbirds that we enjoyed so much were swarming the feeders hung along the porch. Cardinals, field sparrows and diamond dove covered the grain put out for them under the cedars. The yard had responded to daily watering and now green stretched from the front door to the stake fence separating it from the coastal field beyond. I was getting the tools together for a thorough spring cleaning but first I gathered up breakfast for Elvis and walked out to his pen. I opened the lock, walked inside, bent to set down the platter and suddenly he went into a rage. I rushed to get outside and lock the gate but he was much too fast and whizzed around me, screaming and showing his teeth in defiance as he opened the gate and took off across the back yard. I ran to the house and told Tom to lock the doors. In the next few minutes we watched our pet that we had raised, loved and cared for, wreak havoc with the hummingbird feeders the grain feeders, grab a cat by the tail, chase the guineas until they flew into the trees, climb a porch post to the roof of the house and look in the windows at us, chattering and screaming all the time. The thick black hair on his back was raised like bristles on a dog and his lips were curled showing dangerous looking teeth.

While I was wondering what to do, Tom opened the door and went out to try talking Elvis back in his cage. The monkey would have none of that and instead jumped on Tom biting him severely on both hands as he tried to protect his face and scratching and clawing at the same time. I was standing by the back door watching from inside the house when I heard the sound of Seth’s electric three wheeler coming up the lane. In a few minutes the little boy would be in the back yard. I reached for the loaded shotgun we always keep by the backdoor. As Tom broke away from Elvis, blood streaming from his many bites and scratches, I lifted the gun and fired…. once.