Arts and Entertainment

Gertrude to the rescue: Monkey saves the day - and paves the way - for a local author

'Monkey Tales' by Sally Jo Martin
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Sally Jo Martin

Two women. Two books. One disease. And a whole lot of monkeying around.

Sally Jo Martine’s life has been quite a journey over the past few years. It’s taken her through her mother’s twilight years, breast cancer, authoring two books and, in the end, the monkeys were along for whole ride.

It all began when Martine’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. To help her through the experience, Martine made her a sock monkey.

“She had seen a sock money and loved it, and I thought I had to get her a sock monkey for her birthday,” Martine said.

“I looked around and couldn’t find anything but the old-style sock monkeys. I knew she needed something different, so I made her one.”

Martine made “Gertrude,” a sock monkey crafted mostly in shades of pink. She was unique and Martin’s mother cherished her.

“She fell in love instantly,” Martine said. “She became a little girl and was filled with delight.”

Martine began making more monkeys, many for her mother who would carry them around the Liberty Shores Assisted Living Center in Poulsbo.

“She would go down the hall with her sock monkeys in her walker cart, and she would show all the residents,” Martine said.

Her mother survived breast cancer. But when she did pass away, years later, she had Gertrude in her arms.

“She got to pass with a friend,” Martine said.

But Gertrude’s job wasn’t over. Martine was diagnosed with the same variety of breast cancer as her mother in January 2012.

“I had the sock monkey she had,” Martine said. “She was with me in my recovery room.”

The craft of making sock monkey’s helped Martine through her own battle with cancer.

But it wasn’t just the act of making them. The monkeys soon began to take on lives of their own. She developed back stories for them. They grew personalities.

“These characters really came to life and they seemed to appeal to this child that lives in each of us,” Martine said. “You just can’t be around them and not smile.”

More monkeys came along, but the socky simians weren’t that similar.

“There’s a bunny monkey and some dog monkeys,” Martine recalled. “I made one sock monkey that I thought was a cross-dresser, but it turns out he’s gay.”

And there’s more.

“One of them is named Sven who is a skier and he met Nadine, who wanted to be a dancer,” she said.

The stories don’t end with Martine. Her new book “Monkey Tales” tells of all the sock monkeys she has made and the lives they live.

“It’s whimsical collection of characters,” Martine said.

But there are two sides to Martine’s experience. While the monkey’s told tales of joy, Martine also addressed the pain of dealing with breast cancer with another book, of poetry, “Peeling Back the Heart: Exposing the Soul.”

“’Monkey Tales’ really focuses on the inner child, this being of delight,” she said. “And then juxtaposed with that you have this poetry. And some of it is quite raw. There’s the angle of grief and finding center again and again.”

“It’s balanced by ‘Monkey Tales,’” she said, “which makes me want to hang out and still move forward and get through my days.”

Martine is already moving forward and writing another book of monkey tales.

The next installment of stories will pull in the topic of breast cancer and will be released next summer, staring a monkey creation named Faith.

“Faith is the breast cancer monkey that I made that has my story,” Martine said.

She said she gave Faith to her surgeon.

Martine works for Bainbridge Performing Arts, handling promotions for its productions. She said that the sense of community support is one of the best things that came from her experience. She is grateful to BPA and for the support she received from the community there.

“The second breast cancer monkey went to my boss at BPA because BPA was phenomenally supportive during my illness,” Martine said.

“I think we get through our days because of the community of support we gather around ourselves and we have the most extraordinary vibrant community here,” she said. “It’s because of the support I received along the journey with my mother and breast cancer that this creativity came about. I’m not certain that it would have otherwise.”

“Monkey Tales” and “Peeling Back the Heart: Exposing the Soul” are both available locally at Eagle Harbor Book Co. and Liberty Bay Books as well as Martine’s website, www.beach

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