GOODBYE FAMILY HEIRLOOMS

Table

© 2018 Bill Murphy

Today, another heirloom from the Murphy’s past has exited the scene, stage left. I had mixed feeling about this one, both sad and glad.

A few years after my Carthage grandparents passed away, their beloved old barn was torn down.  Now that was a relic to be sure.  My Dad helped split the cedar shingles which formed its roof.  As a child, all the young Carthage-Cousins practically lived in that old barn.  Knowing it was to be demolished was like seeing an old friend on his death bed.  Before the barn was no more, I removed dozens of those worn and weathered cedar shingles.  I still have many of them… kept as unusual, but treasured keepsakes – heirlooms if you will.

This very morning, a formal dining room table which had been among the first pieces of furniture my parents acquired after marriage, left my possession – sold in a yard sale.

Mom and Dad married in the mid 1930s.  Dad was working for Jitney Jungle.  One of their customers, who owned a moving and storage business, approached my father with an offer.  He explained that several years back, a local doctor put an elegant dining room suite into storage.  Now they’d moved away, and could not be reached.  He needed the room, so… would Dad be interested in buying it?  He did.  For only $35.

This was NOT particle board and veneer furniture… but GOOD stuff.  Included was 6 padded chairs, the table with 2 extensions, felt table pads, plus a china cabinet and large buffet.  All for $35.  I sat for 19 Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations around that table while living at home… and many more after moving away.  Yes, I had a fond attachment for it.

After the deaths of Mom and Dad, it became mine.  As nice and elegant as it was, it really wasn’t 100% practical.  The legs were large, and the ornate lower bracing seemed to always get in the way.  Coupled with those tree-trunk-like legs, it could be annoyingly uncomfortable.  When Carol and I moved to Illinois, we put the thing in storage!  One of our daughters attempted to use it, but soon discovered it’s annoying ways.  She bought a new set, and back into storage the treasure went.

This weekend, we’re having a yard sale.  We decided that its about time to part company with this uncomfortable heirloom from the past.  A couple paid $75 of the table and chairs… more than doubling Dad’s original investment.  I think he would have been proud.

 

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REMEMBERING GRACE METHODIST CHURCH

Grace Church copy

©2018  Bill Murphy

Grace Methodist Church sat diagonally across the street from George Elementary School, on the north/west corner of Winter and Union streets.  Why is it that you fail to take a snapshot of those people or places you most want to remember?  Above is a photo taken by my mother sometime in the very late 40s, of a George School activity.  I suppose I’m in there somewhere.  Behind us is the old church building, before it was remodeled in the early 50s.  The parsonage is immediately to the right.  The white frame structure to the far left is the adjoining Sunday School rooms.

Grace was a neighborhood church, with no church parking lot.  There was ample parking on the streets for those who drove.  I walked to church many times.

This was my home church for my first 19 years.  Dad was on the Board of Stewards, and Mom was Superintendent of the Primary Department.  I sang in the choir when in high school.

Our family was always there – dependable, we were.  Sometimes we did miss a Sunday or two, but only for a valid reason… such as vacations.  Driving to Quebec, lower Florida, Vancouver, or deep into Mexico… on those pre-interstate 2 lane highways, you needed all the travel time available.  But our family attended church as we traveled – so that my sister and I could still be in the perfect attendance category.  One Sunday morning in Utah, we couldn’t find a Methodist Church anywhere – so we attended a Mormon service held in the Bryce Canyon Lodge.

I dearly loved Grace Methodist Church.  I am who I am today largely because of the instruction, foundation and examples I received from Grace Church.

I’m blessed to have participated in many memorable, spirit-filled, soul-jarring, life changing worship services in other churches over the years, yet I can truthfully say that none of those ‘pinnacle’ services compare to a typical service at Grace Church.  How? Why?

Because Grace Church was what it was!  I miss those wonderful days there, the place we thought of as “God’s House.”  We considered it to be a Holy Place.  And why did we feel this way and why did we feel such awe in simply entering the building?  Because… as small kids, we were taught that it was not just a building.  We were taught that it was “The House of God,” as if He dwelled there!  We learned to reverence it, respect it, and love it.  It was special… very, very special.  And because of this, we expected Him to be there with us and among us each time we entered that Holy place.

Were we lied to?  Was this some adult trick or ploy to make us behave?  Hardly.  Scripture plainly tells us that where two or three are gathered together in His name, then He is there! (Matthew 18:20).  And we knew to respect and reverence not only His presence which actually was there, but also His ‘house.‘  It was all real, very real.

Grace church was never locked when I was a child.  It was alway open to those who wished to enter, to feel His presence and love, to come kneel and pray.  There was a water fountain in the hallway of the ‘education’ department… and on hot summer days, we kids often entered the church to cool off and drink.  Although just a hot and sweaty pack of 8, 10, or 12 year olds, our parents may as well have been watching over our shoulders.  When we passed over the threshold, our very countenance transformed, automatically.  Why?  Because we knew to respect and to reverence that place, be it Sunday morning during church service or Tuesday afternoon.  We had been taught to give honor where honor was due… and God’s ‘house’ was due our honor and respect!  We neither talked loud nor ran in the hallways.  We had ingrained respect for where we were – because we’d been taught to have that respect.

I appreciate those life-lessons more and more each day that I live.

We didn’t have a ‘praise and worship leader’ at Grace Church.  But we had praise… and we had worship.  We had both in bountiful measure.  We had a choir director, but his duty was to direct the choir, not to serve as a cheer-leader.  We didn’t require a cheer-leader, because we knew that God was there, in our midst.  One could not help but feel His presence.  It was easy to worship Him at Grace Church.  This was His House!  And we respected it.  We hallowed it.  I think that it was this ‘attitude’ of respect and reverence that we brought with us to church that made it so easy, so natural, to worship.  We passed through the door expecting to meet Him inside!  And we were never disappointed!

My very favorite memories of Grace Church were the Sunday night services.  After 2 or 3 songs, and the announcements were read, the pastor gave his message.  Then we sang another hymn.  The lights were lowered, giving one just enough illumination to see, and then the pastor told us that the altars were open for those who wished to come and pray.  I always went forward.  There, in that darkened and quiet time, in that Holy place, it was as if I was not among dozens, but rather, alone with God.  It was so easy to feel His presence, His loving hand on my shoulder, His breath on my cheek.  It was just the two of us.  I worshiped Him.  And He filled my young heart with His presence, and His love.  It was like Heaven on earth.  I treasure those memories.  To think that the creator of the universe paused long enough to spend quality time with me!  A reverent soul is but putty in the hands of God.

Alas… Grace Church is no more.  Even the new building grew old… and time marched ever onward.  Folks prospered and moved away to bigger and better things.  Due to his strong work-ethic, Dad continued to get promotions at Jitney Jungle.  He and Mom moved away from Evergreen, to a larger, nicer home in north/east Jackson.  The congregation of Grace Church began to dwindle… until it was no more.  Sitting unused and uncared for, the leaking roof began to collapse.  A few years ago, the building was leveled.  Where the House of God once stood, and where heaven once opened its doors to a young boy… is now but a vacant lot.

Grace Church may be gone – but Grace Church is not forgotten!  Not in this heart anyway.

 

 

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PRIMOS PIG OUT

© 2017 Bill Murphy

There are things from the past you never think you’ll see again.  Among these are gems your grandkids would find hard to believe.  I was amazed to run across this (poor) copy of a 50s restaurant menu.

MenuDuring high school I worked weekends bagging groceries at Jitney Jungle #19 in Mart 51. Our pay scale was no where near what kids make today.  But then, our expenses where no where near what they are today.  I made 75c an hour – plus tips.

My father insisted (and enforced) that I put $5 a week in the bank.  From the remainder, I still had money for Friday and Saturday night dates (which usually included dinner and a movie) gas for Dad’s car, and enough pocket money for snacks and soft drinks until the next pay day.

On 75c an hour? Yes!

One of my favorite date-night meals was the heavenly Primos Fried Chicken Dinner. I wish the photo above was better – and the prices were the same today!

Honestly, I think they battered the chicken twice.  That thick and crunchy crust was Thanksgiving-delicious!  The menu says – Half Spring Chicken, Un-joined with F. F. Potatoes, Hot Roll, and Butter… $1.25.  Later, the price went up – to $1.50.

This was not a pigmy chicken.  It was a regular sized chicken, cut in half.  Take-out boxes were new then, and this delicious bird barely fit in the box! Growing boys, even on a date, find it difficult to share. We each had our own!

You know all the jokes about going to the drive in movies and not seeing the movie. Our excuse was that, thanks to Pop Primos, we were feeding our faces!

 

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Just Call Me…

The following short piece is yet another Little Egypt Writer’s Society writing challenge. Our subject assignment was NICKNAMES.

 

Just Call Me    © 2017 Bill Murphy

If nothing else, I’m well documented.

My first documentation being the hospital birth certificate issued minutes after my birth. The second, my official State of Mississippi birth certificate, followed by the certificate issued for my very first day of Sunday School at Grace Methodist Church on Winter Street in Jackson. And, yes, I still have them, as well as my one and only Social Security Card issued in 1953.

The list goes on and on from there.

If ever my identity needs to be changed, someone is in for a LOT of paperwork! And that’s just for my official (legal) name.

That official name is William Hendrix Murphy, Jr., after my father, who was named after his Great-Grandfather, William Hendrix. In reference to the Hendrix name, my Dad went by ‘Hendrix,’ shortened by his family to ‘HINX.’ My mother chose “Billy’ for me, and so it was, for the next dozen and a half years.

The family Hendrix/Murphy name brought on my first nickname. ALL of the relatives in Carthage, even to this day, call me BILLY HENDRIX. When I graduated from high school, one of my Carthage aunts gave me an engraved key chain – engraved with the initials B.H.M. I still have that too.

I really messed up the records for the Jackson Public School System during high school. In the 10th grade, I was still ‘Billy.’ In the 11th I went formal with ‘William.’ And then back to informal with ‘Bill’ in the 12th.

I picked up two nicknames during my 1967 to 2001 years with Jitney Jungle, both of which have endure to this very day. We always considered ourselves over-worked and under-paid in the advertising department. If nothing else, EVERYTHING was ALWAYS on a TIGHT deadline. It was stressful.

BreakThe smokers went outside to smoke to relieve their stress. I never smoked. But in a bottom drawer, I kept a small model airplane (under construction) and a few basic modeling tools. While they smoked, I cut balsa wood. One day, Mr. McCarty came in, not at all happy with my stress-relieving activity. He blared something like, “If you don’t put that airplane away and get back to work, you’re name’s gonna to be Mudd! And it was, from that day forward.

Oh, that – and Murf. I still answer to Mudd, Murf, William, Billy, Bill, and Billy Hendrix, and hey you.

You can basically call me anything. But just be sure to call me for lunch!

 

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Oh Happy Days!

Drive© 2017  Bill Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoo 1948

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

Spring 2011

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

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

 

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Lessons From The Grocery Store

Jitney copy

© 2017 by Bill Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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