GUY RAZ, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Sometimes, all it takes to bring back the world of one's childhood is a tiny object. Storyteller Tony Norris recently came across one such object. He has this tale of the joy and tragedy associated with it.
TONY NORRIS: I don't sleep well. Sometimes in the darkest moments of the night, a pesky ball begins to roll down the Rube Goldberg machine that is my mind. It hovers in the murk till it drops in a cup and I am awake.
Most recently, a tiny wizened monkey carved from a peach seed showed up. Such figures were once commonly whittled by the old men of my childhood.
I crawled from my bed, went to the computer, typed peach pit monkey into Google and pressed enter. A picture leaped up, and I was transported to the summer of 1956 in Central Texas. Uncle Jim Yeary pulled his faded red pickup into the drive and unloaded a big basket of Parker County's finest peaches. There are few pleasures greater than biting into a sun-warmed peach. Mama brought out a dishpan, and Uncle Jim helped her peel peaches for a cobbler.
I watched the sickle-moon blade of his pocketknife flicker through the tender skins. I listened as the sad-faced man gossiped and joked in his gentle voice. Just a few years before, Uncle Jim and Aunt Pearl had driven to Weatherford on a rainy night to see the Christmas lights. Their car stalled on the railroad tracks, and Uncle Jim hadn't been able to restart it before it was struck by a Texas & Pacific freight train. Aunt Pearl was killed. Even as a child, I could hear the sorrow in my uncle's voice.
Uncle Jim peeled the last peach and began to whittle on the blood-red seed. When he was done, a cunning little monkey lay in his palm. Uncle Jim handed it to me. I could scarcely breathe. How could such a wonder come to be? And it was mine. A year later, Uncle Jim pulled into the darkest corner of the drive-in theater in the pickup and ended his life while cowboys and Indians shot it out on the giant screen. I don't know when the monkey escaped from the King Edward cigar box that held my childhood treasures, but one day, I looked, and it was gone.
So recently, I followed a second Google link to an eBay listing for a very old peach seed carving of a monkey. Bidding was at $6 and shipping was 5, but I didn't need to hold it in my hand. The monkey had already taken me home.
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RAZ: Tony Norris grew up in Central Texas. He's now a folk singer and storyteller in Flagstaff, Arizona.