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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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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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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A Dog-Less Hot Dog

© 2019 Bill Murphy

I seem to remember some of the weirdest things, and at the strangest times. Such a childhood memory visited me this morning, and I wasn’t even eating a hotdog!

It happened during the early 50s. This was a time when children were taught, and thought, that all adults were like kings and queens, and were endowed with powers just below presidential status. In other words, we understood that respectful children were most often the happiest children.

My mother’s eldest sister lived next door to us on Evergreen. She moved there from Bogalusa when my uncle died. My mother’s brother, and his family live across the street.

My aunt had left dear friends behind in Bogalusa, but they stayed in touch, and visited one another as often as possible. My aunt’s friend had a daughter, 2 years older than me, and the same age as my female cousin Pat from across the street. Pat and Eleanor were fast friends… who on occasion, would drag me along on their outings.

During this pre-MetroCenter time in south Jackson, on the the spot that was to become MetroCenter, there was a sprawling miniature golf course, And right across the street was a root beer stand. Here, my memory fails me. Was it A&W? Dog ‘N Suds? Frost Top? Anyway, on that golf outing, Eleanor was hungry, so after a round of golf, we drove over to the root beer stand. Eleanor was the last to order, as her order was not a usual order. Her order was not on the menu, and therefore, by their reasoning, out-of-order. I was about to witness teen-rebellion in action!

Eleanor calmly told them that she didn’t want the ‘chili-dog,’ but what she called a ‘chilly.’ “What’s that?” she was asked. “You know, a chili-dog without the wiener on it,” she replied. “We don’t have those,” replied the adult voice. “It’s not on the menu, so I don’t know what to charge for it.”

The adult voice was probably not expecting what was about to come.

“If I was a mother wanting only a wiener for my child, how much would you charge me for it?” she asked. There was a long pause. The adult was thinking. “Twenty cents,” he finally replied. (The cost then of the chili dog on the menu was thirty-five cents). “OK,” began Eleanor, “That’s easy. You keep your twenty cent wiener, and subtract that from the thirty-five cents, which leave me with fifteen cents which I owe you for a my chilly.”

You really can’t say that Eleanor was ‘arguing’ with an adult, although it was a simple, but very calm, confrontation. The end result truly had no winner. The root beer stand made their money, Eleanor got her chilly, and I didn’t wet my pants during their exchange.

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Oh Little Town of Carterville

© 2019 Bill Murphy

I’ve always thought of myself as a city-boy. I was born and raised in Jackson, MS… not exactly Dallas or New York, but not tiny-town-country either.

In 2013, Carol and I retired from the 40 hour a week workforce, moved to the small town of Carterville, Illinois where most of our kids, and grandkids live, and began life anew as 24 hour a day retirees.

Carterville’s located midway between Marion (on, I-57) and Carbondale (on Old US 51), and about 50 north of the southernmost border of the state. It’s a very old coal mining town. Our main street downtown stretches for all of 3 blocks, and we have only 3 or 4 traffic lights… not exactly Mayberry RFD, but close.

We live within a half mile of a great junior college, where I’ve taken several courses, fifty yards from a golf course, 2 miles from a huge lake with great fishing, 5 miles from Kroger and Walmart… and only one mile from a Dollar General. Yes, we have all the necessary creature comforts.

Did I mention our wild-life? We’ve had several deer in our front yard, an owl perched on the stop sign at the corner of our yard, once had to wait before turning unto our driveway until a skunk ambled off… and had to evict 3 possums from inside the house! (A workman forgot to secure the crawl-space entrance!)

But to me, the stop sign at the end of our short little street proclaims Carterville perfectly. It’s not a city beautification project… just wildflowers doing their own thing… on very public property. Locals keep the foliage from covering red hexagon area.

I believe I’ve adapted rather well to small town living, in Oh Little Town of Carterville.

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He Is Good All The Time

© 2019 Bill Murphy

We sang a song in a church I once attended that said, “He is good all the time.  All the time, He is good.”  How very true.  

I believe in thanking Him all the time, and all the time thanking Him, even for those tiny little things that may not mean much to others.  I’d rather thank Him ‘needlessly’ for something He didn’t supply… than to miss thanking Him for something He did!  This past week, one of those ‘silly little things’ happened.

Carol and I were returning home from Alabama, where we had attended my brother-in-law’s funeral.  We were somewhere in rural Tennessee, the day was overcast, and we were already in a somber mood.  Carol was driving… and I was simply watching the world go by.  Ahead, to the right, I beheld an amazing sight.  It was amazing to me anyway.  I believe that God knew that I needed a small shot of sunshine, a little dose of smiles, something lighthearted and upbeat.  The scene we passed was right out of a child’s nursery rhyme, but instead of a drawing, this was in living color.  There was a broad, flat meadow of lush, green grass.  This field lay at the base of a gentle hill, not much more than a low mound.  This high area was solidly covered with bright green corn stalks… which extended over this little hill and for acres and acres beyond.  And standing right up next to the corn…  the cornstalks brushing their sides… was a herd of brown and white cows.  And I thought…

Little boy blue,

Come blow your horn,

The sheeps in the meadow,

And the cows in the corn.  

Amazing! I couldn’t help but grin! 

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