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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Doing What Old Men Do

    I’ve just returned from a delightful outing with my childhood pal Buddy Gorday.  For the past hour, we’ve been sitting in his truck in the parking lot of the Madison County Airport, a very active airport for its size, watching aircraft takeoff and land… and sharing sweet memories of the past.  We were doing what old men do.

    There was a time, way back when, in the days when I was far, far younger, when I simply couldn’t relate to this.  This morning my memory was jogged to such a time, many years before, when I experienced a stark and powerful illustration of the ‘progress’ of time, which I could not at that time comprehend.

    Buddy is only eighteen months older than me.  But a year is much, much longer when you’re ten… than when you’re eighty.  Remember?  This day, Buddy and I were far closer to 10.  We were in his front yard at the time, probably doing what robust, active boys did during those days long before TV and video games.  We chased one another, dared each other to ‘see’ if we could jump over the neighbor’s hedge, always doing active and physical things like that.  And that’s when we spied him… and old man slowly making his way down Evergreen Street.

   I don’t recall if he had a cane or not, but he walked slowly, carefully, and slightly bent over as if he needed one.  I stopped my activity, and simply stood and watched, actually a bit confused.  In my young mind, I could relate to only my then young and active body.  I couldn’t understand his slow gate and posture.  My thought was:  Why is he walking so painfully slow?  Doesn’t he understand that all he needs do is to stand elect and walk purposefully and correctly?  I even walked a few paces myself as if to demonstrate!      

   Fast forward seventy years.  Now I understand.  

   This morning, when Buddy pulled up in my driveway, it was two ‘old men’ meeting to go out and play again.  But we had no plans to chase one another around the yard, or to jump hedges.  It was to do what ‘old men’ do… sit and watch the airplanes take off and land.  It’s only ‘the fun’ that has changed to other things.  I’m sure we haven’t changed a bit!

The photo above is of Buddy and me taken on Evergreen Street. I’m sitting in my beloved and much-used airplane ‘kitty-car.’ I’m not sure of the date, but at the time, we were just doing what kids did in the 1940s.

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(NOT) On The Road Again

Bill Murphy ©2021

The song ‘On The Road Again’ was made famous by Willie Nelson, or perhaps it was the other way around.  It’s definitely NOT a song related to my mother!  My mom was more closely paired to the movie, ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’

Mom was born February 25, 1915 in rural Mississippi, the daughter of a railroad engineer.  Dad was born July 6, 1910, in Carthage, Mississippi, the son of a self-sufficient farmer.  They met and fell in love in Carthage in the early 1930s, where both lived.  Dad was twenty-two when they married, and she was seventeen.  

Through thick and thin, World War Two, the threat of instant atomic annihilation… and me… they were steadfast friends, lovers, and husband and wife for the remainder of their long and very happy lives.

Yet, both were strong-willed, unique individuals.  Only their love for one another was stronger – thank God!

When they married, Dad was working for a small up-start grocery firm.  He began as a lowly stock-boy, and had worked his way up to manager of one of the company’s stores in Jackson, Mississippi by the time they married.  They rented an apartment only yards from the store, so Dad simply walked to work.  Dad’s work-ethic reasoning was: why should his vehicle take up a potential customer’s spot?

Dad taught Mom to drive; however, he asked her NOT to drive the car until she had her license.  I used the words ‘asked Mom’ because ‘told Mom’ sounds too harsh and demanding.  In today’s world, that’s not politically correct.  But this was in the 1930s, where ‘told’ would be both politically acceptable and strongly reasonable.  My law-abiding, plan-ahead, cover-all-the-bases-father reasoned that 1) Driving without a license was against the law, 2) IF she had an accident, she’d probably NOT be covered on the auto’s insurance, and 3) RESPONSIBLE people don’t take UNNECESSARY chances.  No doubt, he used the word ‘told.’

Girls will be girls they say.  And one of Mom’s lady-friends dropped by to invite her to go along with her into town.  They’d take the bus.  Instead, they took the car!  Mom drove.  She was on the road again when she shouldn’t outta be.  Wouldn’t you know it?  This would be the one day that Dad inexplicably came home in the middle of the day.  Oops!

This was a ‘big deal’ to Dad.  To him, it crossed more that one line.  Mom didn’t agree with what she saw as his un-reasonable attitude.  The embers of anger were  quickly fed by the wind of words.  And Mom, in her unique and amazing way, drew a line in the sand.  I don’t know the exact words she used, but she basically stated:  “If that’s the way you feel, OK.  That settles it.  Since you’re so firm that I was oh so wrong, I promise you here and now, that it will NEVER happen again.  And it will never happen again, because it CAN’T happen again… because I’m NEVER, EVER going to drive again!  So there!”

And she didn’t!

I can remember, when I was still riding a tricycle, and my little sister was a baby in arms and trips to the pediatrician were often for both of us… that Dad would beg and plead with Mom to please, please, PLEASE get your drivers license… DRIVE!  He actually promised her that he’d buy her any car she wanted!  But it was to no avail.  Mom’s clandestine shopping trip downtown was the last time she sat behind the wheel of an automobile!  Ever!!!

I’ve always believed that my family was one-of-a-kind.  And if this doesn’t prove it, nothing does.  But what is so amazing is that this not so tiny ‘wound’ in their relationship healed so utterly and completely.  It really left no scars!  By the time I was was learning to drive, it was simply an accepted fact that Mrs. Murphy did not drive.  Didn’t want to.  She just wasn’t going to do it.  Period.  And friends and family alike accepted this fact as ‘gospel truth.’

I just thought of someone else with an anti-driving mentality… Sheldon Cooper!   

TRAPPED!

Bill Murphy,  October 2020

Have you ever been trapped?  I don’t mean trapped for two hours at a piano recital for your neighbor’s six year old wannabe Beethoven.  I’m mean trapped in what could have been a life or death situation, or at least it seemed that way at the time?

I was once trapped in the McCarty-Holman Warehouse elevator with Henry Holman for a few minutes.  But curious as I am, I’d previously done my homework and discovered the release mechanism that allowed us to escape. 

But many years before that great elevator entrapment, my childhood pal, John Gorday and I were trapped in quicksand-like mudd in town creek.

This was in the early to mid 50s.  We were both raised on Evergreen, two blocks north of Battlefield Park.  In the late 40s, the land south of Hwy 80 was mostly undeveloped and wild.  That area might as well have been on another continent!  It became our ‘Amazon Forest’ within walking distance of home.  We’d cut through Battlefield Park between Terry Road and Gallatin… and quickly be in an explorers paradise. Town Creek was our ‘Amazon.’

It had rained previously, and obviously for many days.  The lazy creek had been out of it’s banks, but had now receeded to normal level.  We spied something sticking up from the water, something interesting.

The creek itself was not wide at all in this area, hardly more than four or five feet at most… and shallow.  Wading out to inspect this curious object would be simple, or so we thought!

I can’t remember which brave soul ventured out first, but a few steps beyond dry ground, and still several feet from the water’s edge, we discovered that we were in serious trouble!  The banks were muddy, very muddy, with very deep and sticky mud! The mud was like quicksand with a mega-grip. The photo above does NOT do it justice! We were stuck almost up to our knees!

The one on the bank ventured out as far as they could reach and grabbed a hand of the trapped one and pulled.  Although the one stuck was pulled close enough to the bank to gain enough traction to struggle out of the mud, the ‘rescuer’ was pulled out into the stickly mud!  We’d only switched places!  

This see-saw, back and forth, the rescuer becoming the one needing rescue, went on and on for what seemed like hours!  Back and forth we went until we were exhausted.  But we carried on, inching ever closer and closer to dry ground.

Finally, two very muddy and very tired Amazon explorers lay spent on the backs of the Mighty Muddy Town Creek.  It was time to break camp and head back to Doodleville. 

A PUSH PIN MOMENT

© 2019 Bill Murphy

In the early 50s, when most radio was still AM only, I was big time into radio.  I even built two shortwave kits.

Our big thrill was ‘finding’ impossibly distant stations, which was often possible due to atmospheric conditions, especially late at night.  I had a map attached to a cork board, and used push-pins to ‘highlight’ the locations of these far flung audio discoveries.  

Our brains and our hearts also have something similar to push-pins… recording and proclaiming special events and moments which we’ve deemed as extra-special, and worthy of memory.  Some of these are unique to us, and for us… their special meanings lost on others.  So be it.

I had such a push-pin moment in early 1964.  It was so strange, so bizarre, so ‘other worldly’ that I have difficulty describing it now, let along explaining it!  I know that it did have, or must have had, some military implications.

I’d just returned from Air National Guard bootcamp and training.  I’d spent a total of twenty six weeks at two different Air Force bases in Texas.  

I had three years of ROTC in high school.  Military training was not new to me.  But ROTC was not much more than a ‘subject’ one took in high school.  We had breakfast at home, slept in our own beds at night. We were basically free to do what we wanted the other class periods.  Not so in the USAF!

The ‘real’ military is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And in a real sense, it’s somewhat like being in prison.  Others, many others, are ALWAYS in control over you.  They tell you what to do, what to say, where to go, and of course–the what nots of all of those.

Now I was home.  Now I was free.  Now there were not a dozen different sergeants and lieutenants telling me to do this, don’t do that.  I found myself having difficulty re-adjusting to freedom and being out from under someone’s thumb.  The relief from that pressure was disconcerting.  This, I believe, was the genesis of my unique push-pin moment.

The place where it happened was West Capitol Street, in Jackson, MS.  I was standing in line at the Dairy Queen.  It was a popular place, and one usually had to wait in line.  I can’t remember what was going on in my mind at the time, but this I know, I was relishing the moment… I was home, and I was (somewhat uncomfortably) free.  

I gazed East, down Capitol Street.  It was a bright day, sunny, and colorful.  This all to common landscape looked especially beautiful this day.  I found myself appreciating it with all new meaning and depth.  And then it happened–suddenly–out if nowhere… the entire scene suddenly ‘morphed’ before my very eyes.  I saw this common sight, I saw the world, thru ‘different’ eyes!  

Whereas only moments before, I viewed the world as covered with asphalt and concrete.  This man-made covering had been sub-divided into squares, rectangles, and various shapes which we call ‘blocks’ and ‘tracts’ of land.  After all–the roads lead ‘everywhere’ don’t they, so they must cover ‘everything?’  It was as if I had previously interpreted all grassy areas as ‘additions to’ a concrete/asphalt world. 

But in this moment I suddenly saw green grass, trees, shrubs, flowers–living things, as they really are!  This was the world!  The asphalt, the concrete, were but ugly streaks… lines which cut across the beautiful earth.  I suddenly saw what this view would be if Capitol Street was suddenly ripped away!  Everything took on an all new beauty and meaning.

I suppose you don’t, or can’t understand what happened to me that day.  Perhaps that moment was just too personal, too–Bill Murphy.  You know how he is!  Or perhaps you’ve always seen the world the way it really is, a great big blue and green ball bisected with asphalt and concrete streets and highways.  Perhaps I was only ‘getting it’ that morning… and everyone else already had it.  

But I did have that moment.  And to me, it was special, a true push-pin moment.  

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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.

~~~