AM I PLAYING GOD?

© 2020  Bill Murphy

Writing is a more than a hobby with me, it’s a passion.  Writing is more than enjoyment, it’s therapeutic. It’s an expression and an extension of myself.  It’s a compulsion.

I feel a definite need to record memories of the past and of my childhood.  The present is built upon the past.  We should learn from the past, and understand not to repeat those same mistakes.  That’s one of the reasons I write on these things, it’s a mission.

But I receive my greatest enjoyment from writing fiction.  And this morning, after several hours of writing delight, I suddenly questioned my own glee in doing this.  I asked myself, “Why do I enjoy this so much?”

Memoirs are recollections of actual people, places, and things.  Fiction is writings about people, places, and things that are nothing more than the mental creations of the author.  Creation is the key word here.

My second question to myself was, “Am I playing God?”

I remember a movie from many years ago, in the heyday of Hollywood’s pre-Star wars and Rambo flicks, when Heracles, Atlas, and Zeus, reigned supreme.  The scene which made a lasting impression on me was of a gathering of the gods on high.  They were standing on a fluffy cloud, with a large circular cut-out in the center.  Surrounding this hole in the heavens, was a low marble wall.  The whole thing reminded me of a circular, backyard swimming pool.  The gods sat around on the edge of this opening, while peering down onto the earth below.  They got their jollies by slinging flaming bolts of lightning onto the hapless mortals below, just to watch them jump, and by releasing Minotaurs and Hydras to chase them into the hills.  These gods were at play, and their toys were folks like us.  Is my writing like this?  Am I ‘toying’ with ‘my creations?’

I don’t want to be God, or any god for that matter.  The Bible tells us that we should strive to be ‘Christlike,’ by my track record proves that I do a poor job of it.  So making a pretense of god-like-ness is not a consideration.  So, what is it that pulls me toward fiction?

I do admit to having an active and fertile imagination.  I always have and hope I always will.  My mother summed it up perfectly: “He plays well alone,” she said.

And, so far that is, my memory is fairly strong.  Couple this with coming from a large extended family (Mom was one of six and Dad one of thirteen), throw in the memories of all of those characters for a span of almost eighty years, and my brain has a wealth of subject material.  My creative juices, as far as writing goes, are blessed by streams and rivers of memories emptying into that ever growing lake.  Perhaps one day, as you read my musings, you may recognize a vague shadow of yourself.  Relax!  I seriously doubt that you’ll find any flaming lightning rods headed your way!

See ya between the pages!

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TEARS TO MY EYES

© 2020  Bill Murphy

The attached photograph was taken in the mid to late 1940s.  It was taken in my backyard on Evergreen, probably by my mother.  That’s me on the left: my cousin Terry Padgett in the center (about 3 years younger): and my cousin Pat Fairchild on the right (2 years older than me.)  I use this photo as an example to illustrate the following story.

This past Tuesday I made a mistake, and drove to my writer’s club meeting at 1:30, instead of the correct time of 6:30.  Oops!  So I decided to make the best of an ‘bad’ situation, and stopped by one of my nearby favorite local junk-tique stores. 

Once again, I didn’t find anything that I couldn’t live without, but I did walk and scan every aisle upstairs and down.  Just before leaving the store, I saw a small book on a table, a book that someone obviously, could live without.  The book measured about eight by twelve inches, and no more than a half inch thick.  PHOTOS in gold type was printed on the cover.  I couldn’t help but pick it up.

I looked at every page.

This was a photo album, a photographic record in black and white, of the warm and colorful life of a typical 1940s family.  Dress styles, hair styles, and automobiles gave away the dates of the photos.  I have no less than five similar albums among my family’s treasures.  And now this solitary book of family memories lay in a stranger’s hands, courtesy (or curse) of someone who could live without it.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I felt as though I was holding a sacred object, offered up as a sacrifice, on a sacrilegious altar. 

I came close to purchasing it, as if that purchase could/would right a wrong, and somehow restore this one-time treasure to it’s former valued status.  But as they say, life is life, what is, is… and nothing that I could do would bring joy, happiness, meaning and value back onto those smiling faces in the photographs.

Instead, I said a silent prayer for them, and walked away… as did the one who allowed this treasure to leave their hands.    

Call me a sentimental old fool… and I’ll answer.

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Christmas Child Abuse

© 2019  Bill Murphy

It’s been said that truth is found somewhere between what you believe and what I believe.  Perhaps sometimes it is, but not always.  The following is about perceived Christmas child abuse inflicted upon me – and that which I inflicted upon my own children.  

My paternal grandparents lived in Carthage, MS, located just over fifty miles northeast of our home in Jackson.  We made that trip at least one a month.

That traumatic year I must have been around four, for at the time, I was still an only child.  It was Christmas time.  Dad had several reason to make that Christmas Eve trip:  He wanted to be with his parents;  It was his and mom’s wedding anniversary;  He had a couple of days off from work;  and did I say that he wanted to be with his parents for Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day.

I didn’t understand.  My four year old focus was not on Dad’s desires, but upon my NEEDS.  How would Santa KNOW where I was Christmas Eve Night?  Could anyone GUARANTEE that the great bearer of gifts would REALLY find me when I was so far from home?  My Christmas cheer was kaput, replaced with dread, fear, and worry.  Yes, I felt, well, abused

Not to leave you dangling, Santa DID find me that night far from home, so as they say, all was well because it ended well.  Now, let’s fast forward around thirty years, to when I was a father.

Our family was a member of a rather ‘fundamentalist’ church at the time.  It would seem that the emphasis was more on the ‘thou shalt nots’ than on the ‘thou shalts.’  Our family strived to get with and be with the program.  Our thinking, colored by what we were now learning, was strictly ‘accent the spiritual, eliminate the secular.’  And Christmas was rife with secular, carnal, humanistic influence.  Just to say “Put Christ back into Christmas,” was not enough… that year we strove to not only put Him first, but also make Him the ONLY persona representing Christmas.

Frosty was out, as well as the Grinch, Tiny Tim, Rudolph, and of course, the jolly ole usurper of the true Christmas… the jolly ole elf himself… Santa!

I remember that our only concession was a small tree, but it remained undecorated, and of course, unlighted… no snow, no tinsel, no popcorn… nothing.  But under the tree, we placed a large nativity set! 

Carol and I gave the kids presents of course, but it was understood that they were from us, not some fat guy in a red suit.  He didn’t visit our home that year. 

The kids had a difficult time understanding this, even though there was no open rebellion.  But I’m sure they were thinking, “What are you folks thinking?  We’re not Jewish, or Jehovah Witnesses… we’re supposed to be THE Christians in town, and y’all are locking a Merry Christmas out of our home!” 

Yes, I’m sure they felt, well, abused

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FAIRCHILD FAMILY HISTORY

Yours truly with my older cousin Mack Fairchild and Grandpa Pat Fairchild

   The Fairchild’s of my family descended from five Fairchild brother’s who came to Mississippi in the early 1800s from the Carolinas.

    We’re all a blending of two families.  In my case, that’s Murphy and Fairchild.  My mother was born to Patrick Henry and Emma Fairchild

   One of those brothers was Robert Fairchild, and the first record of him being in MS comes from land records dated 1820.  After moving around in the state for a bit, they mostly settled in the Jones County area.  One of Robert Fairchild’s children was William H. Fairchild, (1810-1864).  The date of his death is significant.

    William had a son, James Amous Fairchild (12/14/1850 to 8/23/1913).  He was an interesting fellow.  He was successful, and was at one time the mayor of Moselle, MS in Jones County.  His ‘quirk’ in life was that he took (shall we say) family to the extreme!  

     His young wife had a sister, and the sister-in-law’s husband was tragically killed.  James had built a ‘dog-trot’ for he and his wife and their growing family.  A dog-trot was like one huge long rectangular floor, with two rectangular ‘living areas’ with an open breezeway/walk-through in the middle, and all covered by one large roof.  The idea was that one side could be the messy family area, and the other the cleaner and cooler entertaining area.  The sister-in law moved in with them after William had converted one side for her.  The 3 lived there until the day they all died… and William raised 7 children with his wife… and 3 with his wife’s sister, all happily under one roof!  No, they weren’t Mormon, but Southern Baptist. One of the seven was Patrick Henry Fairchild, my mother’s railroading father!  As a small child, I was taken to see this original homestead while it was still standing.   

   If that were not interesting enough, let’s go back to the son of one of the 5 ‘original’ Fairchild’s… William H., the one who I said his date of death was significant.  It was during the years of the Civil War.

   All of this happened in Jones County, MS., and Jones County is noted as being a fairly singular ‘hotbed’ of RESISTANCE to the Southern Confederacy.  A large portion of the county, mainly due to economic reasons, rebelled against the new Confederate authority.  Most of this rebellion came from the poor working class, who were heavily, and unfairly taxed by the Confederate authorities.  The state had passed what was known as the ‘Twenty Rule,’ meaning that for every 20 slaves a land owner had, one member of his family was exempt from military service.  The poor had a saying for this, “It’s a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s battle.”  

   A fellow by the name of Newton Knight rose up in open rebellion against the Confederacy.

He organized a rag-tag bunch of poor farmers and Confederate deserters, and waged all out war on the southern troops.  In 1916 a movie was released about this unique piece of Mississippi history, entitled THE FREE STATE OF JONES, starring Matthew McConaughey. See photo above.  It bombed at the box-office, only making back 1/2 of the production costs.

    Now, back to my ancestor’s.  William H. was appointed by the Confederates as a dreaded tax-collector.  Recorded show that on the same date in 1864, not only was he murdered, but also the Sheriff of Jones County.  We don’t know if they were together at the time, but it makes sense to think that they must have been.  It’s also assumed that Newton Knight was behind it.

   So there.  That’s my newly discovered little piece of family history that you probably never saw in the movie or read in the book!  

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Thanks David, for the Little Fox.

© 2019 Bill Murphy

      Carol and I host a small home-group Bible study on Thursday nights.  Recently our topic was Christian influence.  Our question was, who in your past was a positive, Christian influence in your life?  Not wanting to name someone from the ‘standard list,’ such as a great-uncle, grandmother, or a Bible hero, I went back to the 1950s, to a school and neighborhood pal, David Walker.  Mom and Dad taught me to always say thank you, and this thank you David, is long overdue!

    Scripture tells us that it’s the little foxes that spoil the grapes.  It’s also little items that also speak positive volumes of truth.

    Some wear their Christianity like a jacket, when it’s ‘needed.’  Not David.  He always kept his ‘jacket’ on.  But it was NEVER worn in a boastful or self-righteous manner.  Far from it!  The ‘little fox’ I best remember about David was the notebook he carried to and from school at Enochs Junior High. Written in his own hand across the front were the words JESUS SAVES. He carried it quietly, yet purposefully, like a traveling billboard, proclaiming that profound and fantastic truth to all who saw it. David was never ashamed to be linked with our Savior.

    I believe he went to Griffith (Baptist) Church.  I went to Grace (Methodist).  My grandparents on mother’s side were Baptist, and Methodist on dad’s.  A few times, questions of ‘doctrine’ reared their ugly heads.  But little things, like David’s calm faith, and his willingness/eagerness to carry that notebook to school, did wonders to chop off the heads of those ugly questions.  

     I’d already given my heart to Jesus years before.  But David, and that blue notebook he always carried, stood like a true soldier of the cross before me, leading the way.  I looked UP to that, respected it, and was eternally thankful for it.  As I said before, I’m so very thankful for what he probably never knew he was doing to and for my heart and spirit way back then.  Thanks David!  

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A CHRISTMAS LIGHTMARE

© 2019  Bill Murphy

Joshua ‘fit’ the battle of Jericho, and I just semi-finished my first skirmish of the 2019 Christmas Tree Light War.

Just as Ole Saint Nick began as a figment of someones fertile imagination, what they call ‘pre-lit’ trees are also imaginary.  One would think they’d last even through the first season of ownership, but alas, the true life-span appears to be three weeks, tops.

My first call to battle came hours ago, when I attacked the flanks of the large, living room tree.  It comes in three battle groups (sections): top, middle, base… with connections in-between.  Duh. That SOUNDS easy enough.

The enemy no doubt had a grand laugh at my first charge.  I attacked the middle unit first!  Big mistake. (The base fits it nicely… as if a devious deception to thwart me.)  Carol came in and said,  “It looks too skinny.” I didn’t discover my mistake until and hour later.  That’s where the lights really opened up on me, or should I say, stayed well (darkly) hidden, so that they could not be seen.  A large sections of those lights refused to illuminate.  Wheeeeeeeeee.

Fortunately, I knew exactly here the spare bulbs are kept: in our standard kitchen ‘junk’ drawer.  Admit it, you have one too.  45 minutes later, and with the replacement of a couple of duds, wa-la!  Houston, we have lights!  It was around this time that I discovered that I was focused on the middle section.

Off came the base, and onto it now came the proper, larger, base section.  I connected the two, then connected the power.  The base was now acting precisely as the middle had previously done!  Surely they were in collusion. 

After only a few minutes of this, mysteriously the entire base illuminated as advertised!  Amazing.  But then, seconds after that, the middle section reverted back to its old ways, as if to say, “There, take THAT!”

I fired a few parting shots, hoping to hit a vital organ, which I did not.  So I parted also, returning to the den for a little R&R… well actually R&C… rest and coffee.   As a final act of defiance on my part, I unplugged the thing.  It’ll get its anticipated meal of electricity later!

May I wish you all an early, pre-Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and may all your Christmas tree lights be bright!

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Not The End Of The World

© 2019 Bill Murphy

   I’ve never wanted to be a cowboy, or a fireman, or a movie star.  I learned early in life that art, especially commercial art, was my thing. In the early 1960s I was fresh out of college, and dreaming of that cushy job as as a creative illustrator, in the advertising field.  In those days we had no cell phones, no Google.  We had a telephone attached to a wire and a thick telephone book by the side.  And… the yellow pages were profusely illustrated!  It was THE job to be had.  

    The Yellow Page office was located upstairs over a Promos Restaurant on North State Street in Jackson, MS.  That fateful day, downstairs in the restaurant, I sat across the table from the art director for an interview.  He ordered coffee for us.  I took my first sip, and promptly SNEEZED INTO THE CUP.  There was an explosion of coffee.  It went everywhere.   

    That embarrassing interview didn’t last long.  I was not hired.  That was a huge dissappointment, but it was not the end of the world.    

    Not even 3 years later, the vice-president of Jitney Jungle called me for an interview.  They wanted to create an in-house graphic/advertising department.  Was I interested?  Yes, very much so.  41 years later, Jitney closed its doors.  I was the first one in the ad department, and the last one to leave.

    I look back now and I’m glad I sneezed in my coffee that day.  

    Oh, as a footnoote.  After a couple of years at Jitney, I had a visitor.  It was the Yellow Page Art Director and his side-kick.  They wanted me!  This time, I told them ‘no thanks.’

   That day of the coffee explosion wasn’t the end of the world.  It was the beginning! 

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