IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

2 CokeBill Murphy  2020    

I was young and impressionable at the time, hardly thirteen at most.  Impressions can be both negative and positive.  This one was a most positive impression, one that’s stuck with me all of my life.  

     It happened around 1953, the dawn of rock & roll.  Soft drinks were a nickle each, and came only in glass bottles.  When returned to the seller, you were paid a two-cent deposit on the empty bottle.

     On weekends, I worked in the Jitney grocery store that my father managed in Mart 51.  I did odd jobs around the store, keeping the shopping carts orderly, and bagging groceries.  I was also tasked with emptying the trash containers in the check-outs stands.

  I was emptying a bag of trash into the dumpster when I heard the distinct clink of glass.  “Oops, ”I remarked aloud, “Someone carelessly threw away a bottle.” 

     “No, not one, but two!” The remark came from Authur England, one of the store’s full-time employees.  “One bottle can’t rattle!”

     I stood frozen in my tracks, allowing this jewel of truth to sink in.  

    Almost seventy years later, when my grandkids and great-grandkids begin to bicker and fuss, most often as not pointing a finger and proclaiming, ‘They started it!’  I stop them with this simply truth: It takes two to rattle.

     Thanks Arthur, for sharing your wisdom!

 

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THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, DEBBIE

Sandwich

   We all lost a ‘keeper’ earlier this week when we lost Debbie, the former Debbie Barnett of Jackson, MS.  Right now, when our loss is new and acute, we only think we know how much we’ve lost.  The future will show us just how great our loss has been, and is, and will be.

   Debbie was a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.  She was up when all the world was down, the positive that banished all the negatives around us all.  She was a treat to have around… no, she was more than that… she was a necessity. 

   Our family met Debbie and her family at church, and it was an instant connection.  Debbie was a teenager, and our brood of four daughters were much younger, so Debbie baby-sat a lot.  When not ‘working,’ she came over to simply hang out.  She and Carol grew close, even though there was a large gap in their ages.  But their’s was more than a big sister/little sister relationship. 

   I honestly don’t think we’ve ever owned a home with doors that were ever locked.  So our home was a home-away-from-home for many of the teens from church.  Most were simply in and out, at all hours of the day or night.  And some came and stayed, for days, weeks, even months.  But Debbie’s home was only a short drive away, and her pillow normally remained at her home.

   After church, there were five or six homes (including Shoney’s) where we congregated Sunday nights after church (finally) dismissed.  Debbie’s perpetually under renovation home was one of our Sunday Night Food Troughs… as was ours.  Billy and Earline Barnett (Debbie’s parents) really put on a spread… and we gobbled it up!  The food was always plentiful and tops-notch.  But the fellowship topped that!  Oh the sweet memories.

   Yes, Debbie was always one-of-a-kind… they broke the mold when she was born.  She’s the only individual I’ve known personally whose day and month of passing is the same as that of their birth.  She’s that unique!  But what you might not know is that Debbie came very near to passing many years before… while she was in our home!

    Debbie was there baby-sitting for us.  Who knows where Carol and I were, I can’t remember that part.  This was back before the days of plastic drink bottles, and all soft-drinks, even the big ones, came in glass bottles.  We were big Dr. Pepper drinkers at the Murphy’s.  There were usually one or two in the frig, and two or three more sitting on the floor around the frig.  Debbie was bare-foot.  You see where this is going.

   She reached inside the frig, and accidentally knocked over a large bottle of Dr. Pepper.  It crashed to the floor and the glass shattered.  Somehow, the base retained its shape, on the floor, right side up, but with long razor sharp shards sticking up like shark’s teeth.  Debbie stepped back… and one of those long sharp shards sliced deep into her ankle, not just cutting her, but slicing an artery in her ankle!

   Long story short… Earline and Billy rushed to our house, saw the damage, and sped Debbie to the hospital, where, Earline promptly passed out. The doctors told Billy that within a few minutes more, Debbie would have bled out!

   I believe that my favorite ‘Debbie Story’ is the one about tomato sandwiches, hence the photo above.   Debbie enjoyed two things a LOT.  One was swimming, and the other was having a customary tomato sandwich after a swim.  We got a call one day from her Dad.  He was calling from home.  “You won’t believe this,” he said.  “I wouldn’t believe it either unless I’d just witnessed it myself.  But Debbie got back from swimming a while ago, and she’s just consumed EIGHT TOMATO SANDWICHES!

    Bob Hope was famous for his ‘Thanks for the memories.’  Debbie, we don’t really want just memories.  We want to be still making memories with you.  That’s what we really want.  But since we can’t have that, we can all be thankful for all the wonderful memories that do have, and will always have and cherish, of you, and of your bubbly, positive life.  Thanks Debbie!  Thanks for all the memories you made with us!  

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DIMENSION X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Diminsion X

Back in in the late 40s and maybe very early 50s, when CDs were certificates of deposit, and disk were heavy round objects thrown during the Olympics, there was a fantastic program on the radio named Dimension X.  Or as the intro proclaimed… Dimension X-X-X-X-X-x-x-x-x.  Who (besides me) remembers it?

I habitually had nightmares, no doubt fed and watered on the likes of Dimension X!  But, I was enthralled with that radio program!  A lot of its stories centered on space travel!  This was right up my alley.

I distinctly remember one night after I’d been put to bed.  I was far from asleep.  Dimension X was on that night.  So… boys being boys, and me being a boy… I’d slipped Dad’s portable Philco radio under the covers, and was listening to some space-alien thriller on the radio!  Mom caught me!  Oops.  Now THAT was real-life scary!  Sometimes a space-alien can’t hold a candle to an upset mommie.

Yes, I’ve listened to that above new CD many happy times!

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Father’s Day 2020

    Tomorrow is Father’s Day.  That means a lot of things to a lot of people, on both sides of the gender gap. It also inspires many wonderfully happy thoughts to some, but sadly, unhappy thoughts to others.

     I suppose you could say that when it came to fatherhood, somewhere in my deep sub-conscience I must have pre-planned to do it up with a flurish.  One does not always direct every step of one’s future.  In most instances we don’t know what’s behind the next door, right?

     As for fatherhood steps one through five, five did and didn’t actually happen, not to fruition anyway.  The first wife and I lost five, three miscarriages and two tubals.  Technically I suppose, I ‘can’ count those babes-never-born as they were ‘fathered’ by me.

     But she and I parted ways.  And I sincerely hope that her later happiness was as complete and full as mine proved to be.

     Carol and I married in 1970.  She brought three very young daughters into the marriage, and before you knew it, we produced a fourth, also a daughter.  Those four girls proved to be every bit as fertile as their mother, which made for very, very large future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners around our table, with various and assorted TV trays, etc. 

    That all said, I was thinking about Father’s Day this year, and just where I fit into the holiday.  I do have a very checkered fatherhood history.  ( And I wouldn’t have it any other way! )  I like to say that ‘it’s been quite a ride,’ and it has been… a bit bumpy at times, but who of us have not had a gravel road or two in their past?  Those bumps are CHARACTER BUILDERS, and God Himself is most often the One who pushes us off the easy interstates of life.)

     Oops, I got a bit off track.  I was thinking about Father’s Day, and where I fit in.  It suddenly came to me that I’m actually ‘more’ than ‘just a father,’ as most fathers are!  In a way, I’m set apart… even a bit unusual, and that makes me special, huh?

     You see, I am a bonified ‘regular’ father.  I’m also a step father.  I’m a grandfather.  I’m a step-grandfather.  Oh, and I’m a step-great-grandfather.  And if you factor in the spirits of those five who began life only to have it snatched away… I’m a pre-birth father too. 

     Yes, I’ll answer to “Dad,” from several directions.  Now all that’s left is living up to that honorable position of ‘Fatherhood.”

     Happy Father’s Day my fellow fathers!    

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ANOTHER MILESTONE

© 2020 Bill Murphy

We all have ‘milestones’ which mark our passage through life.  That’s why we have birthdays an anniversaries.  Then there are other memorable events, such as learning to ride a bike, our first kiss, the birth of a child.  These become what we think of as ‘turning points’ in life.  I had another only a few minutes earlier today.

I was mowing our lawn, on our John Deere riding mower.  Yes, it has a safety switch that powers it down completely when the driver leaves the seat. 

I’ll be eighty in February.  No, I don’t feel ‘old,’ although I can’t say that I’m as spry as I was at 21.  The current Covid shutdown has actually not affected my life-style nearly as much as it has others.  I’ve always been a home-body.

In recient months, I’ve noticed a sometimes uncertain sence of balance.  It might happen when I’m sitting and then stand, or similar sudden movements.  It’s never been anything strong enough to actually cause me worry.  

But a few minutes ago, while mowing the side yard, I spotted a large piece of scrap paper ahead.  I stopped, turned off the mower, and climbed off the seat, and stepped down.  For a split second, up, down and sideways simply converged.  I had a milestone moment!  I took my first ‘old man’ tumbled.  Fortunately, it was in a grassy area with no rocks, etc.  No scraps, no bruises, no broken bones.  Just a watershed moment… Bill’s First Old Age Tumble. Help, I’ve fallen. But I got up all by myself!  

Whew!  I’m glad I’ve gotten that behind me!

THE AIRPLANE I ALMOST OWNED

© 2020 Bill Murphy

I almost owned a real airplane once!  Well, half interest in one anyway.  

I was in college at the time, and a classmate/good friend from the Mississippi Delta was a liscensed pilot.  I’d flown several times myself, and loved it! But I was always a passenger.  I wanted to fly with the stick in my own two hands.

The MS Delta, where my college pal hailed from, is a hotbed of aviation, mostly agricultural crop dusters. And those pilots most always have at least one ‘light plane’ of their own.  That said, my friend returned to school after a weekend visit at home.  He was absolutely bubbling over with joy!  He’d found an afortable airplane that we could buy!

The aircraft he’d found was a well-worn single engine, open-cockpit, WWII trainer, a Fairchild PT-19. It sat TWO. Perfect!  

According to my friend, it was in ‘pretty good’ shape, and was worth far more than the $1,200 the owner was asking.  Now this was in the early 1960s, way before the days of cellphones, much less pagers.  It would have taken a lot of get a call to me over the weekend.  My friend asked the owner if he could have permission to fly the plane to the small county airport just a few miles from our college, but it was a ‘no.’  The ‘running lights’ on the plane had an electrical short, and to fly it after dark would have been both dangerous, and illegal.  And it was fast approaching nightfall.  The next day was out, as my friend had a test early the next morning, and had to head back to school that night.  “Will you hold it for me?” my friend asked.  The guy said that he’d ‘try.’

Now this was sixty years ago.  I was newly married, in school, and on a limited budget.  My half, $600 might as well have been $6,000.  But I told him to count me in!  I’d come up with the money somehow.

My pal left for home as soon as he possibly could that week, and went straight to the airfield.  The plane was gone!  Someone had cash in hand, and had sweetened the pot to boot.  Sorry.  Maybe next time. 

Fast forward about 10 years, to June, 2nd 1972.  Jackson, MS heard shocking news.  A local newscaster from WAPT-TV, Dick Thames, was killed while filming a segment intended for the nightly news.  It appeared that the aircraft experienced structural failure while in the air.  

He was a passenger in a ventage WWII training aircraft… a Fairchild PT-19.

Was it possible?  Could this have been the the very aircraft that my friend and I missed out on?   I’ll never know.  

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AM I PLAYING GOD?

© 2020  Bill Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ya between the pages!

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TEARS TO MY EYES

© 2020  Bill Murphy

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

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

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

I looked at every page.

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

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

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

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

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Christmas Child Abuse

© 2019  Bill Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I’m sure they felt, well, abused

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FAIRCHILD FAMILY HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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