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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BC, AD, and BAC

Fanning copy

©2017 Bill Murphy

We’re familiar with the terms BC and AD. From the Julian calendar: BC (Before Christ) and AD, (anno Domini, in the year of our Lord.) For the purpose of this post, I suggest a 3rd – BAC. BEFORE AIR CONDITIONING.

The past is nothing more than HISTORY, and because I lived it, I believe I can speak FOR it. Heaven knows my grandchildren are baffled by it! In spinning these yarns about the good ole days, I consider myself simply ADDING to their education!

That said, I well remember BAC. The first A/C school that I attended was COLLEGE! Our old home on Evergreen had no A/C. And we really didn’t think we needed it.

The windows in our house were made in two sections, upper and lower. The lower section was RAISED 12” to 18” upward, and the upper section LOWERED by this same amount. Because warm RISES, warm air near the ceiling was allowed to flow OUT of the upper opened section and cooler (outside) air could flow INSIDE through the opened lower section to replace the hot air. On days when it was not HOT, we didn’t need the attic fan. Adjusting the windows to the above configuration sufficed. The windows in George Elementary School, Enochs Jr, Hi and Central Hi all worked this way. But on days when the house got HOT inside, we had our large attic fan.

This 36″ fan was located in the attic over the small hallway in the front of the house. It lay HORIZONTALLY, blowing UPWARD into the attic. When turned on, all the INSIDE hot air was sucked up into the attic and expelled through vents to the outside. Outside air was sucked INTO the house, to replace the air expelled OUTSIDE. Hey, it WORKED! Or at least we thought it did. (It also sucked in dust and pollen!) But honestly, I can’t remember being miserable.

Yes I do. I remember that 2 or 3 times, CHS was dismissed around Noon or 1 PM because of excessive heat. But we survived. My great-grand-kids cannot relate to living through that.

A/C came to merchants long before it came to Evergreen. And those businesses who ‘bit the bullet’ and paid for that huge ‘extra’ expense was duly proud of their outlay – and flaunted it! Plastered across the front entrances they proudly proclaimed, “We Have Air Conditioning,” written in blue lettering with snow on top of each letter and icicles hanging below! Dad’s old store, Jitney No. 2 on Gallatin didn’t have A/C, but when Jitney No. 19 was built in Mart 51, it did.

We never had central air on Evergreen. Later we had window units.

And my first personal window unit (during college) was not a true A/C. It had no compressor, and no coils, and of course, no REFRIGERANT. It was basically a metal rectangular box, with a deep ‘pan‘ at the bottom. It had a fan which pulled air through a thick screen of something resembling MOSS. A garden hose was attached at the top (outside) and water was allowed to ‘trickle‘ through this moss as air was sucked through it and blown into the room. A pump brought water up from the pan and back down through the moss. The garden hose was to re-supply water that evaporated. Yes, it did cool – slightly. But the air it expelled was also very HUMID!

Our last vehicle without A/C was a ’55 Chrysler, which we took across country to Vancouver and San Francisco. Dad purchased a new-fangled automobile ‘window unit’ just for that trip. It was nothing more than a 9″ metal cylinder about 18″ long, with a trap door on top. It attached to the window, and held in place when the window was raised. When filled with ICE, air entered the front air scoop, over the ice, and out through a vent that opened to the inside the car. It was rendered useless by the deserts out west.

I believe it was ’67 before I lived in a house with CENTRAL A/C. And yes, I really do appreciate the BLESSING of A/C. When you’ve lived WITHOUT something of value like A/C, you don’t take it for granted.

I suppose that’s my ‘lesson‘ in the post.

 

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An Old Man

Arm 1

©2017 Bill Murphy

As Sgt. Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

And the facts are that Ole Bill has ‘suddenly’ become Old Bill.

My birth certificate and today’s calendar hanging on or frig verify that I’m chronologically 76 years plus a few weeks old. The clock on the wall downstairs appears to agree with this much earlier each night, as does the radio/alarm beside the bed each morning. They’re conspiring against me.

No – ‘against me’ is far from the correct term! The alternative would be, well, you know.

Two things happened within the past 12 hours to bring me to the staggering conclusion that I’m aging. And both shed some fresh light as to why.

Last night was reclined of the sofa downstairs watching The Voice with Carol. I happened to raise my right arm and noticed how ‘loose’ the skin had become, especially on the inner area near the elbow. It was as loose and wrinkled as I remember my grandfather’s arms had been.

Then it hit me – I AM a grandfather. Correction: I am a GREAT-grandfather. Ergo: I have grand-father, great-grand-father skin. When did this happen?

Then this morning Carol was enjoying her usual early morning phone chat with her sister Mary Ellen. Carol was relaying her unusual dream of last night, and how vivid and detailed it was. That got the two sister’s talking about dreams.

I interjected that I dream EVERY NIGHT – and that most of those dreams are busy, active, work-filled dreams of past high-pressure jobs and projects – like ad deadlines at Jitney Jungle and whole notebooks of things to do for Lanny Wolfe’s Music Ministry Conferences. Mary Ellen then replied that I was actually LIVING TWO LIVES, one by day, the other by night!

So THAT too explains my aging process, and the visual effects thereof. I’m not 76 – I’m 76 x 2. I’m actually 152! No wonder I’m looking and acting old.

I feel much better about it now, for in truth, I’m not doing bad at all for a man of 152!

 

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Weeding My Pot Plant

schefflera

©2017 Bill Murphy

Steve Martin famously called himself a ‘wild and crazy guy!’ In the Jitney Jungle Advertising Department we had numerous wild and crazy guys – and gals.

Our work was ALWAYS deadline stressful. I’ve heard it said that operating room humor relieves stress – it sure did ours. We turned work into fun. Our boss summed it up perfectly saying, “All this and money too!”

The list of our workplace shenanigans are far too numerous to relate here. That would fill a book. Perhaps someday it will.

Sometime during the 80s, my parents gifted me with a large schefflera plant. The pot alone measured a foot across and almost 2 feet tall. This was a big plant. I had it in my office, near my desk. It was a beauty.

jitney-logo

Sometime later, long after the office oohs and aahs had died away, I noticed a new found interest in my plant. Like I said, our work was stressful, and our hours long. On days when the completed ads left us, often it was in the wee hours of the morning when we finally got home. So, depending on work-related assignments, our individual hours were not always the same, but staggered by necessity. Fellow workers began wandering in to chat – and I noticed that they also tended to glance at the schefflera.

After I’d noticed this strange behavior several times, I began to also ‘inspect’ my plant more often. Tiny sprouts. Dozens and dozen of very tiny bright green sprouts began popping up in the smooth soil of the schefflera plant. I’d pull them all up. The next day they’d returned. And my plant-visitors (both human and organic) continued.

I purposely stayed late one night. I cleared off my desk, and covered it with newspaper. Then I began digging out the soil from the birthday plant. Every scoop was laced with tiny seeds, seeds which look for all the world like the seeds of an okra pod. I had to dig down over a foot before a I reached seed-free soil. Then I carefully sifted the seed-laced soil, separating seed from soil. My suspicious were dead on – my pot plant had been seeded with pot.

But I didn’t tell my fellow workers that I’d weeded all the weed from it. (I never learned the identity of the culprit.) The idle chat/plant glance routine continued for a week or more, until someone could take it no more – and asked if I’d notice ‘anything happening’ with my plant.

What did I do with the seeds? On my way home late that night of weeding, I stopped on a small bridge which passed over a large drainage ditch in south Jackson where we lived – and tossed them off the bridge and into the wind. I’m sure someone, somewhere, eventually reaped that harvest.


 

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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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