WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

   I was introduced to words and reading through this series of famous/infamous little books.  It was 1947, first grade, George Elementary School.  Pauline Wilson was my teacher.

   From the very beginning, I had a strange love/hate relationship with reading.  I began with a weird issue with the ‘th’ words.  They seemed to ‘look’ the same to me.  I confused the ‘the’s, theirs, those, and that’s.  But eventually, I got that early issue straightened out.

Thanks to Viola E. Lake, George School had a fantastic library.  And once I mastered reading, the library was my favorite place in the school.  Today I have a few books on my shelves that are copies of books I read while enrolled at George!

But it wasn’t just what the books spoke me that fascinated me so… it was also the WORDS used to tell the story or teach the message.  Early on I somehow realized that words are simply TOOLS which are used to transfer THOUGHTS and UNDERSTANDING from the writer to the reader.  Some writers have better tools at their disposal than others.  The same is true in the speaker/hearer relationship.  A correct use and understanding of the word-tools are VITAL to transferring and receiving accurate information!

This word/tool/usage consideration has been with me for most of my life, and this is testified to buy the ‘prophesy’ attached to my name and photo in our Central High School yearbook, Class of 1959.  It said of me, ‘In arguing, too, this person owing his skill… for even though vanquished, he could argue still.”  This is an amazingly accurate ‘prophesy’ huh?   

Even today, I often find myself pondering a word, and asking myself, if I truly understand this word… it’s origins… it’s true definition… how and why it may have come into use and abuse… and if the speaker/writer is truly using the correct tool for the job.  I’m often told by others that this trait is like beating a dead horse.   

My debate ‘prophesy’ (including debating myself) goes back much farther than high school.  When I was not much more than ten, I attended the annual Halloween Carnival held in Battlefield Park.  That year, they had a ‘fortune teller’ booth.  Kids reached into a glass fishbowl and withdrew a small slip of paper on which was written our ‘fortune.’  Mine said that I’d be a LAWYER!  Funny that I clearly remember that casual event of so long ago.  But I suppose that memory speaks volumes.  Just as an attorney does at trial, I find myself ‘examining and cross-examining’ LANGUAGE… written, spoken, and thought! 

This past week a single word drifted in front of mind’s eye, and my questioning began.  It was a simple three-letter word, but one that I cannot specifically remember being used in the  FUN WITH DICK AND JANE books of yesteryear.  That word is CAN.  Could the writer/editors of these books have understood the true depth of meaning to this simple, very small word — and that it was beyond the understanding of the average six year old?       

The word CAN presents itself in two-forms, as a noun and as a verb.  In the noun form, CAN refers to (usually) a cylindrical container, such as a can of soup.  We’ll not be considering the noun form… but rather, the verb form.  Of course, there are also dozens of examples of ‘can’ being used as slang to represent everything from one’s behind to a prison cell.  

The verb form of the word CAN means 1) To know how to do something, or to have the ability to do something.  It can also mean 2) To be allowed or enabled to do something.  And 3) To be possible.

As you CAN see, ‘can’ as a verb is quite a complex term, one that must take into consideration linked facts, truths, and aspects beyond itself.  To be a ‘simple’ three-letter word it is actually far more complex and all-important that it’s size appears.

Personally, I was quite ‘blown away’ by this revelation!

The mis-use of ‘can’ WILL get us into trouble if we allow it to.  I use the term ‘mis-use’ because people are pre-disposed to be what I refer to as ‘language-lazy,’  by slaughtering ‘the king’s English.’  Consider the following:

Wife to husband: Can you go to the store for me?  We need milk.

Husband: Yes.

(Two hours later)

Wife:  Did you get the milk?

Husband: No.

Wife: Why not?

Husband: You didn’t ask me if I WOULD go to the store, but if I COULD go. 

I COULD but I didn’t want to. So I didn’t.   

I told you that ‘CAN’ is a huge word to have only three letters!  Try the above silly little above example sometime yourself and experience just how important this small three-letter truly is!

Consider this: How many times have you walked into a store and been asked by a sales-clerk, ‘Can I help you?’   Let’s carry that question through to a detailed and accurate answer to that question. 

Clerk:  Can I help you?

Customer:  That remains to be seen. 

Clerk:  Do what???

Customer:  You asked me ‘Can I help you,’ but I don’t know as yet if you can or cannot.  What you actually should have asked is ‘May I help you,’ and the answer to that would have been ‘Yes you may.’  At that point either you would have asked my reason for wanting or needing your assistance, and next you would have answered with the reason you could or could not assist me with the item that I wish to buy and possibly of the availability of it here in your store.’

But we don’t want to be accurate, we want to be lazy.  This is how the clever prosecuting attorney ‘tricks’ the guilty party into admitting to a crime — or in the case of the defense attorney, tricks the jury into hearing and believing something that is not completely accurate.  They take advantage of people’s language laziness.  

Words matter.  Their basic meanings matter. The understanding of these meanings matters.  And, their usage matters.  ALL WORDS matter, the large, and the small. Respect them, and they will respect you.

Trick or Treat is a kid’s event at Halloween… not a method of communication.

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TITANIC ASSUMPTIONS

THE HUMAN BRAIN

Without a doubt, the most destructive trait in human nature is that of conceding to assumptions.  Notice that even the descriptive verb (concede) paired with this word is in the negative context!  But we have many other words linked to assumptions,  such as falling to or jumping to assumptions.  These words all describe some form of movement, change, or relocation from one place (or thought) to another.  

Change is NOT always a negative thing!  Without change, there could never be a  progression from poor to better and then onto best.  But change also can be, and more often than we might think, a very negative thing.

This very distinct possibility that a change in anything, whether it is thought, reason, understanding, or belief… only opens the door to the always present possibility that this change will prove to be both damaging and dangerous, and thus, prove to be our undoing. 

In my opening sentence I stated what I believe to be the number one reason that  we so easily fall into error… our propensity to assume.      

Among the most tragic examples (plural) of erroneous assumptions comes from the ill-fated HMS Titanic, then the largest man-man object on earth!  It sank on April 15, 1912, drowning 832 passengers and 685 crewmen in the frozen waters of the North Atlantic … while on it’s maiden voyage!

The designers and builders had constructed a true modern marvel, with specific features designed to make the ship unsinkable.  That was the design.  That was the plan.  That was the assumption.  But we know that the truth and outcome proved to be something horribly different.  There was a ‘slight’ collision with an iceberg, a mere glancing blow, and hours later… the ‘impossible’ happened. She went to the bottom. 

The builders assumed that what the designers told them was true, and build her according to that (flawed) design.  The captain then believed the builders.  The passengers in turn believed the captain.  And tragically fifty-three young children perished that night assuming that their parents would somehow save them. 

Assumptions can be both dangerous and deadly.  Assumptions can readily derail (as they say) the best laid plans of mice and men.  My first marriage is a prime example.

We were both nineteen.  I understand that age alone is not always a prime requirement for marriage readiness.  But maturity sure is!  Maturity should give us a more healthy ability to reason properly and clearly.  

Our parents saw beyond what our clouded eyes were capable of understanding, and they pleaded for us to wait!  And so we did, for a full year.  But alas, a year was not enough time for us to awaken from the dream we shared… and that dream was our assumption that what we felt for one another was true, real… LOVE.  

It didn’t take long after the happy I do’s for us to awaken from our assumptions and begin walking in reality.  We were forced to admit that we’d been totally wrong from the start!  Neither of us really understood what LOVE actually is!  We’d only been ‘playing house’ and playing it badly!  This was not some he/she issue.  The issue of assumptions was one thing we actually shared equally!  

 Assumptions can really hurt!  They can hurt all of us.

Boys being boys as they are (Now THAT’S an assumption if there ever was one!) I’ve always liked dinosaurs.  As a kid, the big question was, ‘What killed off the dinosaurs?’   Perhaps someday in the future, an alien craft will land on a barren and lifeless Earth, and they’ll ponder the questions, “What killed off all the inhabitants of this planet?”  I know the answer!  It will be assumptions that’ll be the end of us! 

I know what you’re most probably thinking:  Assumptions do have a possibility of being correct!  And you are correct about that!  

My point is that assumptions MUST BE thoroughly researched, dissected, studied and examined in minute detail.  You’ve head it said that it’s better to be safe than sorry.  I’m saying that assumptions have proven themselves over and over again to have the very real potential to contain hidden poisons which can both damage and destroy.  It’s far better to be safe now… than to be sorry later.

                     ~~~~~~~~~  Thanks for reading this!  ~~~~~~~~~~~~  

EATIN’ OUT, MILL STREET STYLE

THE ORIGINAL BIG APPLE INN, JACKSON, MS

Every metropolitan city has its Mill Street, that well-worn, warehouse lined, blue-collar worker street with its industrial atmosphere.  That’s never where one finds the fine dining establishments.  But that’s not to say that you can’t fine plenty of good eatin’ establishments!  There’s a big difference between great food and fancy wallpaper!  I suppose it depends on what you’re trying to feed… your face and belly… or your image and ego.

The heart of Jackson Mississippi has its Mill Street, located downtown in the very heart of the city.  It’s an old street, well worn from decades of traffic, history, commerce, and labor.  I’m blessed to have worked on Mill Street… putting in almost a decade of good times, satisfying labor, and countless fond memories.  Many of those memories have to do with dining out, on and around Mill Street… and a few miles beyond.

Among my first memories of ‘Mill Street Dining’ didn’t actually happen on Mill Street, but just a block away.  My introduction to a life-long love of Krystal Hamburgers was in the mid 1940s.  The Krystal was located on the North side of Capitol, on the East corner of Capitol and Roach.  Those delicious burgers were only 5c each at that time!  Oh well… back then gas was only 25c a gallon.  But… a ‘good’ hour’s wage was then only a very few dollars an hour… if that much!  

I began work on Mill Street (the first time) in the Fall of 1960… working in the Jitney-Jungle Sign Shop after school, while attending Mississippi College.  But this was after lunch, and before supper time… so I didn’t do much Mill Street Dining during this period.  However, I was back on Mill beginning in the Fall of ’67, when I started full time employment with Jitney… again working from the corporate office on Mill… and dining out quite a bit!

I’ll say this though, not every meal was ‘dining out.’  That wasn’t necessary.  The corporate office had a full kitchen, save for a microwave… as those were not a common household appliance back then.  So many folks brought their lunches. 

Most folks brought sandwiches and such, foregoing the need to cook.  But there was often an ‘issue.’  It was a common occurrence for someone’s lunch, even with their name clearly written on the bag… to be eaten by someone else!  I suppose that sandwiches, like watermelons, taste best when stolen!  So I devised a clever ‘trick’ which I felt might deter the food-thieves.  Instead of my name on my bag, I wrote HENRY HOLMAN, (the company PRESIDENT), on it instead!  Later I heard rumors that it might have been Mr. Holman himself who was satisfying his hunger!  Oh well!

The places where we ate were unique!  But several were off the charts in their uniqueness… so unusual that they were not always everyone’s favorite.  In no particular order they were…

I believe others will agree, that one of our favorite dining establishments was the WHITE HOUSE, located on High Street near downtown.  It was not your typical restaurant.  There was no menu.  Folks sat around large tables, and the delicious southern-style fried, stewed, boiled, or baked items were served in bowls or on trays, and one simply helped themselves… over and over and over again!  We waddled back to work… far too stuffed to be efficient back on Mill!   And then there was SCOTTIES, a much farther drive South,  located on Terry Road a few mile South of Highway 80.  True, it was a longer trip, but one that was well worth it!  I dearly loved their thick and cream milk-gravy and always asked for a double-serving.  One of my co-workers (Phil) once told the waitress that my wife made it at home… in 55 gallon drums! 

I can’t remember the name of the place, and as eat-joints go, it didn’t stay in business all that long.  It was not sit-down dining, but more like an ice-cream stand.  But they didn’t sell 41 flavors like Baskin-Robins.  This stand sold BURGERS… but they served somewhere close to 41 different burger-MEATS!  

It was located in the next block north on Mill, and on the same side as the McCarty-Holman Warehouse.  Just WHERE they secured this wild variety of weird and unusual burger-meat I don’t know!  I wish now I had asked.  But in addition to your normal beef and pork, they also had alligator, snake, buffalo, elk, deer, raccoon, rabbit.  The list was so strange, I really can’t recall it all!  I wanted to try the alligator… but was afraid to.  The buffalo was great!

Also, on the same side of Mill, and quite near the weird-meat place, was a cafe/honky tonk that sold the best fish sandwich I’ve ever eaten! The one ‘issue’ with the fish was NOT the taste… that was super-terrific!  The problem was the BONES.  The fish they used was BUFFALO FISH, noted for its plentiful bones.  

The sandwich was huge… and open-faced.  The bread was some type of French bread.  The deep-fried fish was placed onto the bread IMMEDIATELY out of the deep fat frier… I know… because the bread was soaked in delicious fish-flavored oil.  But on top, it was sprinkled with a very generous helping of bright red Louisiana Hot Sauce… very generous.

You felt that you were taking a double-whammy threat to your life in eating this sandwich.  If the hot sauce didn’t get you, the bones would!  But… these were large bones, rib bones, and very easy to find and remove.  Anything is better when one must work for it!  And those fish sandwiches were fabulous!  Of course, they were NOT eaten ‘like a sandwich.’

Farther north on Mill Street, but on the East side of the street, and up rather near but south of the Woodrow Wilson overpass was a place we called ‘Mac’s By The Tracks.’  I suppose that the actual name was Mac’s Restaurant… or Mac’s Diner or Cafe.  It’s no longer there.  It was not strange for it’s food-fare, but instead for it’s unusual layout.

Now remember, the mid to late 60s was a time not only of ‘weird’ things happening on the west coast… but it was a racially turbulent time in the deep south.  The ‘white only’ signs may have been coming down, but they were slow in coming down.  And in many places, like the water fountains of the Jackson Zoo, it was not simply a sign change/removal… those racial identifications were built into the structures.  And such also was Mac’s By The Tracks.

The basic building was somewhat square.  It didn’t have one ‘front entrance,’ but two!  The ‘front’ on the south side contained entrance one.  The opposite side/front contained entrance two.  Running east/west down the center of the building was an area that was much more narrow than the two opposite sides.  This center section contained the restrooms, the kitchen, and the storage area.  The south side, was the dining area FOR WHITES… and on the north side, the dining area for BLACKS.  

What made this doubly-unique was that from one side, you could easily see into the opposite side dining area!  The LARGE kitchen serving windows into both dining areas were perfectly aligned with one another!  Crazy huh?

Although eating there fairly often, I really can’t remember much about the quality of the food.  It was more the uniqueness of the building which stood out.

Although the above places were GREAT… the one food-fare that stands out as ‘extra special’ to me is still alive and doing well!  I think that I was the only one who dearly loved it, but I still do, and continue to stop by from time to time.  That place is the Big Apple Inn.  Their specialty, and my favorite, is the Red Hot Sandwich… and boy oh boy is it HOT!  They’re small, like a Krystal, but really pack a punch.  Personally, I get about one Coke per sandwich as they’re THAT hot!  They cost $2 each today, but back then they were only 50c each!

The story goes that the founder of the place approached Jackson Packing Company, and asked if they had any low-quality pork that was suitable for human consumption, but that they couldn’t sell.  And the reply was YES.  He took this pork, ground it, added his own special blend of spices and and such… and mixed this with his home-made coleslaw… and spred this blend of deliciousness on small Krystal size buns.  He had a winner! Ummm GOOD!  It makes my mouth water just thinking about it – just as they make my eyes water when I eat them.  And… the place was in walking distance from our offices on Mill.

I’ll wrap up this food-fest with a story unique to yours truly… a story that is no doubt still talked about among former Jitney corporate employees!  

Jitney prided itself in sincerely trying to make the customers happy… all of our customers.  Personally, I detest avocados… but that’s my problem.  We sold avocados galore to those who love them.  And… we sold some food products that, to be truthful, you might not even think of as food.  

I’ll clarify this by saying that the Murphy’s were active members of Grace Methodist Church on Winter Street.  As a youth, I was a member of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.  When we had a fund-raiser, we always had Spaghetti Suppers at the church.  When the adults had a fund raiser, they had CHITTERLING suppers (pronounced ‘chitlins’).  Yes they did!  And Jitney Jungle Stores of America (and Sack & Save) sold chitlins (always frozen) in the meat-market.  

It’s coming…  Yes I did!

Because the ad department CREATED the company’s grocery ads, we also photographed most of the products seen in these ads.  And chitlin’s came up this particular occasion.  So… I took this golden opportunity to cook up a small batch (breaded and deep fat fried) in the employees kitchen!  Sniff.  Sniff.  Sniff.  (The ad required only a photo of the CONTAINER… but I want the ad staff to experience chitlins!

Chitlins definitely do not have the same aroma as Sirloin Steak on the grill.  Not even close.  Most folks say they STINK.  So I created quite an uproar!  Folks up and down the hallways came looking for what surely must have died!  They definitely did not enjoy any of this intestinal experience! Needless to say, I was firmly forbidden to do that ever again!  Like I said… ole time corporate employees still remember that event today! 

Funny… nobody ever complained about our Krystal Hamburgers! 

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ARCHIE WHO?

    I see that ‘COLLEGE BOWL’ is back for another TV season!  That’s one of our favorite game shows.  It stars Peyton Manning and his brother, Cooper.  In the event you’ve not watched it, it’s a question and answer show for college students who represent their college or university… and they can win money for both themselves and their school!  Many years ago, I too made some cash off the Manning name… who knows, maybe one of the very first to do so!  Let me explain

    Peyton’s father was Archie Manning, who played for Ole Miss, ’67-70.  During his college days, Archie made quite a name for himself.  Sadly, the rest of the team didn’t quite meet Archie’s level of gridiron talent, so the scores didn’t truly reflect Archie’s accomplishments on the field… as he set records!  It was as if he ‘came out of nowhere… and when talked about among fans, many had never hear of this ‘miracle maker.’  It’s said that… an opposing team’s coach, one that had no idea of Archie’s ability (nor his name for that matter) when asked how he planned to defend against Archie… his reply was, “Archie Who?”  He soon found out!  And the phrase stuck!  It became the rallying cry for Ole Miss fans!

    The school year was 1969-70.  This was Archie’s last year at Ole Miss, and the year I met Carol.  Her sister was dating Jerry and it was through this connection that I met Carol!  

    Jerry was an entrepreneur, and he had the knack of making money appear when needed.  He put two and two together, and decided that the two of us could make a little dough off Archie… and he had just the idea!  And I had both some of the supplies and the all of the ability to make this scheme become a reality.  We’d cash in on this stadium chant… ARCHIE WHO?

    We took sheets of heavy weight, white, card stock, and cut it into pieces approximately 5 or 6 inches by 18 inches.  Then, I cut a stencil and applied it to a silkscreen frame, proclaiming the phrase ARCHIE WHO? in tall, bold lettering.  Next we glued and stapled 20 inch long thin rectangular wooden strips, as a handle.  We made at least 50 of these… and headed to Mississippi Memorial Stadium on game day.  

    I must insert here, that we didn’t bother with the niceties of such things as a vendor’s permit!

    We also didn’t cut into our planned cash windfall by purchasing tickets for the actual game… but hawked our signs to the eager fans flocking into the stadium.  Our ARCHIE WHO? signs were selling like hot-cakes!  And then, as if out of nowhere, the boys in blue arrived and asked to see out license/permit/approval to be selling our popular signs!  Not being able to produce said documentation, we were asked to leave… and promptly… and that this was a one-time friendly warning… or else!  We left.

    We didn’t sell all of our signs that day.  But we did sell enough to purchase a few steak dinners.  So, you might say, that Jerry and I were the first (or surely one of the first) to make a few dollars off of the Manning name.  I suppose we owe them some small recompense. 

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THE NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR DISASTER

WHEEL OF MIS-FORTUNE

Lately I see ads for the Neshoba County Fair.  My first memory of that fair was in when I was no more than 5.  My family was there.  And Dad and I rode the Ferris Wheel.  I must assume that at this time Mom was pregnant with my sister, Mary… because otherwise, she’d have gone on the ride also.  Mom enjoyed stuff like that.

This time it was just Dad and me.  But it turned out not to be all fun and games… much to Mom’s dismay.

Something ‘mechanical’ happened to the wheel.  It ground to a stop!  Dad and I were no more than one chair ‘below’ being right at the top when it stopped!  Over the side, I could see something smoking below… and several men throwing dirt on it!  As young as I was, I still KNEW that this was NOT a good thing!

Mom was on the ground, screaming and crying.  Mom’s first child, Emma, had died at birth.  Now her second was trapped at the top of a smoking ferris wheel!  The fact that Dad kept his cool was very comforting.

Yes, I survived this, my first trip to the Neshoba County Fair.  The motor fire was extinguished, and the gears disengaged to the wheel, and it was slowly turned by hand by several workers so that all of us could be safely rescued from the crippled contraption.

And such was my first experience at the fair… and on a ferris wheel!

The picture above is only an illustration of this story! Mom didn’t bring her ever-present camera that night, otherwise I’d have an actual pic of this event!

I WAS NOT THE MEAN WIDDLE KID

THE MEAN WIDDLE KID

As a child, I was never exactly a perfect angel 100% of the time.  I was not like Red Skelton’s character, ‘The Mean Widdle Kid’.  I was never really ‘bad’… but often times there was definitely room for improvement.  Here are a few examples, so you can judge for yourself.

My earliest infraction, I’m told, happened just as I’d learned to walk.  My maternal grandparents, and my mother’s older sister, lived next door to us.  My aunt had sensitive skin, and regular bath soap proved to be an irritant.  Therefore, she bathed in plain water and used COLD CREAM afterwards.  Because she used so much of the stuff, she purchased it in the largest jars available.  $$$

One day, while left unattended for a few moments, I got into her almost new jar of cold cream, and before I’d been discovered, I’d plastered the entire jar all over myself… and the surrounding floor!  $$$.  And as I aged, there more ‘naughtiness’ to come!

I’m told that I also attempted to disassemble my Grandmother’s alarm clock… but the tiny screws prevented me from taking apart too much of it.  In my defense, I was only ‘studying it’ to see how it worked.  This curiosity of how things worked carried on into pre-teen years.  I disassembled by sister’s ‘Waa-Waa’ baby doll so see exactly what it was inside of it that allowed it to CRY.  That sure may my sister cry!  But a few years later, she was more mad than sad when I ‘dug into the innards’ of her new 45 RPM Record Player!  How it could actually ‘change records’ was a mystery to me!  She still talks about that today!

My life-long friend Buddy Gorday, who’s 18 months older that I am… I first met when he was old enough to cross the street (Evergreen in South Jackson).  He was the unintended bloody victim of a funny prank of mine that literally ‘went sideways.’

This happened during our ‘pre-teen’ years, and the two of us decided to ‘build a CIRCUS’ is my backyard.  Crazy huh?  Anyway, the first project was the TENT.  Mom let us use an old sheet, and we had access to several 2 x 4s.  I remember that this wood was long, about 8 to 10 feet in length, and heavy.  We’d propped them just outside our garage… standing up. 

We were in the process of going back and forth into the garage for ‘supplies,’ when I got the idea of pulling a great ‘prank’ on Buddy.  While he was INSIDE the garage, I’d stand on the OUTSIDE, beside the 2 x 4s, and allow one of them to fall BEHIND HIM just as he exited the garage.  Boys always get a charge out of scaring other boys.  Somehow, my ‘timing’ was off… way off.  Buddy emerged from the garage, and I ‘let’ a long 2 x 4 fall.  It hit him in the head just as squarely as if I’d aimed it at that very spot!  Yes, there was blood.  There was also a large bump on his skull.  There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And Buddy made a hasty dash home and into the arm of a now very anger Mrs. Gorday!  

I know.  ‘Boys will be boys.’  But sometimes, and this was one of them, when boys will be boys is NOT a good excuse.  I was forbidden to associate with him… after all, I was obviously DANGEROUS, or at least CARELESS, or both!  It was many, many weeks before ALL those wounds had healed and we were back to where we were BEFORE I pulled the infamous ‘falling circus tent pole trick.’

Buddy and I TOGETHER often did something which proved to be quite  ‘unsettling’ to strangers around us.  We looked at it as being something that THEY could have easily done also if only THEY’D THOUGHT ABOUT IT TOO.  When we were attending Enochs Junior High (on West Capital) we never missed the latest Sci-Fi movie to come to town.  After school, we walk downtown to the movie… but we’d make a side stop at the KRYSTAL… where we’d both get a bag filled with those tiny, delicious, and aroma-laced burgers with that distinctive KRYSTAL SMELL!  You can almost smell them a mile.  You certainly can smell them across a movie theater!  We made a LOT of movie patrons mad… because we could hear their mutterings, just after we’d heard them sniff, sniff, sniffing!  We took Krystals into the movies NOT to be ‘bad,’ but to be SMART!

I did get into trouble at school once.  OK, maybe more than once.  My favorite teacher at Enochs was Mr. Peter B. Green, who taught me science.  He was a character, a one-of-a-kind.  Yes, he was a GOOD teacher, and he himself was ENTERTAINING.  We never knew what to expect from him!  

There was a catalog advertised on the back cover of 99% of the comic books sold back in those days… advertising the JOHNSON AND SMITH CATALOG, a delightful catalog offering everything from X-Ray glasses, to devices to help you throw your voice, crystal radios to telescopes, and tons of magic tricks.  I ordered the FAKE INK SPILL.  It was made of tin, and painted in glossy black ink.  It looked REAL.  And Mr. Green kept a bottle of black ink on his desk!  

He always spent time between classes ‘flirting’ with the cute new teacher across the hall.  So It was no trouble to set up the ink-spill spoof before class.  He walked into class after the bell, and right away, noticed the ‘spill.’  He muttered something under his breath, and walk away… he’d left the room to look for something to clean up the mess.  He was gone for quite a while, returning with a small container of water, and several towels.  He stood at the corner of the desk, and slowly wiped through the ‘spilled ink, which immediately fell to the floor with a distinctive metallic ‘CLINK.’  Then… he looked straight at me!  How did he know?  I think his only remark was “GOOD ONE!”  He KNEW that I was not a mean widdle kid! 

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WHAT’S YOUR LETTER?

If you were asked what letter of the alphabet most aptly defines your life, what would that letter be?  That’s an unusual question, huh?

In my case, that letter is a no-brainer.  It’s the letter X.

First of all, there were never many X’s in the telephone directories of yesteryear, not even in the in the midst of folks’ names.  But there’s an X in mine, handed down to me over generations.  My father’s grandfather was a Hendrix (sir name) and the Hendrix name was bestowed up on him (William Hendrix Murphy) and I was named after my father as William Hendrix Murphy, Jr.  

Yes, there are more than just a few folks named Hendrix, but I’ve not run across all that many.  I think I met more Fox’s that any other name which include an X.

But the X tie-in doesn’t stop with my name.  I was married previously.  This means that I have an X.  And that of course means that I am also an X myself…an X to my X.  But just as two wrongs don’t make a right, two X’s don’t cancel one another out… I’m still an X and she is also.

There are two other important Xs in my life, but not ones that pertain to my personal earthly being.  Back before the days before broadcast television (Yes, I’m that old) we had only RADIO for ‘our broadcast-listening pleasure.’  My very favorite radio programs, around the age of 5 to 7, was one called DIMENSION X.  (I now have a CD of dozens of these old recorded radio shows!)  My mother forbade me to listen to Dimension X because she thought (correctly) that it would cause me to have nightmares.  But boys will be boys, and I am one.  I slipped Dad’s battery operated radio under the covers, and faked being asleep, while listening to our brave space explorers being lost on Mars and other similar scientific terrors.  The night I was caught was a night to remember also!

One of my all time favorite, early 1950s black and white sci-fi MOVIES was ‘The Man From Planet X,’ starring the mother of Sally Fields (of The Flying Nun fame)!  This is a true statement, not just ‘some other X’ to add to my ‘X-list.’ I even have the CD of that old movie today.  Funny thing: it’s not nearly as frightening today as it was in the 1950s.

All that said…. What other letter of the alphabet could possibly be more meaningful to me that X?

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HUNT & PECKER

     I’m a strange bird in many ways, and I admit to that.  As a prime example, even as a fledgling writer, I’ve never learned to type!  Yes, I’m what’s called a ‘Hunt and Pecker.’

    Once I actually attempted to learn, or should I say, was encouraged to learn.  That was way back in the early days of computers, with their ever present keyboards.  Some folks believe that ‘typing’ is required.

    I began (full-time) work for Jitney-Jungle in the fall of 1967.  Those first few years typing was never a requirement, as I was producing silk screen and hand-painted signage for the company.  I’m sure that by today, somewhere, there’s a silk-screen apparatus that has a key-board… but back then… none was required.

    Because I’d formerly worked in the advertising department of the Clarion Ledger Newspaper, the heads of state at Jitney decided… why ‘farm-out’ print advertising when we have a warm body already on the payroll who can do that!  So, I moved across the street and into the main corporate office, hired a couple of co-employees, and we began producing the weekly print-ad artwork, camera-ready for the newspapers.  

    Our first ‘typesetting’ machine was among the first photo-typesetters on the market… and it didn’t even have a keyboard!  Although electric, it was in no-way electronic. Each and every type-font came on a large plastic disk about the size of an old LP record.  Oh, and each type-font SIZE had it’s own separate disk!  Early expense requirements meant that we could have only a limited number of type fonts and sizes.

     The way this machine worked was: in a darkroom, the 35 mm paper onto which the type would be ‘exposed’ was fed into a loadable cassette.  The type machine itself looked somewhat like a cross between a record player and a pinball machine.  To produce the words ‘Chuck Roast’ you placed the desired font/size disk onto the machine, inserted the cassette into the side, advanced the paper to the ‘expose film’ area, then turn the font-disk until the ‘C’ lined up correctly.  Then with your left hand you pressed a lever which locked the font-wheel into the correct position, and next with your right hand you pressed a corresponding lever on the right side which exposed this first letter onto the film.  ‘C’ was now done.  Then you moved the font wheel to the letter ‘h’ and repeated the left right, lock-print lever dance.  Next came ‘u’ followed by all the others.  Needless to say, it took quite a bit LONGER to print out ‘USDA Choice Boneless Chuck Roast’ than it does today!  You see, knowing ‘how to type’ was of absolutely no benefit in ‘typing’ with the Varityper!  It was basically ‘Hunt and Pecking by default!’  

     Also, there were physical limitations as to the type size we could use.  The minimum was 14 points (about 1/8 inch tall) and the largest was 72 points… around 3/4 inches tall.  So, for the larger PRICE NUMERALS we often had to use ‘clip art’ numerals, especially for the larger ‘featured’ items.  

    All of these various ‘labor intensive’ requirements required that these earlier four and eight page ad ‘tabloids’ displayed only a minimum number of items per page… something in the neighborhood of six to fourteen items.

     Because type-setting was such a long, labor-intensive process, there were many, many times, (in order to be home with the family) I’d take the Varityper home after 5 and set type sitting at our kitchen table!  Like I said, there was no NEED to learn how to type.  ANYONE can ‘hunt and peck’ 2 words a minute!

     But things changed when computers came along, and with them, computer-generated type-setting.  The next generation of computer assisted ad layout meant that type could be set directly in position and onto a page layout clearly and accurately presented right on your computer screen!  Now, typing was almost a requirement!  So… Jitney sent me to TYPING SCHOOL at the then new R & D Center!  

    I must not be ‘cut out’ for typing.  I was a miserable failure at it… much like I was at learning to play the piano during grammar school!  Oh I played (a bit) but my piano teacher, Miss Nellie Robinson, told Mom that I was not learning the notes… but playing by ear!  Typing was like that for me also.  So, folks at Jitney finally ‘gave up,’ by saying that I could type with two fingers far better than I’d ever be able to using all ten!  They were right.  I typed this using only two. 

    In my ‘can’t type defense,’ when I was hired on full-time at Jitney we had only 22 Jitney-Jungle stores.  Our little corporate in-house Advertising Department was instrumental in ‘growing’ that number, within a couple of short decades, into a mega-chain with the largest number of employees of any home-owned and home-operated company in the entire state.  Yup, I can’t help but be proud of what my two little fingers, ‘Woody left’ and ‘Wood’ right, helped to accomplish! 

Bill Murphy

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ONCE A GROCER, ALWAYS A GROCER

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

I suppose it’s simply ‘in my blood,’ this GROCER thing.  But I come by it honestly.  It’s actually something rather difficult to ignore, as I was practically born, bred, and raised in the grocery business.  It was almost the same for my Dad.

Dad’s first and only other job in his entire work-history was a short tour of duty working in the Dairy at Mississippi State College in the early 1930s.  And then he moved to the ‘big city’ of Jackson and found work as a stock-boy for the then new Jitney-Jungle.

I’ll skip forward to 1951.  I was in the 5th at George Elementary on the corner of Winter and Gallatin.  Dad had been the successful manager of Jitney #2 next to George, so when the new Jitney #19 was built and opened in Mart 51 at Terry Road and Highway 80, he was made manager of this new store.  Dad hired me to ‘help out’ after school Thursday and Friday afternoons and the weekends.   

I work there at Jitney #19 until I started my Freshman year at Mississippi Stare in the Fall of 1959.   You see, the grocery business is in my blood.

But I wasn’t finished with the grocery business!  In the Fall of 1967 I was called back into the grocery business when Jitney Jungle decided to form it’s own in-house ad agency and print shop.  This time as full-time… until the very senseless end of Jitney-Jungle in 2001.

I said all that to say this…  This very morning Carol sent me to Kroger for a few grocery items.  I found a spot to part right near the front of the store.  Great!  The store was crowded, even for a Friday morning. 

When I returned to my vehicle after shopping, I noticed that the nearby rack of returned grocery carts was completely overloaded with returned carts… most of which had be hurriedly and carelessly dropped off in willie-millie fashion!  Empty carts spilled over into the adjoining parking spaces!  My ‘grocer in the blood’ kicked in.  It simply overpowered me.  I couldn’t help myself.   It was like it was 1951 all over again and Bill had his grocery cart responsibility again!

Yes, I did!  After I’d packed my vehicle with my purchases,  I took my empty card over to this fine MESS… and quickly and efficiently did my work, in the true spirit of a good grocery company individual.  It didn’t take me long, perhaps 2 minutes at most, but it sure made me feel good about doing it!  I’m sure there must have been another customer within sight, scratching their head and wondering, ‘Why is HE doing that?’   

Why? Because it’s in my blood.  I can’t help it.  I’m retired now, and I miss doing ‘grocery stuff.’  Besides, those 5th grade years were among the happiest of my young life, and it was a barrel of fun this morning, an 80+ year old man, back again doing ‘fun’ 5th grade work!  It make me realize that I’ve still ‘got it!’

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WAY BACK WHEN…

A Big Yellow Cat

If I could go back… back to my childhood days… way back to the days when ‘a drug problem’ at school’ meant that the office was out of aspirin… I’d go back!  You’d better believe I would! Things were truly different  back then.  No, we didn’t have Covid, but we did have mumps, measles, chicken pox, and polio.  We didn’t have TV, but we did have AM radio that brought Amos and Andy, Fibber Magee and Molly, and Guy Lumbardo into our homes.  We didn’t have cell phones that rang during church… but we had telephones with long cords and a favorite place to curl up and whisper sweet nothing to that favorite someone across town.  We didn’t have TV to keep up us half the night… or the internet to rob us of valuable family time.  But we did have those amazing places called libraries that carried countless books on countless subjects that gave us countless hours of pleasure while reading.  Hardly anything was ‘right at our fingertips’ back then, which made possessing anything – mean that we had to put out some effort to possess it. This only made things much more dear to us.  And as one of the most popular songs of the day stated, ‘little things meant a lot.’

Looking back, I remember those simple pleasures, those special treats that we found while outside discovering the world around us.  You see, our world was the real world, and not some animated imaginary world on a small flat screen manupilated by our fingers.  A good example was:  About every six weeks or so, the city sent to our neighborhood a great yellow monster!

The street on which I lived was two blocks north of Battlefield Park.  It ran east and west. Connecting our street to Battlefield was Peabody Street, running north/south.  In the 40s, Peabody had yet to be paved… it was still gravel.*  Periodically, the city would send out this great yellow monster, a road grader, to smooth out the ruts and bumps of Peabody Street.  And the neighborhood kids lined the path to watch this great machine at work!   Oh what a treat that was!  The one in the photo is only a toy-model.  But it still brought a smile to my face!

I’ve always had a deep fondness for airplanes.  Perhaps that’s because our home on Evergreen lay directly below the landing approach to one of the main runways of Hawkins Field, Jackson’s original airport.  Those old Delta and Southern DC-3 lumbering directly overhead never got boaring to this young boy!

Back then, a dollar would buy far more than it does today.  In the late 40s, a fully dressed hamburger was only a quarter… and it came with condiments on BOTH buns (something you never find today) plus lettuce, pickle, tomato and onions.  A soft drink was 5c.  When I began driving, and dating… I had $5.00 set aside for my week’s spending.  I could take that $5, put gas in Dad’s car, buy the date and myself burgers and drinks, tickets to the movie, and still have money left over for snacks for myself the remainder of the week!  

In 1945, the southern city limits of Jackson was only yards south of US Hwy 80!  And I had a cousin who also lived on Evergreen, who walked south on Peabody, crossed Battlefield Park, then crossed over Hwy 80… to squirrel hunt!  Yes, I helped eat many a squirrel that was bagged just south of Hwy 80… when that area was mostly forrest and fields.

Not long ago I found an eye-opening bit of local history which underscored just how old I really am. It was an old highway map of Mississippi, dated less than 10 years before my birth. It showed that both Highway 80 (East and West) and Highway 51 (North and South) were only PAVED just a few miles outside of Jackson! Can you imagine traveling to Memphis on a gravel road? How about on a MUDDY gravel road?  

Yes, I know, times have changed.  And they keep on changing… especially in my lifetime.  But, times have also changed during my parents lifetime, and durning their parent’s lifetime!  Not long ago I saw a list of average salaries of profession people at the turn of the century (1900).  It stated that railroad engineers then made more that medical doctors!  Yes, times have changed!  It makes me wonder what it will be like when my great-grand children are adults.  I don’t think I want to know!

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