Sunday, July 9, 2017


Abner, the Wild Monkey of the Smokies
    I don’t really remember the origin of this story. I have told it several times over the years, but it always changes when I start writing it.....takes an abrupt turn into a side-road and suddenly, I am lost in Little Canada or maybe Cades Cove and I am almost out of gas. Scary, but then up ahead, there are bright lights and it looks like another country...My God, it is the Cherokee Indian Fair.........
I vaguely remember a German story some fifty years about a monkey that unintentionally killed himself with his owner’s straight razor and then he is resurrected, wrapped in a burlap sack and it is a cold October night full of bells, whistles and laughter, strange smells: cotton candy and charred meat. The monkey has diarrhea and shivers in his foul sack in a dark cage and an old man named Carl is prodding him with a stick.
“Still alive,” says the old man.
“Yeah, well, so?” says the man with a bowler hat.
“Give you $10.” The bowler hat snorts, then says, “Okay. But to be honest, I don’t think he is going to live another day. I’m just sayin’.”
The old man lifts the monkey from the sack and stares at the little wizened face. “I am goin’ to call him Abner.”
“You want a clean sack?”
“No, I’ll just drop him in here.” The monkey settles inside the old man’s bib overalls that smell of tobacco and beef jerky. “Suit yourself,” says the bowler hat and snatches the bill from the old man’s fingers with practiced ease.
So Abner came to live with the old man in an old farmhouse in Big Cove on the Cherokee Reservation. Carl fed him cornbread and buttermilk and souse meat and the monkey thrived. Before long, he was swinging in the rafters and peering through the windows at a strange world. chickens and hounds. A cow and a mule.
Although Abner came when he was called, he was “a free agent.” That meant that he did what he wanted. When he ventured outside and explored the barn, he frightened the chickens. Abner got a perverse pleasure out of reducing the chicken house to pandemonium when he swung through the rafters, leaving a storm of feathers and dust. In time, he learned to ride the hound and spent exciting nights riding the poor creature through the moonlit forest. He left in his wake a kind of tidal wave of cackles, screams, hoots, trills, as the creatures of the woods took note of his passage.
Abner still came when he was called. But his absence from Carl’s kitchen became longer. A few days and then an entire week. Carl’s neighbors kept him informed about the disturbances....tales of Abner pursuing foxes on the backs of blue tick hounds. They said he made the dogs run faster by biting their ears, his legs wrapped around them like a Saturday cowboy. People complained when Abner took to plucking chickens, leaving great clouds of feathers wafting through the woods. Dogs owners threatened to shoot him.
A kind of legend developed about Abner, the Mad Monkey of the Smokies. Carl was a popular storyteller and on winter nights, he would entertain the neighbors with stories of Abner’s adventures. On one of his treks into town, Abner had raided a craft shop and come away with a rebel cap that became a permanent item and many tourists came out of the Smokies telling incoherent stories about a monkey with a rebel cap who attacked campgrounds at night, vanishing into the darkness with gaudy clothes, candy and food.
Ah, but when the heavy snows came and the campgrounds closed, Abner came home. Carl said that it was a kind of hibernation, he guessed. Deprived of excitement, Abner became morose and depressed, spending hours staring out of the window at the snow. Then, there came a year when he did not return. For several years, there were still stories of a monkey, riding the wind-buffeted hemlocks, staring down at a startled traveler.
Now, lets change gears and let me say that I have always identified with Abner, the Wild Monkey of the Smokies. Hell, I am Abner. From the time he was plucked from that dark cage until he vanished “into the dark wood,” I felt an empathy with that solitary creature. He lived in a world without companionship (There weren’t any other monkeys out there!) and although he made efforts to befriend and live with other creatures (dogs, humans and chickens), he was (I am) a solitary being. Yeah, I have tried too, but I have so little in common with others, it is a hopeless pursuit. I guess it is the brooding and melancholy that puts them off. The few “friends” that I had have vanished....gone off to pursue more pleasant relationships. I mean, what can you expect if you have nothing to offer them but brooding. Yes, I’m only fit company for Abner and I think I would enjoy that: Abner and I high in a hemlock, both of us with rebel caps riding the wind.
Some have abandoned me so they could devote more time to acquiring fame of some sort; a few have gone in search of God..a search that takes all of their time and energy. Adieu, travelers and pilgrims. Abner and I bid you farewell. You all go on ahead, now. We will catch up.
I have been thinking that I could perhaps teach Abner to read. It would be quite a challenge .... but then, we have nothing but time. Certainly, there are wonderful possibilities. What would Abner think of Cormac McCarthy? I think he would love A. E. Housman. How about the Rubiayat? Hey, then there is Yeats, a poet after a wild monkey’s heart.! For like Abner, I was born into a world where both reading and friendship are becoming a kind of lost art. Perhaps Abner and I could start a secret sect that.....READ stuff. Rediscover poetry.....Write a play. I heard once that Abner loved Elvis. Okay, maybe I can lure him out. Maybe if I go to Deep Creek tonight and sing “Fools Rush In,” I might tease him out. I do a pretty good Elvis when there is no one around to judge.....maybe, if I sing long enough, he will hear. “Lonely rivers flow, to the sea, to the sea, to the open arms of the sea.......” Come out, Abner! Comes to Rhodes Cove and sit with me in the fog and listen to the rain crows on Painter Knob. I think their sad coo will sooth your mad heart! We still got a little while before the street lights and the pavement run us off to some dark holler..... to Black Rock or Linville Gorge. “I’ll be coming home, wait for me.”

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