American to the Core by Maydell Murphy Part 5

College grandeur had departed.  I was installed as housekeeper in a doctor’s house.  My freshman homesickness held no candle to this awful emptiness that faced me now.  Father and Mother were out of the house, or shut up in their offices all day.  Joe was at Harvard.  No companionship could be found in the kitchen.  It was the era of incompetent Portuguese women who scarcely knew a ladle from a spoon.  The house was enormous to keep swept and dusted, for father had just built a new one, a 24-room house of three stories with each room the size of a pioneer cabin.  The D.A.R.’s frowned at it, for father had torn down a lovely old landmark with warming closets and Holy-Lord doors, to make way for a pompous affair of granite base with twin wooden towers rising on either side of a massive mahogany door.  The old house had been set back from the street, as the City Hall had been, next to it.  Then the City Fathers had cut down the beautiful elms, had torn up the emerald lawns, and had put on an enormous granite front.  To match this monstrosity Father built a granite front, too, and set it on the sidewalk.  Mother said she liked to be able to sit at her front window and look down Main Street.  As a matter of fact, we always looked instead at the First Parish Church across the way, its lovely Norman tower half hidden in the elms, its stone-walled churchyard velvet green in the summer, and in winter white as the fields of heaven.  Our house followed no special architectural design.  It was a composite of father’s daydreams and some of his nightmares.  Mother had little to say.  It was father’s house.  He designed it with a noble Jacobean living-hall, upstairs and down, paneled in the choicest of red oak above which were soft green plaster walls stenciled with heraldic device.  The huge doors boasted egg-and-dart moldings and the fireplaces in every room ornamental scrolls which father had laboringly had drawn to scale.  The office-hall and the dining-room papers were dark leather affairs imported from a little town in Magland.  The music-room, with a new stainway grand, especially for me, was paneled in oak with landscaped burlap showing castles and moats.  The light fixtures were solid brass, antiques and fitted with candles.  My bedroom was baby blue plaster with a wide border of hand painted apple blossoms.  But father’s pride was the twelve foot high cemented cellar “where he could walk upright”.  Most of the cellars of that time were entered crouching.

His other special joy was the billiard room in the attic.  Beside the billiard table there was a tower-end, made to represent an Indian wigwam.  How father’s eyes would gleam when he took friends up to see that room with seven windows.  Every window in the house was a different size, of heaviest plate glass.  The curved ones cost fifty dollars to replace when pierced later by a small boy’s 3.3 gun.  One by one the window-cords broke and no carpenter could be found to get them to run up and down smoothly again.  The one mean room was the kitchen.  At a time when kitchens were big enough to house a couple of automobiles, father built one so small you couldn’t swing a cat.  He said he was tired of having hired girls feeding an army, and he was going to put a stop to it.  I never remember any of our girls entertaining more than one and a half visitors at a time, but that was his idea.  He kept the old ice chest, and the old gas stove.  Mother sputtered, but it made no difference.  This was his house.  His offices were rich and dark with handsome Chinese vases on built-in bookcases with doors of leaded glass.  Mother’s were light, and from the day she moved in, a welter of disorder.  Father’s medicine stood in rows, his bills were in alphabetical compartments, but mother’s medicine bottles and bills were all over the place with bits of cotton and rubber pessaries ornamenting the window sills.  Over her operating table hung a huge picture of Grandfather Murphy with his white whiskers painted black.  Mother was devoted to Grandfather because, after she was married, he had encouraged her to follow in his footsteps and become a surgeon.  Grandfather had been a member of the Royal Academy of Surgeons in Manchester, England, before he had come to Taunton and married Grandmother.  I have been told by patients whom he treated with outrageous candor that he was a gentleman of the old school. My only memory of him is his trundling me on his knee while he sang, “Woompshen, woolly woo, woolly, woolly woo.”

The house could have taken all my time, but I was not particularly domestic, so I had long, lonely hours to myself, hours when I used to tramp then miles around the lake, or sew for days with the village seamstress.  Mother used to employ a seamstress about six months of the year, and I was rigidly required to help her make my ocean of clothes.  Sometimes I would have thirty new dresses a year, of the most exquisite material and the most complicated design.  That was the era of miles of braid and tons of ruffled petticoats, with battalions of hooks and eyes, boned bodices, lace fur bellows, and ostrich feather hats.  Skirts were cut into innumerable panels, snipped here and snipped there, and sewn together again with cat stitches, feather stitches, fagoting, and whip cords.  Every seam was overcast.  It was considered slipshod to pink them.  Buttonholes were prodigal in number and size.  Even tailored coats were made at home, and opera-capes were trimmed with glittering passementerie, when they weren’t heavily embroidered with American Beauty roses.  Outside of my high school graduation dress which boasted 250 yards of lace hand sewn on silk net, the noblest creation I ever had was for Harvard Class Day.  The dress was on pinkish tan silk completely covered with rosebuds that had to be embroidered with laborious care.  The skirt was ten yards round and was supported by four silk under skirts, each with its hand made ruffle.  The sleeves were long and the neck was boned.  When I donned it and settled in our automobile to be driven to Cambridge, I was as arrogant as Catherine of Russia.  My pride, however, was short.  On Harvard Bridge, that sweltering day, a tire blew out.  When a tire exploded in those days, it was a serious affair.  This one was filled with a composite of molasses and feathers which flew all over the road and into the open car.  Upon my arrival at Harvard I might have been taken for Skipper Ireson who was tarred and feathered by the women of Marblehead.

Automobiles were never used exclusively by young people but we took plenty of family trips in them.  An auto trip was my Father’s favorite way of entertaining my college friends.  Mother stayed at home and attended to both practices.  He would rout us out of bed at five o’clock in the morning, bid us pack our suitcases, and we were off to New Hampshire or Connecticut or the Maine coast.  Every hundred miles or so we’d have a puncture, which usually meant a blow-out, too.  Then all hands would get out and help wrench off the old tire and pound on the spare.  Every spare demanded plenty of exercise on the pump, for it was not previously inflated.  Father never had a decent jack.  We’d get the car half-raised from the ground and down she’d go.  Once the jack flew up and came within a sixteenth or an inch of my eye, knocking me flat.  I had to learn to steal under the machine, cautiously insert the tool, then hold it steady while Father jacked.  The trick was to lie flat enough in the mud of the road so that if the jack slipped, as it often did, you wouldn’t have your back broken.  Cranking was also a peril.  No one had ever heard of a self-starter.  You turned the crank gingerly, for it might swing around and snap your wrist.  Broken wrists were common.

There was also danger of blowing up.  Water systems were finicky.  Every fifty miles we used to stop, take off the radiator cap which was always red-hot, dodge the fountain of boiling water, then start on a quest for additional water, while she cooled.  Every farmer along the highway was bothered by autoists who wanted to borrow a pail of water, and no sane man drove through miles of woods without carrying his own pail to dip into roadside brooks.

The little old Maxwell’s had to be backed up the hills, the Hump-mobiles were so small we called them animated shingles, but the pride of our hearts was a second hand Cadillac that was stoked with oil every time she took gasoline.  Skidding was an outdoor sport.  There were few cars on the roads, so we could sway merrily, and think little of it, unless we struck a stretch like Lynn Boulevard where we once circled a tree thrice, and continued a little frightened, on our way.  The pioneer autoist,  encased in goggles and duster was a prosaic-looking customer, but he had plenty of thrills.  I remember flying down many steep hill, because the brakes failed to work.  Once there was a hay wagon at the bottom of the grade.  We couldn’t stop, but we just squeaked by, shipping half the load.

I always had difficulty learning to navigate.  When I learned to ride a bicycle Grandma Bliss hired a fireman to run up and down the street with me, even then I mad efor every street-light pole.  When I learned to sail a boat, the mast snapped off, or the cat-boat decided to bury it’s nose.  Canoes keeled over.  Horses lay down and rolled over.  When I tried for my auto license, my instructor took me down the river road, set me at the wheel, started the machine, then jumped out, and began running circles around the slowly-moving car.  My foot found the throttle, I ran straight across a meadow, although I might just as well have gone into the middle of the river.  “There”, siad Longlegs, rushing up, “Now you’ll have plenty of confidence.  You see you drove it all alone.”

On Martha’s Vineyard Island where we summered for twenty-five years, father’s automobile, however, was the piece de resistance.  There was some difficulty getting it there, for there was always the problem of “making the boat”.  We usually started early in the morning to cover the 22 miles to the New Bedford Steamboat Wharf where we had a reservation for the noon boat.  If we didn’t make the boat, we were delayed four or five days and that was expensive.  So we carried two spares, and prayed all tires would hold, that she wouldn’t boil over, and that no mysterious part would drop out coasting down the hills.  Then, too, there was the argument of whether the top should up or down.  Frequently we changed our minds two or three times on the road.  The gangplank was the width of the machine, with an unguarded few inches wither side.  You had to put on the juice to make the slope.  Your steering-wheel was none too certain.  The crew lined up to give advice and the necessary heaves.  Before you were safely “stowed”, profanity filled the air, the family, on the upper deck, covered their eyes and resorted to prayer.  If you had a new machine, the trip was heart-rending for the dashing spray on the open deck of the ship’s bow took off the finish right before your eyes.  Having arrived at the Cottage City Warf, the problem was still more acute, for the tide was either too high, too low, or too swift, and getting an automobile off could be calculated only by astrologers.


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American to the Core by Maydell Murphy Part 4

No one believed more heartily in the education of her children then mother.  No expense was too great.  Her sister would complain, “If you send Maydell to college, all she’ll learn will be poker, and smoking and drinking.” Mother would reply, “They could teach her worse things.” whereupon Aunt Dell would reach for her camphor.

The day after high school graduation when I had given my salutatory in Latin, with Easter lilies in my hand, mother took me to Wellesley.  It was a beautiful summer day and we walked down the broad campus-drive under an arch of trees.  Lake Waban glinted blue in the sunlight.  Birds and flowers and long stretches of greensward added to the beauty of the buildings.  The hollows were filled with brilliant rhododendrons.  Mother was impressed, until a new-woman type came along and directed us to College Hall in these words “Follow this dappled road until you come to an eminence overlooking the lake.  Upon its peak, you will find a brick building.  Enter the portico”.  “If that’s what education does to you, you’d better come home”, said mother, but having gained the eminence, she arranged for my to stay.

The first years in Wellesley were a nightmare.  Every Saturday father would appear and I’d throw myself on his neck, weeping.  Sunday night when he left, he would have tears in his own eyes, when Mrs. Nye, the housemother admonished him, “Be brave, Doctor, be brave.”  All during the week, I trudged the mile from Mrs. Nye’s in the village to the campus recitation rooms, with rivulets streaming down my face.  No one could console me.  I studied about Roman Emperors, and watercress , and putting a cookie in a pail in logic class.  I wrote Latin and daily themes in English, and I wrote home to come and take me ere I died.  One of the sophisticated freshmen took particular delight in giving me something to cry for.  Her people had been missionaries, and she told me stories of horror- of hunger so intense that girls like myself had turned cannibal.  Doubtless the tales were inspired by the excellent meals we had and our wastage of good bread-dough which we used to roll into little caps to adorn the newel-posts.  I was so haunted by a particularly vivid description of a girl gnawing a human arm that, like the Ancient Mariner, I buttonhold one of my home-town girls and begged her to listen.  Maude had to work her way through college and was a rock of sense.  On a narrow bench in front of Stone Hall, with the sun dancing across the lake and the brilliant autumn leaves falling gently into our laps, I told that story with all its embellishments.  I told it without interruption.  When I was through, that angel of mercy beamed in friendly fashion, and said, “Any time you hear another just pass it along.  I don’t mind a bit.  In fact, it’s rather funny.”  We both laughed.  From then on, not even the worst of Edgar Allan Poe had any effect.  In fact, the second year, I began to write ghoulish fiction of my own.  which prompted my English instructor to write, “Resembles Hogarth”.  I didn’t know who Hogarth was, but I thought it better to tone down my next offering.

It was just as well that my optimism was beginning to flower, for my second year found me in Stone Hall.  We drew lots for living quarters and Stone was my luck.  I had a spacious room at least twenty feet high overlooking the lake. The building itself was a gloomy affair set on top of a hill in a thick cluster of trees.  We had no screens and in the evenings the walls outside and sometimes the walls inside were covered with bats.  I was mortally afraid of anything that looked like a mouse, even a cloth one, but I had nothing on my neighbor, Hattie Brown.  Hattie was quite the wealthiest girl in the dormitory.  She slept nights with a chamois bag around her neck, filled with magnificent rings and pins, which she worried about constantly.  “Father just loaned them to me from the family vault”, she would say, and even in class she would automatically clutch at her bosom to see if the diamonds were still there.  Hattie had frizzy hair, a huge mop of it as black as night.  The bats apparently loved it, for let one swoop into Stone Hall, and he was caught in Hattie’s hair as in a net.  I remember only one which actually had to be cut free, but Hattie was always running along the corridors shrieking, with the bats after her, and the chamois bag clutched to her breast.

When the bats were scarce, there was hazing to worry about.  In the tiled center of Old College Hall there was a statue of Harriet Martineau seated in a marble chair.  Every freshman was dragged through the rounds of the chair.  When it came my turn, I was nearly the cause for the permanent unseating of Miss Martineau.  I stuck fast.  No amount of pushing or pulling, no strenuous kicking or wriggling on my part, could separate me from Harriet.  At last, a hastily-summoned faculty member appeared and commanded that most of my clothing be cut away.  No attempt was made to push fat girls through Harriet after that.  It was against the Victorian decencies.

Obstacles were no deterrent for the Harvard boys who were sent to Wellesley for their initiation stunts.  On the bitterest winter nights the poor victims were forced to plunge into the icy waters of Waban, and then get back to Cambridge as best they could.  Many a night we saw the shadowy figures, but I never heard of a classmate meeting one at close range–not in those days.

One night, a girl who felt much as I did about home, walked into the lake and was drowned.  For weeks, the girls in the front rooms of Stone saw her ghost among the trees.  Finally President Hazard must have heard some rumors of the restlessness among us, for she called us together, 1100 of us, called us her “dear girls”, and told us to go to her house at any time of day or night and ask for her when we were troubled.  It was a lovely human thing to do.  I doubt if a single girl called upon her, but it gave us a sense of security when we needed it most.

Professor Sophie Hart, as elongated as a Botticelli Madonna and with the same ethereal face and pale yellow hair, attracted me greatly.  She was head of my dormitory table and presided with the elusiveness of a Buddha.  She ate morsels, but we seldom knew when.  Often she would bring dinner guests, weird men and women we thought, Esperanto enthusiasts and wandering poets.  The end of these special dinners was always the happiest time for me–for when I got back to my dark room, there would always be a heaping plate of ice-cream waiting.  It was the love gift of a maid who had taken a fancy to me because my name was hers.  “There, darlint,” She’d whisper, “eat it fast as the little black hen gobbled the worm”.  And the second “Murphy” would return the whisper with a prudish, “You mustn’t do this.  It might get you into trouble”.  But sanctimony didn’t kill the joy with which it was eaten..Nothing ever tasted better.

It was not until Senior year that I stopped crying for home.  It was not my absorption in learning that wrought the change.  It was the fact that the bunch of senior girls in Pomeroy kept me so busy, I had little time for reflection.  I was occupied with Saturday trips to the second balconies of Boston theaters, Sunday afternoon concerts, lectures by visiting celebrities like Willy Yates, and a course in baby production.  That course nearly finished the class of 1907, for most of us were unaware until our senior year in college that we didn’t grow from rose-bushes.  Though I came from a doctor’s household, I was no exception.  The professor believed in visual aids.  She passed around the various stages of the human embryos, in alcohol bottles.  Dozens of us took one shuddering look, and promptly fainted.

I was concerned, also, in solving two major problems of thwarted personality in my own dormitory.  One was the mania of an efficient friend who entered my room, every time my back was turned to set it in order.  Every little ribbon in every drawer would be arranged in a row like so many three-inch herring.  Every pair of shoes marched around the room, two by two, because there was not enough closet space.  On the pin-tray, every pin pointed due East, and there wasn’t a chance in the world for a pencil to be out of its groove.  Nightgowns were transferred to baby-ribboned hangers, and coats were encased in sheets.  It made no difference that such order drove me to frenzy.  The silent war went on.

The other case lived across the hall.  She was what might be described as ‘mauve’– a gentle mouse of a girl with hair the color of old straw, and a voice that sounded as if it had drifted across a glacier and thought of fading back into the unknown.  Over her desk was a picture of the Blind Beatrice.  It makes me shudder even now when I look at a copy,  for I can see Louise drifting down the hall and gliding into my open door, walking in her sleep.  Perhaps she hated the pictures on my walls as much as I hated hers.  As I recall it now, I had Georgioni’s consumptive monk which I considered the height of aesthetic art, and Burne Jones’ goitered female known as “Spring”.  I had wanted a sewing-table to make my room domestic but compromised on a gold thimble and a marbled stocking-ball which I kept in a conspicuous place.  At least I did not indulge in burnt-wood plaques nor college pennants.

Graduation brought me a part in the out-of-door class play, “Aucassin and Nicolette”, where I flourished among the rhododendrons, as the Countess.  My gown was of hunter’s green velvet bordered in gold.  Why I thought countesses had to be fat, I do not know, but I remember stuffing my gown with two sofa cushions.  The golden sandals were cut from the brocade of another sofa-pillow, and I wore a paste ring whose size an Empress might have envied.  When the breezes from Waban rustled through the trees my veils of chiffon rippled and sighed.  It was a thrilling ending to my undergraduate career.  A few days later I came home.



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American to the Core by Maydell Murphy Part 3

Other family feuds, however, paled beside the Board-Fence feud.  When father first bought the doctor’s location next to City Hall, he had about $400 cash and a mortgage of $10,000.  Other assets were growing medical practice, a baby daughter, and the backing of his father-in-law.  The Bordens who lived next door thought he had only liabilities.  An Irishman on Summer Street was unthinkable.  Mrs. Borden consulted with her brother, Judge Fox, who lived two doors away.  Two days later a crew of carpenters came and ran up a solid board fence two stories high, from the ground to the roof of Murphy’s house.  Not a ray of light could penetrate the house on the bedroom side.  Mother was in one of those bedrooms waiting for Joe’s arrival.  Father appealed to the courts.  There promised to be a long delay.  But Grandfather Bliss took matters into his own hands.  One sunny afternoon, he appeared with a long ladder and a huge axe, climbed the fence and cut great holes opposite the windows.  Mrs. Borden screamed and Judge Fox stood at the bottom of the ladder threatening to shake Grandfather down, like a ripe cherry.  Nevertheless, the holes were cut and later the case was won legally.  The fence came down.  Mother brought Joe into a world of sunshine, even thought the Bordens and Murphys had to share it.  Thought the storm never blew over while Mrs. Borden lived, relations improved when her motherless niece arrived.  The Murphy children were undesirable, but for lack of other playmates were allowed to annex Millie.  Millie Borden (we never called her Anthony) was no pampered darling.  Though docile enough at home, she was a daredevil abroad.  When Joe walked railroad tracks, she followed.  When dared to jump from the barn loft to the bare floor below, she took the dare.  No girl, and very few boys, could handle a canoe any more expertly.  When, on Fourth of July, Maydell sat on a lighted slow-match and caught fire, it was Millie who jumped from the shed-roof, and enveloped her in a bear’s hug.  Her blue woolen bloomers were heavy  enough to put out several fires, started by punks.  For years, Millie and the neighboring Merrill who boasted a German governess, Joe and Maydell played Indians happily, though their elders used verbal tomahawks.  Mrs. Borden died.  Her house was sold to the Woman’s Club.  Her garden of imported iris and choice roses was transferred, much of it, to the hated Murphy plot.  Merrill and Joe went to Harvard together and were sworn brothers.  Merrill came home and asked Millie to marry him.  Joe served as best man.  The feud ended.  But the memory of a Horrible Fourth of July parade with Subael Bliss threatening with an axe the venerable Judge Fox, lasted in the minds of Taunton citizens for many a long year.

In the days before safety measures were enforced in the mills and foundries, before accident cases were taken to Hospital Wards, and women had learned about birth control, a doctor’s office was a busy place.  Having two doctors in the house trebled the excitement, for a woman-physician attracted double a man’s clientele.  Many patients of the gay nineties thought it unnecessary to pay a woman.  So mother was called upon to do nursing, social work, and surgery, besides “birthing of babies”, and in an emergency laying out the dead.  Father set most of the broken bones, and tended to the accidents.  Clang! would go the door-bell.  Maydell and Joe would race to the door.  An accident case! Sometimes a man with his hand hanging off, or a girl scalped by machinery.  Sometimes a child in it’s mother’s arms, blinded by a giant firecracker.  Joe would usher the patient into the office, pester father to let him hold the ether-cone or to bring the sterilizer from the kitchen stove, while Maydell tore shrieking to the top of the house.  Sometimes in evening office-hours it would be the-lady-who-wanted-morphine.  She would throw her rings and bracelets at father’s feet and beg him for the love of God to help her.  That always made him very stern, and he would tell her not to come back.  No one would see her for months, and then she would suddenly appear with more diamond rings and more diamond bracelets.  She has a chain of brilliants as big as marbles that hung from her neck to her knees, and glittering ear-drops to her shoulders.  Some people said she had a friend that belonged to royalty (in South America) but most people said she ran a roadhouse up in the woods.  Father hated that sort of practice and made short work of doubtful cases.  In would come a sly-looking girl and in less than one minute out she would go.  The children used to watch and count the seconds.  Our house was next to the City Hall and opposite the Liberty Pole, right in the center of the town, so we were easily reached by all kinds.  Not a tramp passed us by, for father’s reputation soon was well-known on the grapevine.  He would thrust a quarter and a pan of hot biscuits at every wayfarer, with the advise, “Pull yourself together, man, and don’t drink anymore,” to which the recreant would reply, “Before God, Doc, I haven’t tasted a drop.”  Father never seemed to remember them when they touched him up the next day for “a bit of a beef stew”, which even we children knew meant another drink.  Mother never fed tramps, but she was always giving our blankets and extra cot beds to somebody.  On winter nights, she would make gallons of coffee and take it herself out to the men on the snow-plows.

In the early days, our house was not an orderly one.  Mother was no house-keeper, and left everything in the hands of a succession of “girls”.  Sometimes we had four women at a time and sometimes one martinet, but we never went without.  First, it was Bridget fresh from Ireland, with a blue bow in her hair, and then it was somber Annie Toomey who got the children to knead her bread.  Her successor, Maggie Powers, might have been a Spanish princess, so flashing were her dark eyes and so olive-smooth was her skin.  Mary Hanrahan with a complexion like peaches and cream was followed by Mary Relback a small southern darkie with a laugh as sweet as the liquid notes of a nightingale.  She didn’t laugh when we put spiders and fiddler-crabs in her bed, though.  Then there was Mary Rasmussen who fell down the cellar stairs when she received a letter that her mother up in Ile Bras d’Or had given birth to twins.  And there were the two splendid Hermans, Annie and Lena, magic housekeepers, who loved to bake and clean and mend from morning to night.  There was Portuguese Virginia, beautiful as a Madonna, always ironing curtains.  Snowy and even-frilled, they were works of art.  But of the whole glorious procession that helped to make a home, Pauline was the prize.  When she came to us she was a buxom Polish girl of sixteen, stolid but willing.  When she left us to marry, fifteen years later, she had nursed mother with the devotion of a daughter, had waited upon father who was almost blind in his last years, and prayed them both into heaven, and had faithfully carried flowers to their graves.  Only god can reward such service!

The boys who drove father and mother to their calls and helped around the yard were a no less interesting crew.  There was Jack O’Brien who kept the horses harnessed on the barn floor, ready to dash off at a moment’s notice.  Dandy would pull a man’s arm out but was tireless on country roads.  Jenny and Daisy were a beautiful pair of chestnuts, with even pace and angelic dispositions.  Dorothy was a  high-stepper but so gentle the children could drive her.  Fred G., a strong bay, pulled the double trap that mother insisted upon buying although everyone called it a circus wagon (it was roaring red and black, with tan Scotch tweed upholstery).  Fred G. never learned to like a sleigh and invariably tipped it over, landed the boys in a snow-bank and raced off until someone caught him and brought him home.  Agatha was a balker.  A country woman sold her to father, who ever after would say, “Never trust a woman who cries on a horse’s neck.  There’s something the matter with both the woman and the horse.”  But Jack O’Brien loved even the worst of them.

Harold was another of father’s boys.  No one knew his last name.  He was somewhat of an enigma.  He would gravely stand before father and look at his dollar Ingersoll.  Not even if a baby were dying of burns would he start work until the clock registered 8 a.m.  Father used to leave him standing on the curbstone, while he dashed off to a call, alone.  None of us could understand it, for we jumped at father’s bidding.  For some awful minutes, it would look as if Harold would be minus a head, but nothing ever happened.  I used to suspect that father was amused at his independence.  Nowadays, Harold would lead a union.

Mother’s “boys” were apt to be dudes.  Mother dressed them in the best, and father grudgingly paid the bills.  She paid for singing lessons for them, and text-books, and soda-pop and theater tickets.  Rarely she drew a bad egg, like the one who stole her automobile which wasn’t insured, and smashed it into splinters without getting a scratch himself.  More often her boys turned into successful men and then mother would rejoice, even though they never came back to thank her for the chance she had given them.  Tommy Phillips was an example.  He was twelve when he came — a spindly, freckled-faced boy with a soprano voice that made him welcome anywhere he wanted to go.  But nobody paid for that sort of entertaining, then.  Home products were taken for granted.  Tommy sang gratis in two church choirs, studied electricity at night, and drove for mother during the day.  Mother used to say that even a woman in labor would forget her pains if she could only hear Tommy sing, “Oh, Promise Me” or “Dear, little shoes and stockings”.  The words of the latter went: “Dear little shoes and stockings, These are what baby wore Oh, how I love them, Don’t take them from me, I found them behind the door.” He could sing light Opera too.  When he and Mother got started on “Pinafore”, with father at the piano, it was something to remember.  Only father always spoiled it by wandering off into “The Maiden’s Prayer”, when the Gilbert & Sullivan pages stuck together.  On Sunday evenings the whole family would sing college songs, “Oh, dem golden slippers, Fair Harvard, The Spanish Cavalier, Seeing Nellie Home.”  Sometimes Mother would sing arias, but father’s accompaniments were almost insurmountable.  He played Italian classics in much the same manner he rattled off the Irish Washerwoman.

After a musical evening, father used to try to counter act all these folderols by setting practical tasks.  Tommy would be asked to pain the kitchen walls.  Tommy was too agreeable to object, but father would come in and find him on top of the stepladder, his brush upright and dripping paint on the floor, while he slept.  “He’s the first boy I ever had”, father would grumble, “Who could go sound asleep on top of a stepladder.”  And Mother would answer gravely, “Music and Art don’t seem to mix.  I guess your Uncle Dadley will have to finish that wall.”  And she’d gently waken Tommy and get to the stepladder and complete the job herself.

The boy, however, that mother took to her heart was Joe’s chum Bill Turner.  He was the illegitimate son of a poor woman who lived over the market in the brick block across the  square from us.  From the time he was five years old, he shared our home.  He made himself at home, too.  When the dinner-bell rang, father would complain the Bill and Joe had gobbled all the food on the table before he could wash his hands and get downstairs.  On vacations, Bill went along, too.  During high-school days he worked for his pin-money, but mother and father gave him everything else.  He went to medical school, and when he set up an office in New Nedford, it was with furniture from our house.  After the World War, he, too, drifted away and we saw him no more.  Of all the boys mother befriended, not one remembered her in her declining years.  “Education is a strange thing,” she would say.  “It seems to burn the heart to dust.”



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American to the Core by Maydell Murphy Part 2

The one day that made Grandma the happiest was Thanksgiving Day.  That was the signal for the gathering of the clans, the day that challenged appetites, that brought fish-pond and grab-bag to the children and whist and fortune-telling to the grown-ups.  For days ahead, Grandma schemed and planned.  Candy-shops had to be canvassed for new kinds of sweets, every known kind of nut had to be cracked.  The butcher had to be warned twenty times to give her three of the finest turkeys.  The best spode had to be taken down and washed.  The coin silver had to be cleaned.  The parlor, usually shrouded in gloom, was opened and aired.  The stuffed mallard duck and the canary under a bell-glass once more saw the light.  Stereoptican slides were unpacked.  The best-bedroom was cleared of chairs, and an enormous table–two tables, in fact–placed in the sitting-room.  Grandma bustled about, sometimes with the silver nut-picks or the silver nutcrackers in her hand; sometimes with the gleaming cruets, or the white fruit dishes on pedestals.  Dinner was an occasion, the games never palled, fish-pond and grab-bag prizes were numerous, but five o’clock was best of all.

At five o’clock Grandma would say to her two daughters, “Come, Della.  Come, Emma,” and the three would disappear into the sink-room.  They’s shut the door.  You could hear laughter, and shrieks, and hammering.  A voice would say, “It’s so cold I can’t hold it a minute longer.  Another would answer, “Hand me those hot cloths.” Soon the door would open and Aunt Dell who was buxom would appear carrying a huge tray laden with bricks of ice-cream.  The children would jump about like corn popping.  After everyone had all they could possibly eat, other bricks were opened and the children carried them out into the snowy air to the neighbors.  One went to Emma Stoddard, the spinster next door.  One went to the five little McMorrows.  The last was taken across the street, cautiously down a driveway of dark pines, to the haunted house.  Old Mrs. Potter lived there.  She had corkscrew curls and she lived in one room in the very back of the big house, which had never been finished.  People said she had been rich when she and Mr. Potter had started to build, but she wasn’t anymore.  People said Mr. Potter had given away too many turkeys and fine things to his workmen.  Then when business began to fail, they didn’t have any use for him.  He died very poor, but Mrs. Potter kept the manners of a great lady.  The children loved to go. She always seemed so pleased, and gave them an odd pebble or a carved horsechestnut, or some enchanting thing of no value that just fitted into a pocket.  “Tell your Grandma Thank-you, and you’re just like her.”  We’d go back pleased as Punch.  When we delivered the message we got an extra ten cents because Grandma seemed pleased, too.

Years later, after Grandpa had died and the children and grandchildren were too busy to have a minute for anybody, Grandma’s life changed.  In those years she sat by the window mending stockings.  Day  in and day out, she and Maggie were alone.  Many waved going by, but few had time to drop in, Thanksgiving celebrations were too hard for mother, said her daughters.  The real reason was that they couldn’t afford to spend a whole day with any anyone any more.  Things moved too fast.  On grey days the phone would ring and Grandma’s voice with tears in it would say, “No one has been up to see me for three whole weeks.  Can’t you send me some stockings to mend? The days are so long.” When we delivered the message to mother, she’d say,  “It’s very unreasonable of her, when she knows I’m working night and day.”  At the end Grandma was glad to go.  It was too lonesome on earth.

Grandma’s only competitor in our childhood affections if you except Merrill Hubbard’s turtles an our pony, was Uncle Charlie.  He was father’s youngest brother, with curly hair and the bluest eyes.  No diamond ever twinkled more brightly, no spurt of blue fire ever flashed more dangerously.  As a baby Uncle Charlie had been trundled all over the city on the back of his wet-nurse, wild Nora O’Callahan.  At the age of ten he had been shipped to a Brothers’ School in Montreal, but the monastic discipline failed to subdue him.  He escaped in the dead of winter, rode a freight-train, and appeared at the Boston City Hospital where father was serving as intern.  Father took one look at the pinched little fellow under the big fur hat–coatless and hungry–and hustled him off to a good restaurant and a nearby clothing store.  Not until then did he ask questions.  Later, Uncle Charlie ran away to sea, but came back to Harvard.  he couldn’t decide whether he’d be happier as a carpenter or as a surgeon, but finally, quite by chance, chose surgery and mastered Harvard Medical.  Harvard did not master him.  He announced to a startled family that he was going to Berlin for his doctorate and off he went, after wheedling the money from Grandmother, in return for building her a pair of steps.  She said she could have built a house for the same amount.  Armed with a tennis racquet, a great deal of nerve, and a sublime ignorance of the language, he entered Heidelberg.   At the end of a year, he got into an altercation with a famous professor, and transferred to Berlin University.  He was supremely happy there, playing tennis with the distinguished pianist Josef Hoffmann, and completing his thesis on the brain of a bird.  When Charlie opened an office in New York City, the family sighed with relief.  But he took frequent vacations.  Without warning he would descend upon us, with the cryptic remark, “I am here to start something.”, and he certainly would.  In three days, the calmest child would be inspired to throw talcum on his immaculate blue serge suite, to pick up a table lamp and threaten to hurl it at him, to brandish scissors and attempt to pierce his eyes.  One St. Patrick’s Day mother drove up to the house, just as the Police Platoon was leading the Parade down Main Street, to discover her home draped in green to the highest peak.  Uncle Charlie knew mother came from Quaker stock, and banked upon the decorations bothering her.  They did.  Invariably he would try father’s patience by barricading his bedroom door.  No doors were locked in our house.  In fact, the keys had been lost long since, and nobody bothered to replace them.  “What makes you pile chairs against your door?” father would demand angrily.  And his brother would retort, “I’m not going to have my pants pinched.  Why in New York___” Thereupon, he would regale us for hours on the iniquities of New York.  He usually ended by rehearsing certain events of his walking-trip in Greece, when savage dog-packs and bandits met him at every village.  Though the children dreaded his pranks, he was exiting and they adored him.  At the breakfast table he would announce, “Well Joe, I’ve been around here long enough.  I’m off to Egypt tomorrow.”  And he’d go to the ends of the earth, as casually as he’d walk down Main Street.  You had to love a man like that.  But Uncle Charlie died young, from pneumonia, in his late thirties.  He was at home, and not in some foreign land, but the best care could not save him.  Mother grieved most of all, and said Charlie was as fine a young man as she’d ever known.  His eyes would have twinkled at that, but I know he was fond of mother too.  When father’s sisters, convent-bred, called mother “the mechanic’s daughter”, despite the fact she was a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, and had passed the State Board of Medicine, Charlie had always picked up the challenge.  “Emily”, he would say “will be remembered when you people are part of the dust of Taunton.  The only thing I have against her is she game me goose on Thanksgiving.  And goose in New England is a sacrilegious bird”

One of the worst legends about Uncle Charlie centered about his visit to Aunt Martha in Manchester, England.  She had been the housekeeper to Dr. Charles Oscar Murphy, Grandfather’s brother, for whom Uncle Charlie was named.  He had been a surgeon of considerable wealth who lived in an enormous house on Alexandra Park.  He was a pompous man.  After Grandfather had married, Great Uncle Charles paid him a visit in the states.  Father, then in medical school, fell into his bad graces because he answered a note on a single sheet of paper, a business sheet that was the style of the times, with father’s name printed neatly at the top.  Single sheets were not countenanced by Great Uncle Charles.  When he died, he left not a farthing to the Murphy’s.  His home, after Aunt Martha, was to be turned into a convent.  The rest of his wealth went to a Brother’s School in St. Louis.  Uncle Charlie always nursed a grudge.  In one of his many peregrinations to England, after Uncle Charles’s death, he landed at Alexandria Park.  There he questioned and cross-questioned docile Aunt Martha within an inch of her life.  Had she really been married to Uncle?  The records did not prove it.  Aunt Martha was shocked.  She was an ardent Catholic and had been married in the Church, but had not legalized it by an additional civil ceremony.   Another loophole was emphasized–did she realize that he, Charlie, could prove that she and her husband had concealed the Fenians.  In fact one outlaw with a price on his head, had been hidden in Aunt Martha’s clothes.  When, in distress, Aunt Martha wrote to the American relations about the digging up of a vivid past, they arose in her defense.  Charlie was bombarded with letters.  In fact his brothers called him a blackmailer and ordered his immediate return to the Continent.  As they were his bankers, he complied and harbored no malice.  He never could understand why Aunt Martha took it so seriously, and would murmur in glee, “I had the old lady worried”.  For Aunt Agnes’s soothing letters to Alexandria Park, she received at Aunt Martha’s death, the sum of ten thousand dollars.  Charlie insisted he was their real benefactor, for the old lady wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise.



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American to the Core by Maydell Murphy Part 1

* This story is transcribed exactly the way it is written.

She never could see tiger lilies in a field of tall grass and waving dandelions that she didn’t think of Bristol Ferry.  The rain-barrel at the back door and the rail fence where as a child she had waved to every passing locomotive. In front of the cottage the little round garden filled with sweet-williams flanked on either side by lop-sided starts of portulaca. The steep embarkment and the beach of egg-sized stones, and out in the blue of the bay, the small red lighthouse bobbing on the waves like a toy.  It never seemed to stand still. THere were butterflies, too, hundreds of them; the scent of wild rose and honeysuckle, and the tar of sailing ships in the hot sunshine. It was fun to take the row-boat, scull out to the channel, and wait for a three-master to come driving along in half sail. Dart along side, hear the pilot swear, see him lean over the side and shake his fist, — and come clear on the other side, just in the nick of time, as the great ship drove on.  Sometimes Bayard, the huge St. Bernard would sit in the stern, but usually it was just Maydell and Joe, brown as nutmegs, hair burned light as dusty miller, eyes bluer than the chicory flower that grew along the banks.

In the evening, when the frogs were croaking and rheumatic old Mary said it was time to go to bed, the children sat on the piazza rail, their bare legs dangling, their eyes turned to watch the falling stars.  Sometimes the fleck of the fireflies in the soft velvet of the night would hold them spell-bound, and the silence would pierce their hearts like little silver knives.  Then there would be the faint sound of music on the water, the gleam of hundreds of lights, the Fall River liner would steam by, as mysterious as tales of Ali Baba or the Swan Maiden.

The children lived in a world their own.  Old Mary supplied their needs much as a genie would come at call with food and drink, or a wooden Indian would descend from his pedestal.  Otherwise, they never were conscious of anything she felt or said or did.  Even on rainy days they were exploring borrows or caves or the dark and dim recesses under the long ward where the popping sea-weed grew and the purple periwinkles clung.  Or they spend long hours pinning multi-colored moths to shingles.  Life was so full of mysteries.  Curiosity was a sort of hunger, never to be satisfied.  Dawn and dark followed one another in almost the flick of an eyelash.

Occasionally on holidays their mother and father would come down from the city.  Father was a small sandy man, very busy, and afraid of fireworks.  When Joe and Maydell in a fever of ecstacy,  stood out on the edge of the banking, waving Roman candles to signal the New York boat he would stand behind the screen door and issue short warnings.  “Watch what you’re doing: Be careful: Look out!!! Hold then high! Emma, Emma, haven’t those children had enough? They’ll be burned to death!” They’d hear mother’s low laugh, and her reply, “Oh, go into the house, Dr. and let them alone.  Just because you jump at a firecracker is no reason they should be afraid.  We have a dozen rockets to set off yet.”

Mother was such a good sport.  She was a busy woman too.  She was a doctor like father, but she could play baseball, put on boxing gloves with the boys, fire a rifle, and sing like an angel.  She said when she  began surgery, she fainted nine times in the operating-room, but she went back the tenth time and stayed.  That was mother.

But she couldn’t swim a stroke, even though she waded out after Dr. Erb one day and brought him in safe when he was drowning.  Joe was scornful.  Why did father have to bring young etherizers down to the beach to spoil everyone’s good time by getting beyond their depths and then having mother save them? Old people were stupid anyway.  All little boys could swim, and even little girls like Maydell.  You were just thrown into the water and you paddled to safety.  Nothing to make such a fuss about.  In summer they were bad enough, but in winter they were worse.  They were always having babies and leaving them on mother’s front door-step.  Then everyone had to get up in the cold and take the baby in and feed it warm milk.  Father got very cross and mother got very tired ringing up the telephone and trying to get some orphanage to take the baby.  Usually it ended by old Mrs. Harradon who had seven or eight already, agreeing to take just one more.  Then everyone could go back to bed.

It wasn’t all bad at home.  There was always Grandma Bliss, she gave you a quarter no matter how many times a week you went to see her.  Of course it was a long way and it cost five cents to go on the open cars.  So you didn’t go too often.  Only you never missed a Sunday.  Rain or shine you went to church, one Sunday to St. Mary’s with Grandmother Murphy who was saint, and the next Sunday to the Unitarian with Grandma Bliss who fed you sugar pills from a darling little round tin box she hid behind her fan.  After church Grandmother Murphy never asked you to dinner.  She lived alone in an enormous white house with cherry trees, a long grape arbor, and the neatest flower garden you ever saw, all divided into plots bordered with low green box.  She never offered you any of the cherries or the beautiful flowers, but she told you to be good children and go straight home.  Occasionally she would ask you into the house and you sat quietly in one chair and let your eyes rove over the madonnas on the wall, the wax flowers under glass, and the great gold mirror that was five times as big as you were.

Grandma Bliss always asked you to Sunday dinner, every single Sunday.  She cried if you didn’t come.  But you never missed unless you were sick.  You wouldn’t miss for anything.  when you got to the foot of her street, you’d start running.  past the Banders and the Stoddards till you came to Grandma’s fence. You’d stop and hang over it as if you’d never seen it before.  In the spring, a great bed of blue myrtle, grape hyacinths, billowing mock orange, bridal wreath, and sweet lily of the valley under the maples.  About Decoration Day came the great feathery balls of pink peonies, the snowball bush, the smoke-tree, purple iris, and a whole row of lilacs.  There was a watering tub of sparkling water under the buttery-window, and a trumpet-vine climbing the elk, though Grandma always vowed she’d have it cut down because it brought ants. But she never did and you never in all your life saw ant inside her house.  out back was the grape-arbor that led to the privy, and the apple-orchard and the barn.  Grandpa kept cows and horses and hens, and had a vegetable garden that all the neighbors admired.  They’d always stop and say, “How are the peas coming along, Mr. Bliss?” and Grandpa would stride out–he was tall as a monument–and pick them some.  then Grandma would come to the back door and call, “Shubael, you leave enough for these young ones.  Don’t give it all away.  Joey looks as peaked as a skinnymalink.  We’ve got to fatten him up. ” Grandpa would laugh his great deep laugh, and when he came back into the house his arms would be full.  “Think you’ve got enough, Mindy?” he’d say.  “They’s plenty more were them’s from.”

Maggie, the big-boned Irish cook, and Grandma would start to get dinner ready.  There would be an hour or two of heavenly smells.  Then food enough for twenty–great luscious slabs of roast-beef, green peas in milk or corn on the cob–a dozen ears if you liked–mounds of potatoes mashed with cream, pickles and jellies, and new-made bread.  You always said politely, “I’d like a piece of white bread, please,” because there was always brown bread, too, and sometimes golden cornbread.  Grandma urged you to spread thicker the butter you’d helped her make.  And Maggie would bring great pitchers of rich milk from the pans in the buttery.  You topped off with cake-gingerbread.  Grandpa usually ate a whole apple-pie.  Maggie made seven at a time.

After dinner you went into the sittin-room.  There was a cozy wood-fire in the air-tight stove, under the mantel with the Chinese vases on it, and over it huge a picture of a child and dog entitled “Can’t you talk?” What-nots filled the corners and one wall held a China cabinet filled with brown and gold spode, and the Come-birdy-come cup.  The chairs were old and roomy and comfortable–just right to curl up in, while Grandma read you a story.  Sometimes you munched candy, and Grandma didn’t mind.  Her voice rose soft and clear in sad tales of Dickens, Whittier’s poetry, and Louisa Alcott’s latest book.  She wouldn’t read about Palmer Cox’s Brownies, though she bought you the books and you could laugh over them yourself.  She always ended by singing “Falling leaf and fading tree”.  Just when you were almost nodding asleep, she’d call, Shubael, Shubael, you can’t sit there napping all day in the kitchen.  These children need air.  You hitch up Bessie and we’ll drive up to Woodward’s Springs.”

While Grandpa was hitching up she’d go prowling around the garden and over in the lots with you at her heels.  There wasn’t a flower or a weed she didn’t know.  Old Bess would round the corner and Grandma always said, “You think she’s all right, Shubael? Her ears are pricked up.”  And Grandpa would answer, “Oh get in, Mindy, get in, and don’t keep me here all the afternoon.  We’ll never get there and back at this rate.”  Maydell would scramble in back of the carryall and take her place primly beside Grandma, but Joey fought for the step.  “Hang on tight, Joey”, Grandma would warn.  Grandpa would rattle the whip in its socket and we were off for our Sunday afternoon drive of five miles.  The horses walked four and a half, and broke into a gentle trot for the other half mile.  Amid screams from Grandma, Joey would jump off and on the step to catch a turtle, a butterfly, and chase a chipmunk.  We’d stop for a rare flower, a spray of apple blossoms, some milk weed silk, a daisy or a dandelion fluff to test our fortune.  At Woodward’s Spring, we’d pile out.  Grandpa would swing us high into the tree-tops.  Grandma would make us drink from the “iron” spring. We’d roam or race along the banks of the river, tear round like young colts in the deep grass, slide down the hill on our backsides, and just as the sun began to set, Grandpa would haul a picnic basket from under the seat, and we’d forage with squeals of joy among the doughnuts, the turnovers, and wedges of cake.  In her silk riticule Grandma always had paper bags f lovage root, rock candy, and jelly beans.

When we got back, Grandpa would unharness Old Bess, let Joey ride her to the stall, while Grandma got the oysters, put newspapers down on the floor, and drew up the big kitchen rocker.  There Grandpa would shuck oysters with his jack-knife until everyone had full and plenty.

Just before you left, Grandma would go get two big candy boxes, fill them full of all kinds of candy she had, and give you those and a new quarter a piece to take home.  She never admonished you to be good children.  She told you she was proud you were hers.  And if you had been willing to carry them back on the street-cars she would have filled your arms full of all the flowers in the garden.  Sunday at Grandma’s was a day of joy,  peace and thanksgiving.  It shoved you right through blue Mondays.



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Premature Birth

Premature Birth

March of Dimes is an organization that is close to my heart. This year and every year I walk to raise money. Please help me raise money by clicking the link and giving a small donation. Every dollar helps. Thank you! Jessica

Jessica's Family Genealogy

I have to admit I struggled somewhat on whether or not to make this post, but in the end I decided this is a family blog and this is part of my family story.  Every year since 2011 I have done the March of Dimes: March for Babies walk, my reason for doing so.  My son.

JD BirthHe was born at 29 weeks 6 days and was 2 pounds 13 oz.  He was 14 inches long.  We spent the longest 62 days of my life in the NICU. Cause of his premature birth was a bacterial infection.  At times he struggled to breath.  He had a small hole in his heart, he came close to a blood transfusion for anemia but fought back.  We were among the more lucky premature births.  He had no surgeries and only had to come home on a heart monitor that he wore for a month…

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Posted by on February 7, 2017 in Uncategorized


Paintings by Ruth Gough Murphy

New painting have been added. Thank you to Dan, Colleen, and Jackie

Jessica's Family Genealogy

Self Portrait 1940 Self Portrait 1940

I found this piece on an auction site "Fall Landscape Taunton, Mass" I found this piece on an auction site “Fall Landscape Taunton, Mass”


View from front window on Buttermilk Bay. View from front window on Buttermilk Bay.

Portrait of a model from a class in 1940 Portrait of a model from a class in 1940

Model Victoria Shouk also from a class in 1940 Model Victoria Shouk also from a class in 1940


Still Life by Grandma Murphy Painted in 1955

Fanny (Kelly) Gough Ruth's mother Fanny (Kelly) Gough
Ruth’s mother

The Policeman The Policeman

Quohog shell Quohog shell

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Posted by on January 27, 2017 in Uncategorized