Oh Happy Days!

Drive© 2017  Bill Murphy

Background: My last day working for Jitney Jungle was in early 2001. I accepted the closing of Jitney as just an early retirement.  I stayed home and played at being retired for almost 2 years. Then our pastor’s wife had a suggestion,  why not sign-up to substitute in the local school system. I did.

School today is not what it was when I was school-age. When our teacher’s said, ‘jump’ – we asked how high on the way up. Not knowing karate, I was not always ‘at peace’ in the classroom. And then I got a call to sub in a special education class. Nervously, I accepted the assignment – and immediately and positively fell in love with it – and those precious children. Mrs. Odom’s classroom that year in Madison Middle School had 13 children (3 of those in wheelchairs), and two assistants. They stayed BUSY. I told her to call me ANYTIME they needed me. That December, she was approved for a 3rd assistant and asked me. YES! YES! YES!

Soon I was a full-fledged member of that happy family. And that’s how we felt about it, it wasn’t a JOB, this was – well – family! The photo above is the beautiful route I took out of my neighborhood on my way to ‘work’ each morning. What a way to start the day!

I’ve had folks tell me, “I just couldn’t do that.” I may have thought that way myself at one time. But I tell them that if they spent only an hour surrounded by those precious children, they too would fall in love with them. For the most part, they are the happiest children on earth! It was an honor and a privilege to work among them – and most days it hardly felt like ‘work’ at all! Oh the heart-warming and fun-filled stories I could tell!

One day I was walking with one of our girls down the hallway, when she asked me about my mother. I responded that my mother had passed away. She was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she asked about my father. I replied that he too had also died. Immediately she stopped, and looking up at me with deep and sincere concern etched across her young face she asked, “Then who takes care of YOU?”

I was glad to get to her destination, so that I could turn aside and wipe my tears away. My tears were not for Mom and Dad, but for the deep and tender CONCERN she’d expressed for me! Now maybe you understand why I embraced Special Ed.

I retired again in 2013, this time from the school system – and within a matter of weeks Carol and I plus furniture, dog, and memories were on our way to Illinois –  where we now live. I’ve often thought about subbing again – in special ed of course. But at 76 it takes me longer to get up off the floor than down onto it. I was always happiest on the floor with the kids when asked – at their level – eye to eye and heart to heart.

Zoo 1948

The photo above was taken at the Jackson Zoo in the spring of 1948. The kid sitting beside our teacher, Mrs. Wilson, is yours truly. (The ‘baby’ on the front row is my sister, Mary Lily.) Years later, our Madison Middle class also visited the zoo each spring. The photo below was taken 63 years later, in the exact spot as the above photo.

Spring 2011

I’m not sure which photo shows a happier me, but I believe it’s the one above!

To everyone who had a part in making this part of my life possible – I say THANK YOU!

 

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Lessons From The Grocery Store

Jitney copy

© 2017 by Bill Murphy

In the early 1990s, Robert Fulghum wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I suppose that if ever I wrote such a book, it would have to be titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in a Grocery Store.

I was born in February of 1941, ten months before Pearl Harbor’s day of infamy. By that time, Mom and dad had been married 6 years and he was manager of a grocery store. He was a farm-boy turned grocer. But like Za Za Gabor, had decided that farm livin’ was not the life for him.

In 1953, Jitney Jungle Stores of America, the locally owned company that Dad worked for, opened a new store in the new shopping center of Mart 51, in Jackson, MS. It was located at the intersection of old US Highway 80 and old US Highway 51. Hwy 80 ran East to Savannah GA on the Atlantic and West to San Diego on the Pacific. Hwy 51 ran South to New Orleans and North to Hurley, Wisconsin, just 10 mile shy of Lake Superior. Jackson called itself ‘The Crossroads of the South.’ We lived on Evergreen Ave., just 3 blocks north of this intersection.

After the store had been opened a short while, Dad discovered a small glitch in the system. In the early 1950s, grocery stores were never open 24/7. Hardly! Store hours at Jitney 19 were: Monday-Thursday, 7 AM to 6 PM, Friday and Saturday, 7 AM to 6:30 PM.  This limited shopping window was reflected in heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Oh, did I mention – we were NEVER OPEN on Sunday.

The store had 6 check-out stands, and on Fridays and Saturdays, all were usually manned with cashiers. The store also had one or two ‘bag-boys’ on hand weekends, whose job it was to sack the customer’s groceries and then take them to the customer’s vehicle. The ‘glitch’ was that on weekends the store was super busy. Because everyone was focused on getting customers checked-out and on their way, unused shopping carts were careless pushed aside, creating big blockages in the front aisle.

In 1953 I was in the 5th grade. But Dad put me to work each Thursday and Friday afternoons and all day Saturday – keeping these shopping carts returned to their proper place. So much for child-labor laws! (I was still working in that store when I graduated from high school in 1959.)

It wasn’t long before the shopping-cart job morphed into several other responsibilities: getting change for the cashiers, emptying their forever full trash containers, returning empty soft drink bottles to the wareroom – and bagging groceries.

Kids today simply can’t fathom how it was in the early 50s. Take for instance Health and Beauty Aids. In the early 1950s, it did not encompass 2 and 3 aisles in a store. It was truly a ‘section,’ and not a very large one! Deodorant for men was just catching on. And in the women’s section – as far as what was then called ‘sanitary supplies,’ it was simply one brand, one type, one variety, truly ‘one size fits all.’ Perhaps this next 1950s custom was only rooted in the deep south – but one of my earliest chores at Jitney 19 was to (in the privacy of the back wareroom) open the newly arrived factory-shipped box of feminine products, and using brown kraft paper, WRAP each and every package as if it was a Christmas Gift! Then, and only then, were these ‘embarrassing items’ placed on the store shelves! Who were they fooling? Oh well.

Employees fell into two categories: full time and part time. Full time employees were just that: 40 hours per week. Part time employees were scheduled as needed. I was in high school before I ever punched my first clock. At Jitney 19, the cashiers were full time, with benefits – what ever benefits the company had at the time. Checkout stands were assigned. If Mrs. Johnson’s favorite cashier was friendly Mrs. Smith, she knew to always expect her at the same register. Oh how times have changed!

Money. You’re probably wondering about the money – how much did we make. By the time I was in high school, my hourly rate had risen to almost 75c an hour. On top of that, we got tips! A few customers were known as big tippers, so there was a rush to carry out their groceries. A good tip was a quarter, never more. The usual was 5c or 10c. Most folks tipped.

We didn’t think we were getting rich, but we did know we were doing A-Ok. Understand we’re not talking about what a dollar will buy TODAY. Dad insisted that I save $5 from every paycheck. After this I could still: 1) Put enough gas in the family car for 50 miles or so. 2) Take the favorite girl to the Dog and Suds for burgers and malts. 3) Buy tickets to the latest movie. 4) Buy drinks and popcorn at the movie. And 5), still have enough pocket money left for myself to last until the next payday! (To put things into perspective – a ‘loaded’ hamburger, with a thick hand-moulded patty, painted with mayo, mustard, and ketchup ON BOTH BUNS, then pilled high with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, or whatever – was a quarter. A soft drink was a NICKLE – as were the burgers at Krystal. (I once ate 20 at one sitting!)

One irritating item seemed unfair to us. The store closed at 6:30 on Friday night. To my Dad, that meant that the front door was locked at 6:30 – not a second before. Technically, the store was NOT closed. The lights were on. Everyone was at their station of duty. So when stragglers rushed into the store at 6:29 and then proceeded to do their month’s worth of shopping – we were there to served them faithfully, if not begrudgingly, sometimes until almost 8 – although our PAY (as part-time employees) stopped at 6:30! I learned two lessons from this. One: Patience does not come naturally. And two: Some people actually think that they are numero uno.

I really enjoyed the position of bag-boy. I really did. It was like watching people at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. In Jitney 19 we saw all kinds! What an experience!

There was the day of the irritable mother and her cute teenage daughter. Mother was obviously irritated, maybe running late for something. I rolled the shopping cart filled with grocery bags to their station-wagon. The girl and I kept making goo-goo eyes at one another. Mommie raised the tailgate. The rear was filled with dozens of gallon cans of paint. Mommie Dearest barked at the girl to get in there and make room for the groceries. Embarrassed, sweet thing crawled inside. She sure looked good in those short shorts. When she lifted the second or third can of paint, it was upside down. As she passed it over her lap, the lid fell off! We had an already embarrassed damsel, and already irritated mother – and now we had damsel AND station wagon flooded with lime-green paint! Yes, I remember the color. I try NOT to remember the things that Mommie had to say about the mess.

I think it was in the 60s before the term hippie came to be. But in the mid 50s, we had our own hippie who shopped at Jitney. She was elderly. And skinny. Her skin was truly prune-like. Her hair, of course, was grey, and long and stringy. It was her attire that amazed everyone. She alway wore a black VEST, not buttoned but pinned in front – by a huge safety pin which left a wide gap in front. Just a skirt and vest – nothing under the vest. Yes, there were times that Jitney could be a real Jungle! I suppose that some of our customers were just in preparation for what was to come – Wal-Mart!

Our Evergreen Playboy

JohnsonSmith74

© 2017 Bill Murphy

Years before the bunny-magazine hit the news stands, the boys of Evergreen Street had our own ‘play boy’ magazine. (Calm down – this is a squeaky clean story.)

It was not a magazine actually, but a catalog – a catalog right out of Aladdin’s magic storehouse! It overflowed with all manner of exotic and exciting items to thrill, inspire, and educate us. This wondrous publication was the Johnson Smith Catalog, which gained almost Biblical respect among the boys of the neighborhood. (The illustration at right is not from a 40s edition.)

This was the late 40s and early 50s. We were school boys then, grade school, junior high. Cokes were a 5c, and bubble gum a penny. Everything in the Johnson Smith Catalog was dirt cheap! We always had enough change in our pockets to order that next ‘gotta have’ item.

For only $2.50, shipping included, I ordered a telescope kit. What came in the mail was only two glass lens, and a single page of instructions. But I was NOT disappointed. Actually BUILDING the thing was the major part of the fun. The telescope body was made from a section of round, aluminum rain-gutter pipe, almost 3 feet long. The movable focusing scope was a piece of metal electrical conduit. The ‘seat’ for the eye-piece lens was an empty wooden sewing thread spool supplied by my mother. But guess what? When finished, I could actually seen the craters on the moon!

Then there were the crystal radio sets. Years before battery operated transistor radios, for $1 (or less) we ordered crystal radios. They were not much more than a small pea-size glass-like crystal, a small coil of copper wire, a thin wire ‘whisker‘ which sat onto the crystal, and a short metal rod inserted through the copper wire coil. It came with a one-ear ‘ear-bud’ head phone, and an metal alligator clip fastened to a long wire. To listen to your favorite radio station all you need do is: set the whisker on the crystal, attach the alligator clip to a metal pipe (most schools had hot-water radiators for heat, with lots of metal piping), move the metal rod to the right position to tune in your station – then LISTEN! Remember, there were NO batteries, NO outside power source. Unfortunately, there were teachers who caught us listening to the radio in class.

I ordered the ‘learn to throw your voice’ kit, fortunately BEFORE ordering the ventriloquist dummy.

There was the disappearing ink, fake ink spill, fake vomit, fake doggie poop, whoopee cushion, miniature ‘spy‘ camera, and my favorite – ITCH POWDER. (It really worked!)

No doubt, there were very few male 12 year old Johnson Smith customers who did not order the X-Ray Glasses. They were a huge disappointment. It was enough to warrant a letter to the Better Business Bureau.

The frame of the infamous X-Ray glasses was nothing more than two pieces of cardboard glued together to hold in the ‘X-Ray’ lens. X-Ray lens – yeah, right! Then ‘lens’ were nothing more that pieces of BIRD FEATHERS! The false-advertised X-Ray vision was created when one eye, looking through the bird feather saw a shadowy silhouette of the cute girl in front of you, and the other eye saw the same silhouette, but slightly off to one side. Where the two shadowy figures merged in the center, your eyes/brain gave you the fuzzy impression of viewing a skeleton. Bummer.

Amazingly, Johnson Smith is still alive and well (and selling X-ray glasses), although the cost of a single item is more than 6 months worth of my orders way back when. And the catalog is in color now, and on-line. Oh, and now they’re more truthful in advertising, admitting that the X-Ray vision is only an illusion. Peggy Sue – you are now safe from prying eyes!

Things just aren’t like they used to be. Oh well.

 

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It’s A Small World

@ 2017 Bill MurphyClass Photo

It really is a small world, much smaller than we think. Things and people who should cross paths do cross paths more often than one would believe possible. We often think of these happenstance meetings as nothing short of miraculous, yet they happen all the time. This one happened to me – and a very old photography.

I was enjoying a leisurely excursion through a flea-market in downtown Jackson, Mississippi when I happened upon a box filled with old black and white photographs, including several 8 x 10s. Having time to spare, I began looking through the stack.

Among the 8 x 10s I discovered a 1930 class photo from Carthage High School. My father and mother met when they lived in Carthage. I studied the photo carefully to see if I could recognize anyone. I couldn’t.

The photo was a group shot, no doubt taken on the school’s front steps. The only label stated was that it was Carthage High, 1930.

Although I didn’t recognize anyone in the photo, I bought it anyway, thinking that perhaps my Mom or Dad might enjoy it. It only cost me a dollar. A few day later I took the photo to my parents. When my mother looked at it, I thought that she was going to faint! Her eyes became weepy, and her hands trembled, as she stared at the photo.

“Where did you ever get this?” she asked. I explained that it was a flea-market find. She pointed to a young man in the photo, her older brother.

“This is your Uncle Hilton. When the photo was made, we were too poor to afford one. It was a big disappointment to Hilton.”

Needless to say, straight away I drove across town to the home of Uncle Hilton. The surprise and joy on his face was well worth (many times over) the cost of this old memory from his past. I remember that moment with special joy. It was a time when I was afforded the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time to ‘miraculously’ fulfill a long unfilled wish of my dear uncle.

Was it a miracle that I could do this? Maybe yes. Maybe no. But I know this – it was a priceless moment in time for me!

Oh To Crawl In A Hole

This piece was a writing assignment from my Little Egypt Writer’s Society group. Our assignment was to recall an event when we wished we could hide in a hole. You’ve probably been there – done that also.

THE URGE TO CRAWL IN A HOLE hole-ground-home-wild-animal-57149387.png
@2017 Bill Murphy

I too have had my moments when I wished for vanishing dust, or a handy, empty hole. Two of these embarrassing events stand out above all others, both similar in nature.

In 1954 our Methodist church received a new pastor, with THREE daughters. I was all starry eyed over the youngest. We were 13 at the time.

Sunday afternoons we had MYF – Methodist Youth Fellowship – which was just what the name implied, a time when the young folks of our Methodist church fellowshipped together with sports, games, snacks, and a short spiritual message. Several of us were gathered on the front steps of the Fellowship Hall. Myself and two other boys were seated on the top step. The object of my affection was standing with a few girls rather close to the steps. We each had large glasses of iced tea. Glass. Clear, transparent glass.

I have no idea what caused ‘the event.’ I had no allergies, no sniffles, no congestion. (You see what’s coming.)

I was about to sip my tea, or perhaps just had. My glass was at about chest height, fortunately far from my nose. Then it happened. The sneeze was like a sudden spasm,  unexpected, and with force. Just the sneeze would have been ok, for the tea stayed in the glass.

Amid that sudden blast of air, from my nostrils was ejected an exceedingly huge mass of what may well have been fully grown jellyfish – right into my iced tea. I was relieved to see that my tea was the only victim of this terrible assault. But here I sat with a large, transparent glass of tea with ice, sugar, lemon, and – yuck! Oh the horror.

While looking for a hole, I held my glass in my trembling hands. Looking all the world like a sun-burned indian. I hoped no one would notice why I was no longer drinking my tea. At 13, this was a catastrophic, thoroughly mortifying event.

Fast forward around 15 years. I was successfully employed as a commercial artist. As in most fields, there’s usually room for advancement with other companies. The Yellow Pages was looking for new commercial artist. I met with the Ad Director at a downtown restaurant for an interview over coffee. This time I had my beverage much, much closer to my lips/nose.

There was no ‘jellyfish‘ involved this time, but the prospective boss was thoroughly sprayed with a blast of coffee, well laced with both cream and sugar. Sadly, the floors were solid in the restaurant, with no holes in sight. Likewise, there was also no follow-up call for a second interview.

 

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My ’70s Rod McKuen Period

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PREFACE

Carol and I were married in March of 1970. It was a marriage made in Heaven. The devil didn’t like that – so in ’73 he stepped in and messed things up royally. This led to a nasty divorce. God didn’t like that! So He stepped in and miraculously restored things as only He can do! We like to tell folks that our divorce didn’t work out.

However – there was a space of time when we were parted that we dated others. The following mushy ‘poems’ are from that time period – when I was looking for love in all the wrong places, while lamenting the waste of the previous one. I call this my ‘Rod McKuen period.’ I don’t consider them Pulitzer material!


 

MORE THAN WORDS

I’m no artist with words,
Please don’t judge them harshly!
Embrace the thoughts which lie within them,
That hide between them, and beyond them.
For the words are only clues.

GIFTS

I love to bring you gifts –
Not to buy your favor,
For I can’t.
Just the smile of your thanks,
Brings joy enough to me.

Would that I could gift you more
Even myself!
If only that were treasure enough!

FIRST LOVE

I’ve learned a lesson from life,
First loves seldom last.
For on loving, we’re learning;
In learning, we hurt another’s heart;
And in hurting – we fail to love.
If I’m your first love, be kind!

THE HILL

Come walk with me to some quiet place.
We’ll find a lonely hill that only the birds know.
Beneath the leaves, we’ll dig a hole, and bury the past:
The bad times, and the painful memories.
We’ll cover them over with new-fallen leaves.
And if perhaps a bird might be watching,
We’ll ask that he forget that unmarked grave.
We’ll walk to the top of the hill,
And dare to look out on tomorrow and across forever!
Perhaps then – we can love again.

BEHIND YOUR EYES

Someone lives behind those eyes:
A life, a heart, a soul.
If I may meet but one of these,
Who knows what YOU I’ll find!

THE TASTE OF YOU

I tasted you all the way home,
Remembering moments before:
The warm and wet of your lips on mine,
Seeking a path to my heart.
Your sweet fragrance,
Turning night’s chill into Spring!
I love these memories – and you!

MY DAUGHTERS

My daughters love me.
They don’t have to tell me.
They show me.

If ever I love you –
Sad would be the day,
That I must tell you, for you to know!

 

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All This And No Money Either

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FPC, JCM, NMMC © 2017 Bill Murphy

When you have a large family, lived a long life, visited so many exotic places and done so many amazing things, you don’t have an excuse for not writing. Your problem is – writing about ‘WHAT?’ Sadly, things fall through the cracks. This morning, an unexpected Facebook post shook a basket of nuts from the tree.

Bishop Wallace, from my days with Jitney Jungle, was fond of saying, “All this and money too.” But FPC, JCM, and NMMC didn’t pay. They did however, claim that the retirement was out of this world.

All of my adult life I’ve worked with my eyes, hands, and imagination. I’m an artist, and paid for my keep through working as a commercial artist. I joking call that prostituting my talent. Basically – I sold pork chops for Jitney Jungle.

FPC, JCM, and NMMC didn’t sell anything, they offered a pathway to salvation.

FPC stands for First Pentecostal Church. Our family was faithful ‘dues paying’ members for 25 years + or – 1 or 2. Naturally, I volunteered my ‘gifting and abilities’ to the work of God. Shortly after our union with FPC, the church took over a struggling Bible School from Tupelo, bringing it to Jackson and renaming it JCM – Jackson College of Ministries. Only last week I ran across a proof copy of the very first JCM Catalog, which I helped layout and typeset. Soon came the monthly newspaper, conference displays, etc., etc., etc.

And then, FPC/JCM acquired a new Music Minister and Dean of Music – Lanny Wolfe. FPC and JCM were famous for their joint effort in the creation of the NMMC, The Nation Music Ministry Conference – a week long yearly event designed to educate, inspire, and showcase musicians from across the national United Pentecostal fellowship.

That was when the fun really began!

The annual NMMC was a big deal. It brought in hundreds of musicians and guests from across the nation. It was claimed that FPC would sit 1,000 – but this proved to be an exaggeration by a couple of hundred. The architects lied. Chairs in the aisles did little to help. The venue was moved to the Municipal Auditorium. The NMMC made no small economic impact on the city of Jackson either.

The NMMC was never a simple dog and pony show. No way. The days were filled with seminars from everything from fiddling to copyrights. And the night events were marathons of choirs, soloists, and dramas. My ears still ring.

And everything had it’s advertising, paperwork, forms, signage, banners, brochures, etc., etc., etc. Bill was a busy boy – for several months prior and until after the home stretch. At the time, I was probably singing to myself – If this is the days my friend, when will they ever end?

I still have a couple of old notebooks with ‘to do’ lists. I’m amazed at the length of those lists! But, I was younger then.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing. I felt honored to be a part of such a huge undertaking. But I also loved to grip and complain. Don’t we all?

All those fun-filled and heady days of FPC, JCM, and NMMC came roaring back this morning in the form of the drawing above of Elvis Wolfe, which Lanny posted on Facebook. I guess he must have recently run across it. The original Lanny Wolfe drawing was done for an NMMC project, and in a spare moment of madness, I took the time I couldn’t spare to create that little tension-releaser.

Thanks Lanny for sharing it with me – after all these years. As before, it brought a big smile to my face.

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