Peter Tork: My Grandson, a Monkee

Catherine McGuire Straus

The true, in-depth life story of Peter that only Peter’s beloved “Grams” is equipped to tell!

Before I begin my story, I shall tell you briefly about myself. My daughter, Ginny Thorkelson, is Peter Tork’s mother—which makes me, oddly enough, a Monkee’s grandmother! I live in a residential apartment building in New York City and I enjoy a very active life. I’m wild about Peter (but then, I am probably prejudiced), crazy over the Monkees and adore teenagers and all young people. I think the above qualifications are just about enough to make me the right person to write this true, in-depth life story of Peter Tork. Here we go!

If Peter Halsten Thorkelson had waited the night he was born—in Doctor’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 1942—until the witching hour of midnight, he would have been a “Valentine baby”. But, alas and alack, an hour too soon (which is about par for Peter, who is the original “go-go boy” of all time), he was born—a wailing, blue-eyed, blue-toed specimen of the human race. That’s right—blue-toed. It took two days for his circulation to get going properly. And don’t think we all didn’t worry a bit about that. But he turned out all pink and lovely—didn’t he?

My daughter Ginny was an only child. Her father was my late husband, Albert Joseph Straus. So, naturally, she and Peter’s dad, Jack, were overjoyed at the birth of their first son. Jack and I were the very first people to lay eyes on Peter (except for the doctor, of course).

Jack was an economist with the Agricultural Department at the time, and the family lived in a large home on 16th Street N.W. Peter slept in a crib on a glass-enclosed, sun-drenched porch. He slept with his face down, buried into his pillow. The result of that phenomenon was neighbors constantly calling on a house phone or stopping by to tell us that our baby was suffocating. After months of observation, they found him still alive and constantly kicking, and the calls ceased.

Peter Tork
Info Peter—all pink and lovely.

When Peter was over a year old, the family moved to Detroit. I visited them quite often and have many fond memories of Peter’s early childhood, some of which stand out in particular.

Even as a baby, Peter was the most friendly of children. Whomever he met, he dragged home (sometimes literally!) He wanted to introduce his friends to the family.

Shortly before one Christmas (Peter was about three), we were all in the Post Office, where Ginny was buying stamps. All of a sudden, Peter stood up, pointed at me and shouted at the top of his voice, “There is my ‘Grams’! Her name is Cait!” Whereupon a great silence fell over the entire Post Office and all eyes focused on me—much to my embarrassment. Peter took it all in stride—and squealed his delight at the top of his voice.

Often, the family would visit me in New York and Peter was completely wild about the double-decker buses that ran along Fifth Avenue in those days. To Peter, every visit to New York meant a ride in the front seat of the upper deck of the Fifth Avenue bus. He was utterly charming and waved at all the passers-by—most of whom smiled and waved back at him. His favorite people were the policemen who directed traffic. If we slowed down alongside one of these gentlemen, Peter would shout out the window, “My name is Peter! What’s yours?” Believe it or not, he usually got a very friendly response.

Peter Tork, Virginia Thorkelson
Info At 18 months with his mom Ginny in Washington, D.C.

Going back to the aforementioned Christmastime, I will never forget one frightening experience we all had because of Peter. A couple of days before December 25, Peter vanished. The family lived in a three-story apartment house that had front and back entrances. When we realized that Peter was gone, Ginny and I scoured the apartment thoroughly—finding no little Peter Thorkelson. Finally, we turned to each other in panic and Ginny shouted, “You take the back stairs—I’ll take the front!” And all of a sudden we looked like a couple of middle-aged females on one of those romps you so often see the boys doing on their television show.

Ginny raecd [sic] off in one direction and I in the other. I had absolutely no luck at all. I searched on the stairs, under the stairs, and in the closets—and finally ended up on the back stoop shouting, “Peter come home! Where are you?”

Having no luck, I decided to run around to the front and see what was happening with Ginny. There she stood, hugging a sheepish-looking Peter and looking like she didn’t know whether to kiss him or kill him.

It seems that young Peter was halfway down the block, standing by a telephone pole, expectantly waiting for something to happen, as he shivered in the snow which had begun to fall. When we got Peter upstairs and simmered down, Ginny asked him, “Where were you going? What were you doing?”

Peter looked her straight in the eye and said, quite simply, “I was going to find Santa Claus. I was waiting for him to come by.”

Peter Tork
Info Peter at two and a half in Detroit.

Well, we burst out laughing and hugged and kissed our baby. “Don’t worry,” Ginny said, “I will make sure that Santa Claus doesn’t forget you this year—or ever.”

And you know what? It looks like she has kept that promise—doesn’t it?

That’s all this month from “A Monkee’s Grams”. I’ll see you in the August issue of 16, which goes on sale June 22. Next time, I’ll tell you all about the fabulous years Peter and his family spent in Germany. See you then!

Magazine: 16
Editor: Gloria Stavers
Volume: 9
Issue: 2
Publisher: 16 Magazine, Inc.
Pages: 52–53