The family was playing in the large yard around sunset. We all kept an eye out for Eli, my five-year old nephew, because kids are impulsive and quick and Pleasant Drive gets a lot of traffic. Eli wasn't running towards the road, however. He was running towards the one spot on the property we generally discourage him from-a cluster of trees and weeds. Before we could call out to him, he stopped dead in his tracks, right at the tree line. He turned around and rejoined the rest of the family.
I commented to my mother about how much self-control he had for a five year old. "Oh that wasn't self-control," said my mom. "Your sister told him a monkey lives back there so he keeps his distance now." (I can always tell when my mom disapproves of something my sister does. She doesn't use her name, she just says "your sister.") The kids continued on playing and the adults readied a campfire.
Later on, as we relaxed around the glow of the fire, Eli asked, "Will you tell me a scary ghost story?" Now, I've read enough Poe, Lovecraft, and Hawthorne to have a few chilling tales to pull out on occasions like these, but Eli is only five. So I decide that there will be no ghost stories for him. Instead, I remember my sister's fib and weave this yarn:
Once, a long time ago, a big-top circus came to Pleasant Township In fact, it set up right in this very yard One night, after the audience all went home, a terrible thunderstorm started and the whole circus began packing up In all the confusion no one noticed that a baby monkey had snuck out of its cage It was left behind as all the circus people rode their wagons out of town You know, they say that lonely monkey still lives out there in the woods, looking for a friend it can carry up to the treetops to live with him.
I was pretty satisfied with myself, coming up with a scary story that really wasn't scary at all. Well, until I saw Eli peering at me intently, that is. He broke the silence in an astonished voice. "Are you serious?!??!" Just then his mom approached us all around the campfire. She's carried a pup tent under her arm. "Hey, it's such a nice night that I thought it would be fun to sleep out under the trees tonight." Whoops. Bad timing, Uncle Ian.
The next morning I was arranging deck furniture when Eli's mom shuffled back to the house from the tent. She looked like she hadn't slept a wink.
"Sleep good?" I offered cheerily.
"Terrible," she said. "Eli kept waking me up because he said he heard a monkey."
I decided to play it cool and kept arranging chairs. Meekly I offered up, "A monkey? Kids come up with the craziest things."
"He said you told him about the monkey." Dang. Found out.
So over breakfast the whole family agreed in the interest of a good night's sleep that there would be no more monkeying around with fibs or tall tales in the backyard. As we cleaned up, my mother said, "A monkey. Honestly, the things you and your sister say sometimes"
"Aw, come on, mom. After all, you were the one who bought property with a monkey living on it."
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.