THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

jetshot1@ 2018  Bill Murphy

Bob Hope had it right!  We can be thankful for some memories.  But for a toy?

A few of my childhood toys bring back memories…. like the large 3-wheel bike, without brakes.  I was 5 or 6 at the time.  The thing was really an oversized, stretched tricycle.   Boy was it fast!  I discovered that the very first time I rode it.

Dad unloaded the new toy at our driveway, and I immediately took off, lickety-split down Evergreen.  I should have gone in the other direction.  I was rapidly approaching busy Terry Road when I discovered the thing had no brakes.  I managed to pull off the sidewalk as I neared Mrs. Busby’s house, hoping I could slow it down in her front yard, or perhaps, as I circled her house.  I did neither.  Instead, I crashed full-tilt into the large tree, with larger roots, at the end of her driveway.  I think I went 5 feet UP that tree!

Things like that, one can’t help but remember.

But the toy which brought me at least as much pleasure, but with none of the pain, was a unique water-gun.  My guess is that it came from H.L.Greens, downtown.  It probably costs no more than 50c.  But it gave me many, many happy hours of flying and fighting fun!  This water pistol was made in the shape of an airplane!

Jets were new at the time, and this toy was a close replica of the all new U.S. Air Force Republic F-84 Thunderjet.  I’d fill ‘er up, grab the handle, and take off… zooming into action… on search and destroy missions all around our yard.  I’d sweep down low… making my best jet-fighter sounds… and strafed anything and everything that moved: enemy tanks (roly-polies), ants (troops), crickets (vehicles), and worst of all, evil spiders, (artillery)!  The fun only stopped when I was forced to return to base to re-fuel and re-arm.

A few months ago I saw this one pictured above (with missing canopy) for sale on eBay. Someone obviously knew just how much unadulterated fun was contained in this small plastic toy – because I could have purchased several dozen cases of them way back when… for what they wanted for this single item today!

No, I didn’t purchase it… it was that expensive.  Anyway, I suppose I would look rather silly now, running across the yard make jet-noises, and squirting at ants.

 

 

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AN ANGEL IN THE CLOSET

Sk. In Closet copy© 2018 Bill Murphy

We often hear of skeletons in the closet, of deep dark sins and secrets hidden away, musty and dusty and, we hope, dormant and forgotten.  But what of angels in the closet?

My family has one of each – and both are from the same closet!

I come from two large families, with a total of 13 uncles and aunts plus all their wives and husbands. This large collection of unique individuals has gifted me with a wealth of stories and life experiences.  One of my favorite story-treasures involves my mother’s older sister, Lillie Fairchild Padget, and her husband Fred Padget.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Lillie (who everyone in the family called Sister) lived in Bogalusa, Louisiana.  Uncle Fred died of a sudden heart attack in 1947, and Sister moved next door to us on Evergreen Street.  Now Uncle Fred had an evil skeleton in his closet, which Sister packed up and brought to Jackson when she moved from Bogalusa.  She kept it not in a closet, but in a large trunk.

Not long after settling into her new home in Mississippi, she joined Griffith Memorial Baptist Church on Silas Brown Street, near our home.  And she began to sew.  She made for herself a beautiful, white Easter dress.

She was oh so proud of that dress.  It was of the finest silk, and rivaled the elegance of any wedding dress!  That top quality garment hardy cost her pennies to make!  The smooth, lily white material she already had.  It was brought from Bogalusa in the trunk.

You see, Uncle Fred had been an officer in the Bogalusa chapter of the KKK.  Sister made that beautiful dress, a dress to wear to church to worship and honor her Lord and Savior on the day set aside to celebrate that marvelous day He arose from the dead!

Sacrilegious? NO!

Read your Bible.  Over and over again we read where God used the weak to defeat the strong, the fearful to instruct us in bravery, and the ugly as a radiant example of beauty. This former skeleton in a closet, a dark symbol of sin and shame, my dear Aunt Lillie transformed into an angelic statement of love and devotion to our Lord and Savior.  I know that He looked down on that silk’s new form, and smiled.

 

 

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WE DODGED DHS

My Family@ 2017 Bill Murphy

In our home state of Mississippi, DHS stood for the Department of Human Services, which was once tasked with the awesome responsibility of protecting innocent children from neglect, abuse, and sorry parents. Today that agency is the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services. Carol and I somehow missed their attention on numerous occasions. Whew!

Our 4 girls are rather close in age, averaging 20 months between birth dates, so ‘big sisters‘ were never all that big, nor helpful. It was often like having quadruplets.

Our first parental semi-catastrophe occurred in 1970 when Lois was around 6 months. Carol and I attended Southside Baptist Church in Jackson, and were Sunday School teachers for high schoolers. Down the hill behind the church, was a softball field. We’d planned an after church picnic and ball games for the class. The teenage girls clamored over who would ‘take care of’ baby Lois.

This day, in the hectic rush to change clothes, transport food and equipment to the field, etc., Lois somehow ‘fell by the wayside.’ At the ball field, a full 15 minutes later, someone asked, “Where’s the baby?” She was just where we’d inadvertently left her, in her carrier, on the back steps of the church! Oops.

Several years later, it was Molly’s turn to be abandoned.

We were then attending First Pentecostal Church. Sunday night service was ‘the’ service of the week. We were present and accounted for at 6 PM, and considered it a ‘short service’ if the final amen came by 10. Sunday nights didn’t end there. It was either a late meal at Shoney’s, or else 3 or 4 families gathered at someone’s home for coffee and sandwiches. That particular night, we were the host. Molly as about 3 or 4 at the time.

All of our girls had friends from church, so they often as not rode to the after-church gathering with another family. We’d been home several minutes before anyone counted noses – are realized that Molly was not accounted for! The last time we knew where she was, she was fast asleep under the pew. Oops again.

A quick call to the church, and the person locking up for the night made a dash to the already locked sanctuary. Molly was none the wiser – still sleeping peacefully under the pew. Poor neglected child.

Some time after this, we were on vacation in the Smokey Mountains. See the photo above. The kids loved to hike, and we found a trail. Earlier, it had rained rather heavily, but we braved the soggy path anyway.

Shortly, we came to an ‘obstacle.’ The trail crossed a brook, with no bridge. A large, round log, perhaps 12 to 15’ long spanned the water. And what had once been a picturesque babbling brook, now, because of the heavy rain, was a mighty torrent rushing down the mountain side. Yes, we did. One by one, Carol and I walked our precious children across the wet log, several feet above these mighty rapids. If we’d slipped and fallen, our bodies would not have been found for days – and then, many miles away. Yes, we all made it. And no, we never told our parents about this foolhardy adventure.

We also lost Liz in crowded New Orleans in the French Quarter, for a long, long 2 or 3 minutes – when she turned left at an intersection and we walked straight. She was around 12 at the time. That was a heart stopper!

I’ll save the best (or should I say worst) example of our parenting decisions for last.

I can’t remember the exact year, but Tricia and Liz must have been around junior high age. Carol’s sister, Mary Ellen, and her family lived in Humble, Texas. We made the 450 mile trip several times each year, often leaving after 5 PM of Fridays and returning home in the wee hours of the following Monday. It was during this period that Carol developed her NASCAR/Indianapolis driving skills.

We left Mary Ellen’s late in the afternoon on our way home. This was in the days before cell phones and mobile internet. We had a CB RADIO! It was fun talking with the truckers.

While still inside Texas, we happened upon a trucker going our way… his destination that night was Jackson, MS! He was driving at a good, steady, speedy clip, so we stayed in his dust, chatting away continually. Soon we knew all about his kids and family. We even stopped for coffee, and met him face to face. I think he enjoyed our human company a few yards behind his rig. He had his dog beside him as a traveling companion.

Somewhere along the way, one of the kids made the remark that they wanted to RIDE WITH THE TRUCKER. You see where this is going.

It was finally decided that this utterly foolish idea was, perhaps, plausible. At the next truck stop, we pulled in, and exchanged two of our children for his dog. Looking back, I’m thinking what you’re thinking – WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

At the time, it really did seem like an educational adventure for the kids. I’ve never ridden in an 18 wheeler myself! But my 4 daughters have. Oh, we did have his license tag number!

After Liz and Tricia had their turn, and were safely returned to us, Lois and Molly had their turn in the big rig! The story doesn’t end there.

Sometime just before midnight, we arrived in Jackson. We followed him to the truck stop, not far from where we lived at the time, and brought him home with us, where Carol made a hot breakfast for everyone. Then we returned him back to his truck.

Amazingly, all 4 girls turned out amazingly well, in spite of their ding-a-ling parents … and without assistance from DHS.

 

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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!

All This And No Money Either

Elvis Wolfe copy.jpg

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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The ‘Infamous’ GM&O Rebel

b-gmn-rebel-jackson

When I was a small child, my mother’s older sister – known to the family simply as ‘Sister’ – lived in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Mom and I often visited her, riding the GM&O streamline passenger train THE REBEL. The Jackson, MS train station, now preserved as an historical site, was located just off Jefferson Street up the hill from the State Fair Grounds. The photo above is an earlier photo of the Rebel, when the GM&O was the GM&N. Notice the Old Capitol cupola behind the station. This was during the war years (WWII), so the train was always filled with soldiers, who according to Mom, ‘adopted’ me for the trip.

The Rebel was a unique train according to railroading history, a first of it’s kind. Up until the Rebel, built in 1935, all passenger trains in the US were ‘articulated.’ This means that each rail car SHARED a set of wheels between the cars. Individual passenger cars could not be uncoupled – none added or removed without serious work. The Rebel’s cars were built as are all passenger cars today, with wheel trucks on both ends.

b-interior

The Rebel also sported another ‘first’ for railroading – 5 airline-style HOSTESSES to cater to the needs of the passengers!

The Rebel was never know for its speed. The route from Jackson, TN to New Orleans, LA took 14 hours. Yes, this calculates to just under 35 miles per hour – but one must take into consideration the 55 STOPS it made along the way.

Speaking of stops – I remember one trip when we were traveling through typical rural southern countryside. The Rebel slowed down even slower. Looking out the window I saw an old woman waving something in her hand, as she trotted toward the tracks. The Rebel STOPPED and picked up her MAIL!

Being a railroad-minded child, I had my electric train. As a child’s toy, it simple went round and round an oval track. As a 3 and 4 year old, it greatly confused me that the Rebel LEFT the station heading RIGHT (south to Bogalusa) and RETURNED us to the station in Jackson heading LEFT. How did it turn around?

My mother loved to tell the (true) story of one return trip. I must have been no more than 3 at the time. She said that I refused to leave the station – until she led me up to the front of the train, where I could KISS the Rebel good-bye! Such has always been my fondness for trains!

The next time you’re in a bookstore, look for a book on American Railroading. You’ll find the Burlington’s Zephyr, Boston & Maine’s Flying Yankee, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha. Chances are you won’t find the Rebel – or if you do – only a scant mention. That unfairness always puzzled me. A few years ago, the sad reason for this slight came to light.

b-car-drawing

Unlike all the other glorious passenger trains of it’s day – the Rebel was designed and built for racial SEGREGATION! A schematic of a typical Rebel car, seen below, clearly reveals this. The smaller black section to the left has it’s own men’s and women’s restrooms – as does the larger white section to the right. (Schematic redrawn from an illustration in the GM&OHS NEWS).

Little 3 year old white boys in the early 1940s had no comprehension of this disparity. Therefore my memories of the Rebel are all beautifully positive – of happy times riding the rails – traveling to Bogalusa (a paper mill town) to visit my cherished aunt. And because of these trips, I still have a fondness for the sweet smell (to me) of a good ole paper mill. Ah, those were the days my friend!

 


This post is in response to the Daily Post Challenge.

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The Hell-evator

going-down-blog

© 2017 Bill Murphy

I once had a love/hate relationship with an elevator. I worked at the time in the sprawling McCarty-Holman 1920s era warehouse on Mill Street, in the Jitney Jungle corporate offices.

One gained access to our offices by a narrow flight of stairs built at an absurdly shallow angle. These much longer than necessary stairs zig-zagged thru four upward flights, divided by a short landing. Or – you could take a painfully slow, archaic elevator.

I use the term ‘elevator’ in a loose, technical sense. It could be best described as a metal cage. It invoked visions of a solitary confinement jail cell. But these doors ‘scissored‘ open and closed. Thankfully, the lower portion of the 3 cage-like walls were covered, but not the upper portions which revealed the stained brick walls of the elevator shaft, barely six inches away at most.

It was claustrophobic, no more than four feet square at the base. The load capacity of this rickety contraption was four.

More than a few people are nervous in any elevator, but this one had a quite higher than average fear-factor. Most folks took the stairs.

But I must say, this mechanical fossil had one redeeming feature; a beautiful art nouveau ceiling light medallion. The company closed in 2001, and I wanted that medallion, but it was not mine to take. Years later, fire took everything when the old building burned to the ground. Bitter/sweet memories of that old elevator remain.

Perhaps someday I’ll write a horror story featuring that infernal contraption. Unsuspecting souls will enter the prison-like cage and presses the button. Be it up or down, the devilish machine will always go DOWN. And as it descends faster and faster downward – the dirty brick walls appearing to be racing upward just inches away – it will descend faster and ever faster down into the very bowels of the earth. It makes your mind scream in terror.

That’s as much of the story as I care to think about right now!

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