Posted by: jility | April 3, 2012

Monkey Man

Moving to Washington State from Southern California was a real culture shock for all of us. The year was 1979 and I had moved to California from New England five years earlier. I loved California. I loved the scenery, the climate, the great services, the beaches and even the traffic. It all got my adrenalin pumping.

I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts and, in the early 1970s, lived about four years in New Hampshire raising dogs and horses. I had gone to California in the early ‘70s to show dogs and fell in love with the place. When it became obvious that I needed a change of scenery, California was the only logical place for me to go.

So, in the summer of 1974, I sold my farm, packed a light suitcase, gathered my then 3 year old son, and off we went in search of adventure, sunshine and a happier life. We found all that and more!

Here I am with my son, Trent at my New Hampshire farm. It was a LONG LONG time ago!

My plan was to avoid all long term relationships, but later that year, a friend introduced me to an electronic engineer geek. I only agreed to go out with him to shut her up. Thirty-seven years later, I look back and thank my lucky stars I agreed to go on a blind date with that guy. Needless to say, we hit it off. Even his geeky cardigan sweater and polyester pants didn’t turn me off.

Blah Blah Blah, we fell in love and became inseparable.

We bought a nice little place on an acre and a half in Simi Valley (things were very cheap then!). I think we paid about $75,000 for this wonderful 2,500 sq foot home with a pool and outbuildings. What a steal! I wish we had that now! We turned down the acre next door because they were asking $15,000 for it and we, in our infinite wisdom, thought that was much too expensive! Instead, we bought some loser horses that I planned to train and resell for a profit LOLOLOLOLOL. We also invested in Thoroughbred race horses. They say you can make a small fortune in horses! The only kicker is, you must start with a large fortune in order to do so.

Eventually, we had 18 horses on an acre and a half and rented that overpriced acre next door for pasture. Sir Cussalot was still working as an engineer designing satellite trackers and other aerospace wonders, while I was busy getting my ass kicked (literally) by our expensive nags. I had lots of experience with horses, breaking, training, jumping, and such, but I was still very naive in my mid 20s. OK, stupid.

We talked about moving to a larger place but prices had risen in California by the late ‘70s and we just couldn’t afford the amount of land we needed to pursue our dream of breeding big winners on the track.

Sir C’s grandmothers still lived in Washington where he was born, and he convinced me Washington was the place to go. His grandmothers sent us newspapers and we searched those papers for real estate we could afford. Sir C would have to quit his lucrative job but, as I convinced him, it would be fine because we would make plenty of dough selling foals from those wicked fast horses we had purchased.

Anyway, we found a great little place in Lewis County, Washington. The town was Silver Creek, right next to Salkum, the other side of Ethel and on the way to Harmony and Mossyrock. You get the picture. Our little slice of heaven was very isolated. There was only one stop light in the entire county! There was a little market about a mile down the road, right across from the Brown Shack Tavern. Population about 180 (the town, not the tavern – although some nights there were a lot of cars parked along the street outside that popular dilapidated pub).

The place we bought had an old mill row house, about 900 square feet. It had been moved to its current location from “downtown” Salkum in the 1940s using only logs under it as rollers. The 55 acre farm was surrounded by hand spit cedar posts the original owner, still living on a five acre corner of the farm at that time, had cut and split himself. He had also hand dug every single hole (and there were thousands of posts!) and strung every single strand of wire. He was a full time logger, so all this was done in his spare time!

The house had only recently been given indoor plumbing and electricity. The only heat came from a wood burning stove and there was no outlet for a clothes dryer, so I had to dry everything on a rack over the wood stove, or outside. Sometimes the weather made that very difficult, especially when it was too warm for a fire, yet too rainy for outside drying. I did all the dishes by hand of course and, with three kids still living at home, laundry sometimes piled pretty dang high.

I will never forget the day we moved there. It was June 20, 1979. We were about 2 miles from the place. I looked around and realized I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. It was too late to turn back. The new adventure was just beginning.

So what does the title, “Monkey Man” have to do with the price of beans? I am about to tell you.

The first morning I woke in our new home. I remember how damp it was. SW Washington is still very wet in June. Summer doesn’t start until the third week in July. Sadly, it ends the fourth week in July. Anyhoo, I dragged my cold, damp ass out of bed and felt the moisture in my clothes as I pulled them over my freezing body. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, or Simi Valley.

Once dressed, we walked outside to take in the peacefulness of isolated living. With birds chirping, a light breeze whispering through the many trees, and horses naying for breakfast, it seemed, for that moment, like paradise.  Then we heard it! Clamoring, clanging, backfiring and a very loud muffler from a mile way. As it grew closer, we realized the bed of the old truck was filled with barking, screaming dogs. All hanging over the sides of the truck yelling obscenities at all they passed. The closer they got, the louder they got. Our dogs went wild at the challenges they were spouting from their chariot.

As the truck drove past us, we could see not only more dogs in the cab, but a monkey screaming at the window as well! WTF? We stood there, speechless as the old truck sputtered past us and on up the hill. We looked at each other, jaws dropped and eyes wide, in total disbelief.

Monkey Man, as he was called for obvious reasons, just liked to travel up and down the  rural roads of Eastern Lewis County, so his beloved critters would have entertainment. At the time we found it all quite impossibly ludicrous. Who, in their right mind, takes that many dogs, and a monkey, for a ride, just to give them the opportunity to bark and have a blast?

After a while, Monkey Man and his melodic passengers became a normal part of our Salkum life. Everyone laughed at him and his noisy friends but, secretly, I admired him on some level. The whole thing just looked like a lot of fun to me. Remember, this was in the 1970s, so the fact that he let his dogs ride in the back of a pickup truck was no big deal. We didn’t even wear seatbelts back then.

As time went on, we wrote our own little Monkey Man song. As we heard the old truck rounding the corner a half mile or so away, the performance would begin. It started with the percussion of the trucks’s clickity clack, clickity clack, followed by the periodic backfiring. As the group approached, the background singers in the bed of the old jalopy,  barked out their harmonies. That was our cue to begin the melody. It was a singsong chant of “MOOOOONKY maaaaaan” over and over in a very high pitched falsetto, while our dogs cheered loudly for the brilliant performance with a screaming  standing ovation.

The saga of Monkey Man has been passed down from generation to generation of our canines. The story is well kept because, at any time, we can whisper his name in our sing song way and all our current dogs go bizerk! Even though they have neither seen nor heard the now long gone, real Monkey Man group, they know the legend well.

One day, while driving my son, then about 12 years old, home from one of his many different sports practices, it happened. I had brought a few of our dogs with me for company. I think we only had four or five dogs back then. We stopped at the local market to pick up something for dinner. As we pulled into the parking lot, my son hit the floor in front of his seat at warp speed.

“What are you doing?” I asked incredulously.

“MONKEY MAN MOM!!! WE LOOK LIKE MONKEY MAN!!!” he replied in a terrified voice. “I don’t want any of my friends to see me in this Monkey Man car!!!!”

Then it hit me! I hadn’t even noticed the harmonious barking coming from the backseat. As I looked back, I saw it. My Dane had his humongous head out the cracked window on one side. The other two dogs were screaming out the other window and my son was curled up on the floor in the fetal position, petrified one of his friends might know he was in the car with this traveling circus of poorly behaved dogs. Much to my son’s dismay, I burst out laughing. I couldn’t stop. I laughed so hard I cried. Eventually, I think I even got a smile out of him.

If you have ever seen us arrive at a trial, training center or anyplace else for that matter, you will see that nothing much has changed in the past thirty plus years. No matter where we go, we pay homage to Monkey Man. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery. The only thing missing is the monkey and Sir C might argue with that ;).

Things haven’t changed much in Salkum either since we arrived in 1979. There are, however, lots of stop lights in the county now, but the nearest one to us is about 8 or 10 miles away. They did put in a Walmart about 30 miles down the road a few years back! That caused a HUGE buzz. Home Depot followed soon after. What’s next, a vegetarian restaurant? Well, doubtful, they still think being vegetarian means eating grass fed beef.

About ten years ago, a medium sized tornado went through the east end of the county. It was a very rare event for sure! It took the path of least resistance and traveled right down the middle of Highway 12 from Mary’s Corner to Salkum. After it was all over, Sir C and I took a ride to assess the damage. Not much else to do for entertainment in Salkum. As we drove down the road taking in the devastation, we would yell things like, “HOLY SHIT! LOOK AT THAT!” or “WOW!” or “BUMMER” and so on. Old barns that had stood for a hundred years crumbled like match sticks and, to this day, remain where they fell as a monument to the tornado of 2000. As we approached one old farm, I exclaimed, “WHAT A MESS IT MADE OF THAT PLACE!” Then, in a split second as it hit us both, we said, almost in unison, “Oh wait, that place always looked like that.” and laughed.

A friend who recently drove with me to our farm in Salkum remarked, “Helen lives in Deliveranceville!” I started to protest, then looked around and realized she was right. I shrugged.

So what ever happened to those destined to be famous racehorses?

Long story short, I could outrun the nags and most of you have seen me run. The only fast horse we bred set a new track record, then broke his leg in his next race. I think the Universe was trying to tell us something. We got out of the horse “business” and went in a different direction. Things worked out.

Our Deliveranceville Farm

Helen Grinnell King


  1. Shit Helen. That is a wonderful story. Loved it.

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