© 2017 Bill Murphy
The following was written to be presented at the 66th Annual Murphy Family Reunion to be held in a few weeks in Carthage, Mississippi.
I was born in 1941, 10 months before Pearl Harbor. Although the world was in chaos and turmoil during my childhood years, I was too young to understand it – and too sheltered to be affected by it. I was blessed. I believe that my sister and I had the happiest childhoods of any kids ever. Money doesn’t buy happiness – but love and family supply those blessings in boundless measure.
Our family lived on a quiet and peaceful little street in south Jackson. From the time I was born until I’d finished high school, only one house on our end of the block changed hands. Now that’s stability! Such was my childhood. My mother’s parents lived next door to us. But to visit Dad’s parents – Mama and Papa Murphy, was a drive of around an hour. Dad wasn’t known for driving slow.
In the happy days of the 1940s, there were no interstate highways, no Highway 25 cutting diagonally across the state – and the Natchez Trace was still mostly in its original state, a simple walking trail. To get to Carthage we drove north on US 51, (the first part of which was North State Street in Jackson) and on to Canton, where we turned right onto Hwy 16 and on into Carthage. We made the trip OFTEN, at least ever 4 to 6 weeks. Dad loved his parents, and I loved visiting with them!
In a closet in the front room Mama Murphy had a box filled with ‘toys’ for us ‘cherubs’ as she referred to us small fry. Few if any of these toys were store bought. I remember jars of buttons, and dozens of blocks of wood and empty sewing thread spools. I’m not convinced we’re doing right by our children today by giving them battery powered and electronic toys that DO EVERYTHING for them. Mama Murphy’s box of goodies compelled us to CREATE – and by that I mean – we first learned to build upon our God given ability of IMAGINATION – simply because we had to. And then with our imagination, we made those common objects to be we wanted them to be. Using nothing more than an empty spool, a couple of matchsticks, a rubber band, and a dab of wax – Mama Murphy taught us how to make TANKS which crawled across the floor, and even over things!
I can’t say enough about the old China Berry Tree. I thought it was the most wonder tree on earth. It was our treehouse which needed no re-modeling. It became a fortress, a sailing ship, a jungle, anything that our minds could conjure. We spent hours in that old tree. And I can’t remember anyone ever falling from it. It was so EASY to climb. The berries of the tree were greasy inside. And the branches were basically hollow, filled with pith, much like marrow in a bone. The older boys, using nothing more than pieces of branches and berries, made GUNS which would shoot those tiny little berries down a stick-barrel – hard enough to hurt! We though those were the most amazing things.
I don’t remember the year, but later on the children of Mama and Papa insisted that they join the modern age by updating their kitchen, and adding a bathroom. Up until then, she cooked on a cast-iron wood-burning stove, and they (and visitors like us) used the outhouse out back. They was no Charmin Tissue in the privy – it was old Sears and Roebuck catalogs! As a young boys, we’d feel real naughty peeking at the underwear ads.
The outhouse sat away from the house, and slightly downhill, for sanitation reasons. To get there you had to go through a gated fence. You always had to remember to close and latch the gate, because this part of the back yard was also the chicken yard. Chickens were valuable. They supplied eggs – and Sunday dinner. This latched gate helped teach me RESPONSIBILITY. We cherubs had a saying, religiously repeated at each passing through the gate, The last one through knows what to do!
The outhouse did NOT sit over a septic tank. It was a far cry from a modern porta-potty. Things septic simply fell to the ground, under the outhouse – in full view and access to the chickens! And believe it or not, when Mama Murphy made chicken (giblet) gravy, she included the (well-washed I hope) chicken feet – in one long piece, knee to toes. Ray and I would take a foot from the gravy, peel back the leg skin to gain access to the tendons which controlled the toes – and made the feet grasp and claw at our female cousins. Nightmare On Elm Street was years away, so we created it at the dinner table, much to our cousins horror.
The old barn was our secret hideout, our gym, and our year-round playground. Ray taught me how to get to the barn barefoot in Winter without our feet freezing. You simply stepped from one fresh cow-pile to the next!
Inside, the barn was 2 stories high, the top floor being a large open loft. At ground level there was a dirt floor ‘hallway’ down the middle, with stalls on both sides. The loft began just at the rear the wall of the front stall, making that stall open to the loft area. Cotton seed, used for animal feed, was stored in this stall. We used the cotton seed as if it were water, and the stall was our swimming pool. We’d jump, dive, flip, and fall into the cotton seed below. Oh what fun we had. And – we’re alive today to tell about it.
There was a small creek which ran back aways behind Ray’s house. It was our private swimming hole. No girl’s allowed. We never bothered with swimsuits. We never bothered (or bothered with) the snakes either – which seemed to always be there. The swimming area was a wallowed out basin no more than 8 feet wide and perhaps 10 or 12 feet long. On the north end, ray had rigged a short diving board. Many a time we had to wait to make our dive, until a snake swam out of the way! How did we ever survive childhood?
Off to the west and behind Papa and Mama Murphy’s house was another pond, not on their property, not belong to them. But (according to Ray) we had permission to swim there. This pond was much, much larger. One summer, Ray built a small raft, hardly large enough to hold two small boys. Mama Murphy gave us an old sheet, and we erected a sail for the raft. Of course, we could only make it sail one way – with the wind – and we had to dog-paddle it back to the start line to repeat a down wind trip. It was while swimming IN THE BUFF at this pond one day, that our female cousins paid a surprise visit, and discovered us in the pond! All of our clothes were laying on the bank. Yes, they did. Those girls tied our clothes in knots, and retreated, laughing their heads off.
East of Mama and Papa’s on old 16, before you make the turnoff to Goshen Church, there’s a small bridge crossing Pollard Creek. I was told as a kid that this bridge was haunted! The story said that years before, a car ran off the road and into the creek, and that the bodies were never recovered. (Yeah, sure!) But I believed the story, and was always glad to get safely across Pollard Creek – even in the daytime!
I remember Mama Murphy’s to die for cornmeal pie. And when she baked ‘from-scratch’ sugar cookies, all the cherubs gathered around like hungry dogs around the dinner table – and she kept us filled with those delicious raw scraps. The raw eggs we were consuming never did harm us! After all, they were fresh!
One thing I’ve never understood about that old house. Off the kitchen and to the right of the back door, was a narrow walk-in pantry. The door was always kept closed. But even during the heat of summer, and with NO air-conditioning in the house, you could walk into that pantry and it would feel 10 or 15 degrees cooler! Even today, I can’t explain that.
I remember when Victor and Nell were dating. They took Ray and I with them to the movie one night. For what ever reason, they had to make a side trip out to Uncle Herman’s. I suppose that the young lover’s wanted to stretch out their time together that night, because I don’t believe that Victor got the car over 15 MPH all night! I thought we’d never get there.
I have fond memories too of visiting with cousins Patty and Faye, and staying overnight. You’ve not lived until you’ve spent the night in a tin-roof house when it rains! The old house had no ‘attic,’ so the ceilings were no more than the bottom of the tin-roof. It was absolutely, positive, heavenly! You could hear each and every rain drop as it hit! Today folks pay good money for ‘sound machines’ which mimic the sound of rain to induce peace and tranquility – but they got it for free – and every time it rained! I was envious. Oh to relive those days again.
I have so many, many happy memories of Carthage as a child, even though I was only a visiting relative. I remember Cudin’ Lucian’s store, when it was still open for business – the pot belly stove for heat – the sweet musty smell of that delightful place, the jars of hard candy.
And I remember the drives home on Sunday night – and listening to the radio – Gang Busters, Boston Blackie, Our Mrs. Brook, The Shadow. Who know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, the Shadow knows!
Do I have a good memory because I remember these things? I suppose so. But I remember them mainly because I treasure these memories. And yes, I often dwell on them. Why not? They are a huge part of my life, when my very character and personality were being moulded and formed. These were GOOD times, HEARTY and HEALTHY times, times of TRUTH and VALUE which taught us RESPECT, APPRECIATION and above all, LOVE. These memories are worthy of remembrance. And they are worthy of being shared as examples for future generations to learn from.
Those were the days my friend – yet alas, they too had to end!